Nine out of 10 companies supplying clothes to Spanish consumers do not know where their cotton is sourced and most fail to pay overseas workers enough to meet their basic needs, an investigation into the fashion industry shows. In a world where globalization is extremely present, companies and factories are competing in who can provide the cheapest fashion and, in the majority of cases, children are involved in the supply chain as they are very cheap and easy to manipulate and exploit. Nearly 1 in 10 children are subjected to child labour worldwide, with some forced into dangerous work through trafficking. According to UNICEF, 160 million children were subjected to child labour at the beginning of 2020, with 9 million more children at risk due to COVID-19. Child labour occurs when families face financial challenges due to poverty, illness, or job loss of a parent in the workforce. The consequences of this for a child can result in extreme bodily and mental harm, and maybe even death. It can lead to slavery and sexual or economic exploitation. And in practically every case, it prevents children from receiving an education and health care, which is a violation to their human rights and threatens their futures.
The bigger issue is that the vast majority of companies aren’t even aware or are ignorant to the fact that this is happening in their own businesses. Most companies don’t carry out health and safety inspections or accept complaints from their workers. Essentially, the only thing they care about is that their production costs remain low due to the painfully cheap wages they pay their workers in less developed countries such as Bangladesh. Therefore, their benefits are huge which is basically their main interest and goal. Nevertheless, some companies have improved their practices and are working towards a safer work environment in the ready-made garment industry. Twenty-three companies have boycotted cotton from one of the largest cotton exporters in the world, Uzbekistan, which has a history of forcing young children to work in government-owned cotton fields. However, after the campaigning and retaliations from activist organisations in the past few years, the International Labour Organization has reported “a huge drop in the number of school children being used in the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan”. Marginalised children and adults in these less-developed countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific, need better options to start breaking the cycle of poverty. As consumers, we can take responsibility for our small role in the system. Paying workers a fair wage while still making beautiful, affordable fashion isn’t incompatible and can be achieved. By supporting companies that don’t exploit the world’s most fragile groups, we can send a strong message to the world and these companies and force them to do better. The more pressure put on governments and companies to eradicate modern slavery, the more likely they are to provide better working conditions for those whose blood, sweat and tears are on the clothing we wear every day.