Essay on Is Child Labour Still Happening Today

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The role of sustainability within the fashion industry Seo Won (Issy) Choi Clothing has surpassed its original purpose of simple protection or cover-up; it is now a major means of self-expression and the practice of individuality (Carter, 2017). Today, fast fashion is at the heart of the fashion industry, where mass-market producers manufacture mainstream clothing targeted at a wide audience. As a result of high demand for such clothing, there are tight time constraints for fast fashion retailers; thus, they have exported their production process to developing countries, as it is faster and more affordable. This brings about strong competition between developing countries to win contracts with fast fashion retailers.

The problem with clothing generation in developing countries for such markets is that sacrifices are made, the most significant being the violation of the human rights of workers. Today, the topic of sustainability within the clothing industry is becoming increasingly prevalent, with growing concerns regarding the protection of our environment and human resource (Hethorn and Ulasewicz, 2016). Several designers are in support of the eco-fashion movement, French designer Marine Serre being one. Serre’s AW18 show in Paris was composed of 26 looks made of “upcycled vintage scarves” (Pithers, 2019), where she manipulated the material of second-hand scarves to create new garments. These designs, manifesting a “streetwise glamour”, showed the potential of sustainable garments to exist in the slow fashion industry. “I think it should just be normal that we have to recycle — that's the way I want to engage people,' Serre claims (Pithers, 2019). Regardless of such effort being made to bring sustainable clothing into fashion, there comes a number of problems implicated within the particular topic.

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This essay will be exploring and analysing the societal impacts of sustainable fashion in particular, focusing on child labour, forced overtime and the health and safety of factory workers. It will also bring to light possible solutions to such matters. According to Thomas (2018), mass manufacture came about during the time of the Industrial Revolution, catalysing the termination of “craft and artisan based economies”. This triggered an upsurge in migration, which carries on in the twenty-first century in newly industrialised countries as “manufacture and communication become faster”. (Thomas, 2018). Production, as “part of the supply chain”, has an ongoing labour history within the fashion industry that includes the “exploitation of children, women and men.” (Thomas, 2018). The competition between factories generating clothing for fast fashion companies is intense in order to meet tight deadlines; this leads factory owners to ignore regulations and the voluntary codes of conduct set by fast fashion companies. A consequence in the rise of fast fashion and mass clothing production is child labour; millions of children around the world – especially in developing countries ¬– are being employed to work in the clothing industry. The lack of child protection laws allows factory owners to easily employ young children to carry out clothing production.

A recurring theme in such child employment, however, is substantial damage to health, overtime, and a lack of proper education. Children working in factories fulfil excessive overtime hours day after day under “poor work safety” (, 2019) . The lack of regulation follow-up in factories means that the health and safety of children is not guaranteed, and that they miss out on the opportunity of a proper education as a result of overtime hours. As this abuse is hidden to the end-user, it is often passed undiscovered, and so the fundamental human rights of children working in factories continues to be violated. It is a quotidian process for children in factories to generate clothing under harsh working conditions, fulfilling overtime working hours with no protection and with little or no income. This is partly because the priority of many families living under the poverty line is feeding the family, therefore children act solely as extra breadwinners for the family. These children are exposed to harsh environments from a young age, and they fulfil work that is hazardous for even adults. An example of a country where child labour is present is Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country and former Soviet republic.

The nation is notorious for its human rights issues relating to fashion and sustainable fashion, especially the use of child labour in cotton harvesting and clothing production. Each year, over a million Uzbek citizens are forced to grow and harvest cotton under threats of penalty, and a large quantity of the employed workers are children, aged five or above. (Hindman, 2009) These children are often exposed to “unknown chemicals in the field, unsanitary housing, and lack of safe drinking water” (Cotton campaign, 2019) ; thus, such labour provides life-threatening factors to children. An exploitative method of employing children in cotton harvesting factories deprives them from solid and concrete education. Despite radical reforms that were promised by the current Uzbek president, the report which monitored the 2017 cotton harvest found evidence that this state-sponsored forced labour still continues. Such maltreatment of factory workers in the clothing production process leads to multiple repercussions that are evident in society. As shown in the film “The True Cost” (2015), the lives of factory workers are being put at stake due to consumer demands and for the profit of the fast fashion industry.

Factory workers in 3rd world countries experience physical and verbal abuse on a daily basis, and there is no compensation provided for the extensive damage done to the lives these workers (The True Cost, 2015) . Concerning children in particular, they are left vulnerable by working overtime hours in factories from such a young age. Working at factories is straining both mentally and physically, and it can interfere with the education, the personal development and even the healthy growth of children. This, subsequently, leads to the presence of a vicious circle, creating generations of children that have not had good education. Several companies and organisations have set in place proposals with the hope of solving critical working conditions in Uzbekistan and elsewhere around the world. Regarding the situation in Uzbekistan, more than 60 of the world’s leading clothing labels such as Burberry, Levi Strauss, Zara and American Eagle are boycotting today in an attempt to force the government to stop child labour (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 2012).

This ongoing system in Uzbekistan has been in place for more than 80 years, and because it has become such an everyday part of their community, citizens have become numbed to its destructiveness. Boycotting brands are aware of this – that it is difficult to eliminate such a long tradition – however, it is hoped that continued refusal to source from Uzbekistan will bring gradual change to the current situation. Furthermore, in 2008, the Uzbek government was pressured into signing the conventions of the International Labour Organization, on “Minimum Age of Employment” and “the Worst Forms of Child Labour” (, 2019). hereby promising the international community that child labour in cotton production would cease. Despite signing the Conventions of the ILO, journalists and human rights activists continue to report the repeated use of forced child labour during the cotton harvest in 2009. Uzbekistan does not cease to exploit its people; forced child labour remains widespread. Indeed, according to many reports, including those resulting from monitoring carried out by UGF members in 2009, this practice continues to persist and seems to have grown harsher and more exploitative than in previous years. The Uzbek Government is showing no signs of reforming the current system.

Forced labour in the cotton industry of Uzbekistan is a serious problem that violates all fundamental human rights. Forced child labour is a form of modern slavery, which cannot be an existing issue in today’s world. Solution proposed by companies aimed to resolve the situation in Uzbekistan have not proven to be very effective, as child labour continues in rural and urban economies today. This proves that we are in need of a more sophisticated and radical solution; all workers deserve to work under decent working environments with no overtime and salary above the minimum wage to provide healthy wellbeing for all. Children should receive a proper, quality education for equal opportunities in the future. Previously, there have been examples set by pioneers that demonstrate efforts to improve the treatment of workers in the industry; according to Braungart and McDonough (2009), in the year 1914, “when the prevailing salary for factory workers was $2.34 a day, [Ford] hiked it to $5.” Ford also lowered working hours from nine to eight, “raising the bar for the entire world of industry.” Despite such effort made by individuals, the situation remains atrocious in most instances. As the aim of sustainable fashion is to build a society where its citizens can support the ecosystem for which they are responsible for in all aspects, the social implications of the current situation should be treated with more attention and urgency. In all, the high demand for fashionable clothing today has led to the emergence of mass manufacture and in response, sustainable fashion, but what is being done to protect and prolong this system? The effect that mass clothing production is having on social terms is essentially negative, with a huge strain being put on the human rights of workers, children in particular. “A totally beautiful product will have been made by people who are living a decent life and are treated fairly”, claims Datschefski (2001), but this is not the case today in the manufacturing process of fast fashion.

The aim of “sustainable fashion” is to create a safe and healthy environment in all aspects, and the social requirements of sustainable fashion is to “check working conditions all the way up the supply chain” (Datschefski, 2001). Human capital is our most important resource; with it, resource can be transformed into productivity. It should therefore appear essential to protect it at all costs. As mentioned in Forum for the Future (2019), “for the fashion industry to be sustainable economically, it must be sustainable socially”. Therefore, the fashion industry should use its “collective power” to work towards building the kind of “positive world we’d like to see in 2025.” (Forum for the Future, 2019) 

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