Fight against child labour starts in the supply chain

In spite of numerous efforts to improve labour compliance by retailers, child labour in fashion's supply chain persists, says Brandee Butler

Children worldwide are engaged in work that deprives them of their childhood and is harmful to their development.

While we don’t know the exact figures, there’s evidence that far too many children labour to make the consumer products that we, in the west, can’t seem to live without, including the latest fashion trends.

The presence of child labour in the fashion industry is well documented, from the cotton fields in Benin and Uzbekistan, to factories and textile mills in India and Bangladesh. In spite of numerous efforts to improve labour compliance by retailers and tougher rules from industry regulators, child labour persists within the supply chain, where multiple tiers of subcontractors make visibility and traceability difficult.

As a grant maker at a foundation affiliated with an apparel retailer, I see potential in leveraging the expertise and resources of the private and social sectors to solve these challenges. This is why we collaborate with supply chain professionals and organisations like GoodWeave, Freedom Fund, and Terre des Hommes to pilot new ways to tackle these challenges.

The resulting programmes include working with retailers to improve compliance; supporting community-based organisations to sustain prevention; empowering children through education; and advocacy to strengthen policies and, crucially, policy enforcement to protect children’s rights.

Consumers also have a critical role to play. They wield great power, and can help change the dynamic by demanding greater accountability from retailers and their governments, both through their purchasing power and active political participation.

What gives me hope against discouraging odds? Knowing that smart businesses and courageous advocates are working together to scale solutions to end child labour once and for all.

About the writer

Brandee Butler is head of partnerships & innovation at C&A Foundation, which seeks to create a fair and sustainable apparel industry.

Photo credit: Paul Prescott/ Shutterstock