Fashion industry still using child labor



Celebrity culture combined with low consumer costs has heightened the demand for fast fashion worldwide. Children in low-income countries have been continuously subjected to dangerous working conditions to satisfy the fashion craze in first-world countries. The fast fashion industry’s business model, designed to mass-produce popular clothing items at a low cost, perpetuates an expanding cycle of exploitation against a group of people unable to advocate for themselves. Initiatives to reduce the detrimental effects of child labor in the clothing industry have been implemented, but increasing consumer demand detracts from these efforts. 

As of 2020, UNICEF reports that roughly 160-170 million children are engaged in child labor across the world and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have put an additional 9 million children in the workforce. In these conditions, children are stripped from their education and adequate health care, severely hindering their future. A report from the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations and India Committee of the Netherlands found that impoverished parents in South India (which can be applied to other countries) often send their children to garment factories under the pretense that they will be provided food, schooling, and shelter in exchange for their work. In reality, it was found that the children were put under appalling working conditions and their promises were not fulfilled. Under these working conditions, the Humanium reports that ⅓ of children subject to child labor are excluded from school and almost all children face excessively long hours. The psychological and physical toll forced labor places on children strips them of their childhood and education, making it extremely difficult to break out of the cycle. 

While child labor has been an ongoing issue for centuries, the fast fashion industry has increased the demand for child labor to rapidly produce clothing. As social media has become a dominant force in society, consumers are able to create new fashion trends as soon as a celebrity/influencer popularizes an item. For example, the Ethical Consumer found that the fashion brand, In the Style, reproduced and sold a bodysuit that celebrity Kylie Jenner wore at a fashion show in 10 days at a reduced price for average citizens. In order to meet the heightened demand for clothing, the International Law and Policy Brief reported that companies target low-income countries for cheap labor that is under-regulated. The fast fashion companies that fuel this practice increase the use of child labor to meet these demands. 

While the fast fashion model has made efforts to reduce child labor difficult, multiple humanitarian organizations have implemented measures to lessen these practices. The International Labour Organization has worked with UNICEF to push for stronger birth registration systems to prove that children are under the legal work age. Additionally, UNICEF is working to return children forced into the workforce back to schools. While different humanitarian groups and labor organizations have worked to reduce child labor, it is also the responsibility of companies to increase regulations and audits to ensure all labor is legal and ethical.