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Child Labor Plagues Global Garment Industry

Despite a newfound emphasis on social compliance, the global textile industry is still plagued by child labor, according to a new report issued by U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

The sprawling 900 page report, “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor,”  documents the unsettling fact that 168 million children still work illegally, 85 million of them in “hazardous” conditions. And some of the worst offenders are prominent sourcing destinations in Asia like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Nepal.

In India, for example, 2 percent of all children between the ages five and fourteen work, with almost 1 percent between seven and fourteen. Wrenched from context, these may sound like modest enough figures but given the magnitude of India’s population they are, in fact, staggering. India’s total child population stands at 400 million–more than 31 percent of the overall count–which means there are at least 6 million children working illegally. Most NGO’s claim the actual number is closer to twelve million while some estimate it could be as high as sixty million.

While the absolute numbers were lower in Bangladesh, the percentages were even more distressing. According to the study, more than 10 percent of its children between five and fourteen work, while 6.8% of all children between seven and fourteen combine work with school.

In Indonesia, 3.7% of all children between five and fourteen work and 2.1% of all children between seven and fourteen combine work and school. Exact statistics were not published for Nepal.

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Surprisingly, the report did not include an assessment of China, unusual since it reputed to have a longstanding problem with child labor, especially with respect to its garment industry.

The report painted what was often a grim picture not only of the vastness of child labor, but the squalor of the working conditions. It  observed “children working within these sectors may have to endure long working hours and work with dangerous tools, machinery or chemicals. … While producing these goods, often in small workshops or homes, they face dangers that may include work with hazardous chemicals and sharp objects, cramped conditions with low lighting, long hours, poor hygiene conditions, operating heavy machinery and carrying heavy loads”.

Uzbekistan was singled out for its use of child labor during the summer cotton. In some cases entire school of children were involuntarily conscripted to work in cotton fields. The report also implicated Kazakhstan as well as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru in South America and Kenya, Madagascar, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast in Africa.