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Garment Industry Fueling Child Labor in Bangladesh Slums

Children are paying the highest price for our industry’s race to secure low labor costs.

According to a new report from the Overseas Development Institute, a U.K.-based think tank on international development and humanitarian issues, 15 percent of children ages 6 to 14 in the Bangladesh capital spent their days at work instead of school. The group surveyed 4,500 children and their parents for the publication entitled, “Child labour and education: a survey of slum settlements in Dhaka.”

The conclusion: “Child labor is rife.”

And the worst news was reserved for the garment industry. Of those making clothes, the study found that two-thirds of the under-aged workers were girls. And, they spent more than 60 hours a week feeding our collective fashion fix. That’s far and above the country’s 42-hour legal limit.

The children are particularly vulnerable because they often have no work contracts, are paid under the table and are operating in informal roles like sewing.

Almost all working children are involved in what both International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions and national legislation would categorise as child labour, with hazardous work figuring prominently,” the ODSI report says.

Since the Rana Plaza disaster in which more than a thousand people died, Bangladesh—and the brands that produce there—have attempted to burnish its reputation with an increased focus on inspections, testing, transparency and infrastructure. Progress toward real change has been slow, however, and according to labor rights organizations, painted with too rosy a brush.

To help remedy the child labor situation in Dhaka and beyond, ODI put forth several steps. Among them: the government must get real about the numbers. Though Bangladesh does attempt to track stats related to child labor, the group says it needs to coordinate efforts across government agencies and conduct regular surveys of slums via the children themselves. It also recommends focusing on education and ways to ease costs associated with schooling. Finally, the report calls for a strengthening of regulations and birth registration efforts for effective age verification.