Bangladesh’s Children Are Working 60 Hours a Week to Make Our “Fast Fashion”

by , 01/20/17   filed under: The Big Idea, Worker Rights

Overseas Development Institute, child labor, sweatshops, Bangladesh, human rights, workers rights, sweatshop labor, forced labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Maria Quattri

It’s time to face the awful truth: Those cheap clothes we can’t get enough are probably the handiwork of impoverished children from Bangladesh, some as young as 6. About a third of the children who live in the slums of the capital of Dhaka spend an average of 64 hours a week making clothing for the world’s leading brands and retailers, according to the Overseas Development Institute. The London-based think tank, which conducted a survey of 2,700 households, found that 32 percent of 10- to 14-year-olds were skipping school so they could work full time at garment factories. Most of them earned less than $2 a day. “Our survey raises serious concerns over the issue of child labor in the supply of garments from factories in Bangladesh to consumers in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere,” ODI said.

Overseas Development Institute, child labor, sweatshops, Bangladesh, human rights, workers rights, sweatshop labor, forced labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Maria Quattri

BRUTAL REALITY

Funded through a grant from the Bangladesh office of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the study is among the largest to scope out child work and education in the South Asian nation, the organization said.

“Child labor is rife in these slums,” ODI wrote in a report published Wednesday. “While our survey is not nationally representative, it provides a window on the world of child labor in the megacity of Dhaka, which accounts for almost half of Bangladesh’s slum population.”


Significant numbers of both boys and girls reported extreme fatigue, back pain and fever, and superficial injuries.


Despite some efforts by Bangladesh to eliminate the worst kinds of child labor in recent years, more than 5 million of the country’s children, aged between 5 and 17, remain engaged in some form of employment, according to the International Labour Organization.

While the minimum working age in Bangladesh is 14, children aged 12 and above are allowed to carry out “light work,” for up to 42 hours a week, but only as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their education. “Light work” explicitly bars children from pulling all-night shifts or performing any tasks that is deemed hazardous.

ODI says that these labor laws are poorly enforced and broadly ignored.

RELATED | At This Bangladesh Sweatshop, Children Make Our Clothing for Little to No Pay

By age 14, it said, more than half of children living in Dhaka’s slums were already working. Two-thirds of the girls who are employed end up toiling for the Bangladesh’s $19 billion-a-year garment industry—the world’s second-largest after China—compared with 13 percent of the boys.

Significant numbers of both boys and girls reported extreme fatigue, back pain and fever, and superficial injuries.

“The prominent role of garment factories is one of the more surprising findings to emerge; it is widely assumed that the sector is more intensely regulated than other sectors,” ODI said. “It might have been expected that the prospect of investigation and monitoring would deter the recruitment of underage children. Child-labor legislation is enforceable through fines—and the Chief Inspector of Factories (which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour) is empowered to carry out unannounced spot checks.”

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But there is a “systemic problem of enforcement and compliance,” ODI noted.

Most inspection programs established by Western brands cover only large, formal-sector enterprises, or about one-quarter of Bangladesh’s garment factories.

Plus, even the so-called “first tier” is heavily involved in sub-contracting work to unregistered facilities with even laxer oversight, often without the knowledge of the commissioning brands.

ODI urges brands to take a more proactive role and provide construction solutions to the problem of child labor.

“As well as requiring direct suppliers to provide more and better information on their sub-contractors, they could actively support efforts to comply with higher safety standards,” it said. “While ultimate responsibility for strengthening the regulatory regime rests with the Government of Bangladesh, brands could—and should—be creating incentives for firms to comply with child-labor laws.”

+ Overseas Development Institute

Originally published on December 9, 2016.

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