Child Labor in the Cotton and Textile Industry in the World

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Information on the levels of child labor in the cotton and the textile industry in the world is scattered and fragmented. This critical debate paper takes an analysis of two leading French company, Dior, and Channel to establish how their actions have contributed to the issue of child labor. While acknowledging that it is the social responsibility of the companies to act in an ethical way, this submission also takes issue with the role the media plays in identifying, and the perception of how these two companies have continuously encouraged child labor.

Keywords; Information, social responsibility, media, child labor

1.0 Introduction

The clothes we wear can be traced to child labor. Child labor in the apparel industry is a far more common problem than we can be able to realize. Children work in the clothing industry started from the supply chain to the cotton fields and finally work in the mills in the cotton factories. Reports on the child labor in the cotton sector are wide and diverse. A particular report by the World Vision Australia holds the fact that slightly over a quarter of the laborers in developing countries are children. The report acknowledges that whereas 99 percent of the farmers are in third world countries, there exist various forms of child labor in the western countries ( 2018).

Child labor in western countries is particularly as prevalent as it is in the developing nations. A 2015 report that is titled Cotton’s Forgotten Children highlights to us just how widespread the problem of child labor is both in the fields and in the industries, Netherlands, S. (2015 pg. 3). According to the International Labor Organization, 260 million children are in employment around the world. 170 million of these children are engaged in what can be defined by the UN  defines as either being too tedious and does not fit age recommendation to the age of the child or that the working condition and environment provides an atmosphere that is unacceptable and thus it is prohibited for children (Anon, 2018, pg. 10). Although child labor is forbidden in most countries, child labor has continued to be rife with the life of the poorest in the different parts of the country. 

Despite the high levels of engagement in child labor, the report suggests that child labor levels have declined by 30% for the period 2000 to 2012. However, 11% of children in the world are in situations that deprive them of the right to education and basic rights such recreational rights (Anon, 2018, pg. 13). The International Labor Organization report on the topic goes further to estimate that 170 million children are engaged in child labor (Fontana, L.B., and Grugel, J., 2015 pg. 23). Majority of these children in the industry doe so to be in a position to satisfy the needs and them the demands of consumers in the USA, Europe and beyond.

Although child labor in the world is a serious social problem that needs to be addressed, it is surprising that the media has done little to portray this conditions in regards to top clothing companies in Europe. Top clothing companies rely on the importation of materials and textile and thus indirectly contribute to the problem. This paper thus finds an issue on how the media has hardly highlighted the social problem despite the immense social implication it has.

1.1 Background to the study.

The presence of fast fashion in the industry has engendered a race to the bottom. This has pushed companies to always look for cheaper materials and subsequently cheap labor to be able to produce materials at affordable prices. Coincidentally, cheap labor is freely available through child labor. Across the world, a report by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands reveals to us that the recruiters in Southern India always convince parents in the rural areas to be able to send their daughters and sons to the spinning mills at the allure of better wages and good working conditions such better foods and nutrition, comfortable accommodation and opportunities so that they improve their training and schooling period and a lump sum payment at the end of the period. To their detriment, however, these deals are not always honored and the reality of the matter is that these children work I very appalling conditions that can amount to modern day slavery and falls as the worst form of child labor ( pg. 5 2015, pg. 11 2018).

The issue of child labor in the West is a particular issue for the fashion industry because of the fact that much of the Supply chain work requires minimal skills and some of the talks are well suited to be done by children than to be done by the adults. In the field, picking of cotton is preferred to be done by children since they have small fingers that cannot be in the position to damage the crop. Further, form this, children are seen to be obedient workers in the industry who cannot be able to slip in the radar which makes them easy to manage. For children, there are social control mechanisms such as the trade unions that can be put in place to fight for their rights or people who can help them to bargain for better wages or better working conditions. As a matter of fact, children are always low-skilled workers within the organization who work without a voice hence they are easy targets for the various human resource management. 

Employers in the industry get away with the vice in the industry because the fashion supply chain is always complex and normally hard for companies to control every stage of the production that passes. This makes it possible for big brands in the industry to be able to employ children without the knowledge of the media and clients finding out. the situation is further complicated by the fact that the supply chain of apparel and textile in the western countries is not well known. There exists a code of conduct to be followed during the employment of stuff to the company but it is important to note that companies do not usually follow the code of conduct.

The media has always played a major role in the construction of child abuse as a social problem. Reportage of child rights abuse has reached a saturation point with media playing a major role in the promotion on child rights through TV programs and covered in genres such as TV drama, films call-in shows and even in popular TV interview debates. While in acknowledging the role that is played by the media in the raising of the awareness, the media has also relied on other activities such as the role of activists and professionals to lay the perfect groundwork. Rather than remaining in the background, the media has come to the rear and fight for the protection of child rights and encouraged the refrain from child labor.

A historical analysis of the situation in Europe has established that the media is guilty of scapegoating the professionals that are connected with child abuse in the region. The British tabloid press, in particular, has been in the spotlight for a series of launched attacks on the companies and the practitioners that are involved in major child abuse cases (Jones, R. pg.4 2018). Although the media has been lauded by people for the raising of awareness on child labor among people, more needs to be done as child labor is still high and that more needs to be done. 

Two companies that are discussed in these study is for their involvement in child labor is Chanel and Dior. Chanel S.A is a French textile company that is privately owned by Alain Wertheimer and Gerald Wertheimer. The company specializes in the production of high-end haute couture and ready to wear clothes on the continent.  Dior on the other part is a European luxury goods company that also specializes in ready to wear clothes, fashion accessories and in footwear. The choice of these two companies has been informed by the fact that it sources its products from Benin and India, two of the countries that have the highest levels of child labor in the cotton production in the world. This study aims at producing a critical debate on the issue of child labor in the continent and ways in which the media has been able to portray it.

1.2 Study objectives

The broad objective of this study is to establish how child labor establishes a critical debate on how child labor has been accomplished by this top two French companies and the role that the media has played so far in highlighting the current situation.

The specific objectives of this study are-

1. To determine the extent to which this two company have facilitated child labor bot in the supply chain and even indirectly by the mother companies that supply textiles to them

2. To be able to understand the conditions under which children are employed in the informal cloth supply chain.

3. To identify how children work in the informal sector fits into the larger garment sector and its supply chain.

4. To understand the role that the media plays in ensuring that child rights and fundamental freedoms are protected.

5. Understand the efforts that have been put in place by the government to ensure that child labor is eradicated.

2.0 Literature Review

Child Labor and Forced Labor

The International Labor Organization convention 182 (Article 2) gives the definition of children as people who are under the age of 18. however, in the absence of evidence of that children under the of the age of 5 years are engaged in work, official statics provided do not include such children under the age group that participates in child labor. The French National statics, therefore, treat children who are involved in child labor as those who belong to the age group 5 and 17. Cotton production in the country is limited hence the needs to important textile from other countries such India, Bangladesh and Benin and it is from this that the issue of child labor arises. However, the companies should be in a position to prevent child labor within its supply chain.

The report on the National Child Labor Survey (pg. 32, 2012-2013) found out of the 42.4 children in Bangladeshi between the ages of 5-17, 7.4 million of them are economically active. Out of this, the study found out that 7.5% of them are child laborers and economically active. Since the attainment of independence, the country has incrementally engaged in activities that are meant raise awareness and initiate the protection the rights of the children.  The Bangladesh Annual Labor Force survey (BALF 2015-2016), that is designed to cover all issue of the labor force in the country and not only children have estimated that 5.1 million children between the ages of 5-17 are economically active. Though this is an apparent reduction in the labor that is provided by the children to the apparel industry, more needs to be done. However, this cannot be achieved if companies such as Dior, which mainly gets its textiles from the country does not take action. 

According to the National Child Labor Survey (pg. 13 2015), working children in the textiles and apparel industry mainly engages in the agriculture sector. That is to say that 52.7% of the children are involved in the plucking of the cotton bud and are also involved in other supply chain process such as transportation. The working conditions among children that were attending school are the most striking of the group. More than half of these children according to the report, 56.2% work more than 40 hours a week. They have little time to relax after school or fully concentrate on their school work.

Chanel receives sources its supply of cotton from across the world and is thus not country-specific as Dior. However, a majority of the supply comes from India, Benin, and Ghana. Cotton production, cultivation, and transportation is hazardous work to children and according to International Labor Organization on the Program for Elimination of Child Labor, there are more than 70 million children that are engaged in hazardous work. Although cotton plays an important role for the countries in a discussion as a source of income for many millions of the small-scale farmers, it also presents a challenge to the future generation of the country. It is important to note that despite the work that has been done by the International Labor Organization, the information and research on child labor in the cotton industry across the world are still scarce, incomplete and is fragmented. 

Factors contributing to child labor

There are a number of factors that are responsible for the participation of children in cotton production. They include the social-cultural factors and economic factors and this defers from country to country. This paper would look at the factors contributing to child labor on the supply side factors and the production side to understand why these two companies prefer cotton from this countries. 

Supply-side factors


Out of all the factors that determine whether children would engage in this work, lies the issue of poverty. Poverty is a demand and supply factor in the production of textile. Poverty is a compelling reason why people would engage in child labor especially in rural areas where the labor market is weak and there exists high levels of structural unemployment, the existence of large families and labor migration to the urban areas. Poor households would often spend a lot of their income on food and the work that children would engage in is so critical towards the survival of the family.

Cultivation of cotton is an important source of revenue to the poorest countries and to the smallholder farmers. Children working in farms therefore in such countries would be able to derive low production, low labor supervision and small operating margins that would help in easing the cost of production.

Social norms

The norms and the rules held by the society influences the context and levels to which child labor occurs by either making it acceptable or not acceptable in the society. The norms of the society in such countries discussed above ensures that there is lack of awareness. Children would be expected to follow their parents and in a position to help them and other members of the society in the production service. The media is partly to blame for this. As part of the obligation to responsible journalism, the media should be able to highlight and sensitize the public on the effects of child labor and its consequences. The two companies are also to blame, by sourcing their supplies from such countries, they are in fact promoting child labor.

Barriers to education

The availability of the most basic education that is affordable, accessible and open to all members of the society is closely related to the issue of child labor. Not all countries are in a position to provide basic education to the children or it is not always available. In the instances where education is not accessible to children, they would often be found engaging in child labor as parents would not be in a situation to see the advantages of schooling their children.

Weak legislative environment

While numerous countries have ratified the laws related to child labor, such laws are not always followed to the latter or are not applied rightly.

Demand-side factors

Cheap and compliant labor

Majority of the employers prefer to higher and get labor from children for the simple reason that they are cheaper than their adult counterparts. Due to the fact that children lack unions’ top fight for their children, they have not to fight for their rights and thus have a weaker negating space when they race bargaining for better wages or working conditions.

Technical requirements

The myth that children have nimble fingers is relevant to the production of cotton seed. Most of the employers claim that the task of cross-pollination, hand pollination, and emasculation can be done perfectly by pre-pubescent girls as it is the case with India. Other than this, there are other tasks such as weeding where there is a leading perception that only people with small bodies are better at handling. Such is often regarded as the work that can be done by children.

Child labor and human capital

Child labor can be able to be analyzed from many perspectives, however, most recent studies have able to categorize it as a human capital problem. It can only be measured by the impact it leaves on the education and health sectors of the economy.  a recent literature review concludes that the work of children which includes their educational and health conditions are a product of things that determine the life of a child. As school work and working as a child laborer contributes negatively to the health of a child, there is need to ensure that children are refrained from working in harsh and environments that are not good for them.


Although the media have played a major role in highlighting the plight of children in the labor market, more still needs to be as little has been done to portray the child labor situation in the clothing industry. The British tabloid has been in the forefront in highlighting how top companies in the world have impacted on children. The media needs to promote awareness on the issue and encourage the public to only buy products from companies and brands list in The Fair Wear Foundation. Leading brands in the industry should make sure that they do a regular audit on the supply chain and be able to cut-make-trims the stages of production to meet the standards and ensure that the International Labor Organization standards are met. There exist some practical steps that companies can use to ensure that the issue of child labor can be ridden off. This steps can be the creation of a supply chain register to control the market. The role of the media should be to highlight the companies that do not follow the standards that are laid down and encourages the use of children for labor knowingly or unknowingly. The media also should also highlight the purchasing practices of the clothing brands to ensure that brands purchase materials from factories that do not employ children.


Anon, (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018].

Burkitbayeva, S., Qaim, M. and Swinnen, J., 2016. A black (white) hole in the global spread of GM cotton. Trends in biotechnology, 34(4), pp.260-263. (2015). India Committee of the Netherlands - Child Labour & Education. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018].

Fontana, L.B., and Grugel, J., 2015. To eradicate or to legalize? Child labor debates and ILO convention 182 in Bolivia. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 21(1), pp.61-78.

Jones, R. (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018].

The The Netherlands, S. (2018). Cotton's Forgotten Children. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018]. (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018]. (2018). Analysis of the Situation of Children and Women in Bangladesh 2015. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018].

Whitebook, M., Phillips, D., and Howes, C., 2014. Worthy work, STILL unlivable wages: The early childhood workforce 25 years after the National Child Care Staffing Study. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. (2018). Child labour - World Vision Australia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018].

August 01, 2023


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Child Abuse Children Labor

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