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In today’s globalized world, companies are in “competition to the bottom” in order to offer affordable fashion quickly, as a consequence, underage children are habitually engaged in the supply chain. It is a sad occurrence that children are used as a source of labour in the fashion industry because they are seen to constitute a complaint, cheap and easily exploited workforce. Statistics from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates that approximately 270 million children are working across the globe, of this numeral, around 170 million are tied up in the type of child labour that must be eradicated. Most of the children working in the fashion supply chain are involved in making garments and textiles to meet the demand of consumers in the US, Europe and beyond. Notwithstanding, child labour has gone unnoticed from authorities and the larger public and it is the role of the media to develop ads that will expose child labour. The paper, therefore, explores child labour in the clothing industry with a particular interest in the role of media and advertising in exposing and fighting child labour.
Child labour may be described as work that divests youngsters of their self-respect, their childhood and their potential and also works that is damaging to physical and mental growth. In essence, child labour refers to work that is physical, morally, socially or mentally harmful and hazardous to children and inhibits their learning curve or denies them an opportunity to attend school. In its most extreme form, child labour involves children being enslaved and exposed to dangerous illnesses and hazards. Within the clothing industry, the concept of fast fashion has stimulated a competition to the bottom, which has prompted companies to look for cost-effective sources of labour. Usually, the cheap labour is freely available in most of the nations where garment and textile production takes place. Usually, children working in such industries are employed under false promises of earning decent wages. As a consequence, this documentation will explore child labour in two of the largest clothing companies in the globe; H&M and GAP and how they are portrayed in the media. The literature will also explore steps that the media can take such as regards to campaigns and advertisements in order to combat children exploitation and child labour in the fashion industry.
When we see embellishments in clothes such as sparkles and light glittering off of sequins, it gives the lie to the darkness of how many such attires have been produced. For the reason that the machinery used to accomplish this kind of work is usually very expensive for most manufacturers and this work is often given to children. The concept behind this is that children have small hands and as such is perfectly suited for this type of work. According to Fontana and Grugel (2015), child labour in the clothing industry is a far more common menace than people actually realize, this is because many of the clothes in retail and that people wear can actually be traced back to child labour p.65. Generally, children are involved throughout the clothing industry supply chain from picking cotton in fields to manufacturing mills and garment and textile factories.
The most rampant cases of child labour can be found in the cotton sector which is a major contributor to the clothing industry. According to Fontana and Grugel (2015), approximately 99% of the world’s cotton comes from developing nations with approximately 67% of this coming from China and India p.72. Children working in such plantation receive little if any pay and are often subjected to poor working conditions. Incidences of child labour in China, India, Egypt, and Uzbekistan are also found on a disturbingly large scale. Statistics from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates that approximately 270 million children are working across the globe, of this numeral, around 170 million are tied up in the type of child labour that must be eradicated (Fontana and Grugel, 2015 p.74). Under the Article 32 of the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of Children documents that, ‘a nations administration ought to protect children from work that might harm their education or health or work that is dangerous.’ This implies that children should not be placed in situations that may be harmful to their general well-being or their health, be asked to execute tasks that are physically onerous or have their fundamental rights compromised (Fontana and Grugel, 2015 p.75).
Most companies in the fashion clothing industries choose to employ underage children because they can so straightforwardly slip under the radar. According to Lueg, Pedersen, and Clemmensen (2015), children working in the clothing sector are particularly vulnerable because there is no social control mechanism or supervision and also because they are not protected by any trade unions that would help them bargain for decent wages and appropriate working conditions p.348. Lueg, Pedersen, and Clemmense (2015), believe that they are low-skilled employed without any voice and this makes them prime and easy targets p.350. From the Ethical Fashion Report of 2017, most fashion companies are now conscious of who their suppliers are during the final stages of production (Gardetti and Torres, 2017 p. 234). For many such organisations, it is at this stage of the production supply chain where they form solid relationships. As a consequence of this strong visibility, such problems as child labour, forced labour and the worst types of exploitation are now far less prevalent at this point of the supply chain (Gardetti and Torres, 2017 p.239). Notwithstanding, deeper into the supply chain, in areas where visibility is far less, the perils continue to be substantial.
For the reason that children are easier to control and exploit, most companies will in point of fact employ children in preference to adults. There is a distinct connection between child labour and low remunerations and wages for adults working in cotton production (agricultural areas) as well as in garment and textile industries (Lueg, Pedersen, and Clemmensen, 2015 p.353). The argument behind this is, if child labour is eradicated, labour for companies would be scarce which would in turn permit adult labourers to negotiate with companies for improved wages and also negotiate for improved working conditions. This, therefore, implies that high rates of child labour may, in fact, correlate with underemployment and unemployment. If children are paid substantially less than adults, this implies families are actually worse off because they received substantially fewer wages. Nonetheless, it adults, in general, are paid a living wage, then their children are in pole position to gain a quality education, and this subsequently gives them more prospects to break the cycle of poverty (Lueg, Pedersen, and Clemmensen, 2015 p.358).
Advertisements and Media Campaigns against Child Labour
An advertisement refers to an announcement notice in a public medium that advances a particular agenda. On the other hand, media campaigns are defined as a planned sequence of television interviews, newspaper articles, and social media, etc. that are intended to attain a particular objective. The media has developed hard-hitting campaigns and advertisements that are aimed at child labour reminding people to speak up, or the problems will not stop. The role of the media campaigns and advertisements in the eradication of child labour is one of the most significant components of the process of complete human development.
From Islam and Deegan (2010), the media has an obligation to run campaigns and advertisements that expose defaulting companies and enterprises that surreptitiously employ underage children and consequentially violate legislations that protect young children from exploitation and child labour p.135. Alongside such campaigns, the media must also run ads that are geared to raising awareness of the plight of families living in abject poverty and request the government to offer specific monetary or non-monetary incentives to the many families that live BPL (Below Poverty Line) as one of the approaches geared to eradicate child labour (Phillips et al. 2011, p.170). The media can run also run campaigns aimed at state intervention to eradicate inequalities including caste and class barriers to employment as well as other opportunities in areas such as education and health that are targeted towards eradicating child labour. The labour wages and remunerations for children are still low despite the fact that the work they engage in is somewhat arduous and they are exposed to hard and dangerous working conditions (Islam and Deegan, 2010 p.139). Typically children who are employed do not go to school and this affects their ability to have numerous opportunities in future. From the outlook of different social concerns prevailing in the nation, the mass media has a pivotal role to play in mobilizing and enlightening the masses from engaging children in child labour and exploiting them.
Prevalence of Child Labour in H&M
Despite their allegations and claims of not endorsing child labour in any form. Few cases have been reported in Myanmar of factories employing children as young as 14 years of age. Some of the factories reported include Myanmar century Liaoyuan Knitted Wear and Garment wedge located in the country’s capital Yangon (Andrees, 2016 p.354). The youngsters are said to have been working since 2013 and most of the time working till late hours. In their defence, the two companies stated that according to the international labour laws putting 14 to 18-year-olds to work is not a case of child labour (Turker & Altuntas, 2014 p.840). ILO puts it forward that it is important not to exclude children aged 14 to 18 years from working whereas H&M laws, on the other hand, are against child labour in any form, and according to them, this is illegal (Turker & Altuntas, 2014 p.843).
According to the company’s laws, all products made within the company are supposed to be made under favourable working conditions and at the same time ensuring that they take into consideration the effects it will have over safety and health of the employees. The two H&M Companies are said to have switched their production to low-cost factories where workers including children worked fulltime for very little pay. Each worker earns 13p every hour which is a violation of the law on wage payment (Phillips et al. 2011, p.177). The fee is half the minimum payment every worker is supposed to receive in the country (Andrees, 2016 p.353). All this was in an aim for the companies to experience low labour costs in that the young tend to be satisfied with low wages. The minimum salary a worker should receive in Myanmar legally is 3,600kyat and the maximum working hours should be eight. Employees typically earned 26p per hour (Ellis, 2015 p.420).
The Myanmar factories act states that workers should not work for more than 60 hours a week but workers in the two H&M factories are reported being forced to work more extended hours and mostly the overtime hours went unpaid and unaccounted for (Andrees, 2016 p.350). Most clothing companies tend to look for production areas where the making of clothes is quick but done at low costs. Over the past few years, Myanmar has turned out to be the most popular destination for these companies (Turker & Altuntas, 2014, p.838). Some of the significant benefits the companies achieve in Myanmar include cheap labour and import and export tariffs that are favourable for the company. In their rush to achieve low costs they pay less attention to working conditions and the violation of rights all with the aim of securing the lowest prices. In their defence on claims of child labour, most companies claim that the legal working age in Myanmar is 14 years and despite their law against child labour, the company’s actions were within the legal boundaries (Ellis, 2015, p.419).
The company has also been reported of employing children in Burma with teenage girls as young as 18 years of age working in factories contracted by H&M for as little as 13p an hour(Craig, 2017, p165). The children reported being overworked for up to 12 hours a day making clothes for H&M. They also admitted being told to hide away in the toilets when inspectors arrived at the companies (Craig, 2017, p165). Despite the companies claim on having cracked down child labour and abuse, workers have still reported being overworked and receiving wages that are below the minimum legal wage requirement.
Prevalence of Child Labour in GAP
GAP has for a long time had a policy against the abuse of children and according to their plan if a company is found having employed young children to work for it, then the contractor must by-law provided remove the child from the working environment and ensure that the child goes to school and receives their wages (Lee et al, 2016, p.310). They are also entitled to a job position after school once they have attained the legal working age. Reports prove that despite their policy and law this has not been the case with most of the contractors and children as young as ten years of age have been employed in various companies. Children are forced to work for as many as 16hours a day and paid wages that are below the legal minimum salary for any worker (Lee et al, 2016, p.315).
The company is reported to have bought children from parents in New Delhi and sent them to work in the city under poor working conditions. The kids stated that the company never paid them their wages under claims that they were working for what had been paid to their parents in exchange for them hence they work under forced conditions for free (Nogler & Pertile, 2016 p.56). Some are reported to have worked for up to 4 months and at times subjected to violence for failure to comply with the rules given to them by the supervisors (Nogler & Pertile, 2016 p.57). They are mostly forced to work for long hours and violence is used if one does not work as directed by the supervisors. Despite the company’s efforts of coming up with a factory monitoring program, child abuse has not been addressed adequately (Lee et al, 2016, p.315).
GAP is said to have a large number of contracts in India which has for a long time remained branded the capital of the world for child labour. With over 50 million children employed across businesses, child labour in India is said to contribute a quarter of India’s national gross product (Nogler & Pertile, 2016 p.58). Most of the children range in between five to fourteen years of age. Through their campaigns and laws GAP has been said to have committed itself to social responsibility but despite this the employment of children by GAP companies with some as young as ten years of age tell a different story(Huq et al, 2016,p.20). The company aims at cutting costs without taking into consideration the consequences the healthy profit they are making has on the children. The company has in their defence claimed to have unknowingly used child labour in India to facilitate production which is not the case, according to reports the company is fully aware of its actions. It is reported to be taking advantage of the poor living conditions of most of the countries where its companies are located which is a violation of its policies and laws as well as international laws at large(Huq et al, 2016, p.22).
Media Ads and Campaigns against H&M and GAP
There was a German TV ad campaign called “Your Cheap Fashion: Our Misery” which highlighted H&M’s connection to labour exploitations and child labour in foreign nations; Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. From the ad campaign, the company employed children as young as twelve years and forced them to work up to fourteen hours a day under hard working conditions in industries for low wages to supply H&M that provides its products with mantras such as “fashion and quality at the best prices.” of particular significance is the fact that the purportedly totalitarian Uzbekistan administration makes huge returns from cotton exports. In addition to this, it has been proven that H&M exposes its employees to poor working conditions which are in violation of the labour rights. According to Rinaldi and Testa (2017), H&M has been using sandblasting to fade their jeans, sandblasting has been banned as it is hazardous to health because it causes fatal lung diseases encompassing silicosis p.454.
There have also been campaigns that have exposed H&M sweatshops in Myanmar where underage youngsters as young as fourteen worked for more than twelve hours a day (Reilly, 2013, p.29). The companies have been exploiting these young children by making them work long hours and also exposing them to hard working conditions. H&M has claimed to advocate for the eradication of child labour in the fashion industry. Notwithstanding, media campaigns have put H&M in the spotlight and has invited public scrutiny and raised awareness of the allegations of child labour which forces the organisation to look at the situation and attempt to rectify it.
The United Kingdom ‘s Observer newspaper investigated GAP fashion company and discovered a 10-year-old boy manufacturing clothes for GAP retail shops in Europe and the United States (Kearney, 2016, p.205). After investigations into the incident, it became apparent that the boy had been sold to the company by his parents. For a long time, the company had stood firm in its resolution to resist and condemn acts of child labour and child exploitation. The media played a vital role in unearthing such a scandal that affected the GAP brand and also questions their credibility, their values, and corporate social responsibility. The press also exposed other child labour scandals in India, and all these served to bring the company into the spotlight which invited more scrutiny into their entire supply chain. The media acted as a useful tool because it implemented anti-child-labour campaigns that were fruitful and brought attention to the plight of children working in hazardous conditions in many companies under the fashion industries. Also highlighted is the need to develop measures and initiatives to eradicate child labour. Such measures include monetary and non-monetary incentives that the governments can offer to persons living below the poverty lines in order to avoid incidences where children are sold to corporations or forced to work to provide for their families (Khan, Rodrigues, and Balasubramanian, 2017, p.512).
Child labour and the exploitation is a serious concern that is somewhat underestimated in today’s society. The problem of child exploitation and child labour is a more serious problem than most people would assume. Companies usually see these children as a source of cheap labour and also prefer them because they are easier to exploit, control and work unions do not protect them. Also, it is relatively easy for organizations and companies to conceal child labour. Children who are forced to work at a young age are typically exposed to difficult working conditions, and they are also offered meager wages and are usually overworked. Children who are engaged in child labour suffer emotionally, mentally and physically. Children working in companies and industries do not go to school and as such as denied opportunity to gain quality education and this usually limits their opportunities in future which, in turn, perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
Child labour is particularly prevalent in the fashion industry with big name brands such as H&M and GAP being accused of using child labour in the initial stages of production. Such business practices are unethical and should not be condoned in the fashion industry because they are in gross violation of national and international laws on children’s rights. The media has taken a pivotal role in raising awareness and also exposing cases of child labour. As such, it is necessary for such large corporations to try and embrace corporate social responsibility where they can develop initiatives that aim to help local communities rather than exploiting them. As such it is necessary to understand that the media plays a vital role in the society in terms of enlightening and also exposing exploitations within the community.
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