The Role of Media in Promoting Child Labour

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Information on the levels of child labour in the cotton and the textile industry in the world is scattered and fragmented. Although child labour is banned globally, some nations and factories still rely on it in their production activities primarily in the textile and garment industry. The paper aims to carry out a critical analysis on how Nike and H&M companies have propagated forced labour through their internal supply chain as well as from other companies that supply them with the raw material for the production of raw materials. The research would seek to determine how children work in the informal apparel sector fits in the textile sector and its supply chain, as well as the role the media has played in exposing the social problem in Nike and H&M. The study would further aim to analyses the role of media in ensuring that the rights and freedom of the children working in the companies are not violated.  Finally, this research would seek to examine the efforts taken by media to make sure that child labour is eradicated. The study would also look into factors that have promoted children to participate in forced labour in the garment sector. Furthermore, it would look into the role of media in exposing the problem as well as how it ensures that the rights and fundamental freedoms of children are protected.

Keywords; Information, social responsibility, media, child labour


The textile and clothing sector has become a global topic of debate because of its engagement in unethical production (Khan, Rodrigues, & Balasubramanian, 2017). Child labour and forced labour is a daily routine for most companies in the retail industry. Children are involved in works at all stages of the supply chain from cottonseed production to yarn spilling mills to all stages of the cut-make trim in factories (Khan et al., 2017). Child labour in apparel sector take place in small factories, subcontracted workshops in homes as well as in large factories. In these factories, children are forced to carry out diverse and arduous tasks such as sewing buttons, packing and moving garments, cutting and trimming threads, as well as dyeing (Khan et al., 2017). The works hinder children right to access education and adversely affect their mental, physical and spiritual growth. According to World Vision report, a quarter of the labourers 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 labour in the western nations ( 2018).

A 2015 report published by Indian Committee of Netherland highlights demonstrate indicate that child labour is a widespread phenomenon both in the fields and in the industries (Venkateswarlu, 2015). According to the report, 500,000 children are involved in the production of cotton, out of which 200,000 are below 14 years. According to Fontana and Grugel (2015) 260 million children are involved in forced labour around the world. 170 million of these handle task that is beyond the capacity of children to handle (Moulds, 2018). The working condition and environment provide an atmosphere that is unacceptable and unsuitable for children (Boje & Khan, 2009).  Although child labour is forbidden in most countries, it has continued to a source of labour for most companies in the garment industry. Despite the high levels of engagement in child labour, Fontana and Grugel (2015) suggest that child labour 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 other fundamental rights such as recreational (Fontana and Grugel, 2015). Majority of the firm recruit children a mean of reducing their cost of labour while meeting the needs and demand of consumers in the USA, Europe and beyond (Khan et al., 2017).

Although child labour in the world is a major social problem that needs to be addressed, the media has not adequately covered this social evil perpetrated by major clothing and textile companies in the world. Most retail firms rely on the imported materials and textile to produce a finished product. The reliance of the raw materials produced through child labour indirectly contribute to the problem. The paper aims to analyze the failure of the media to highlighted the social problem despite its immense social implication.

Background to the Study

The increased competition in the apparel industry has pushed companies to look for low-cost materials and subsequently cheap labour to be able to produce finished goods at affordable prices. Khan et al. (2017) reason that the demand for cheap labour has pushed child labour across borders. Report published by Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands reveals that the recruiters in Southern India use persuasive argument of better wages and healthy working condition such as comfortable accommodation, improved training, and better schooling to convince parents in the rural areas to send their children to the spinning mills (Venkateswarlu, 2015; Fontana and Grugel, 2015). However, these firms fail to honour their agreements and end up subjecting children to hard labour. The recruiters also pay children meagre wages despite the long hours of work. The use of false and persuasive statements has moved most parents to send their children to work in firms that subject them to slavery (Boje & Khan, 2009, p.13).  

Child labour in the West is a critical issue because much of the supply chain work requires minimal skills. Similarly, some of the tasks can be handled better by children than adults. Children are most suitable to pick cotton in the field because they have small fingers that cannot damage the crop. Companies in the garment industry also view children as obedient work. The high level of obedience makes children a major target for exploitation by the textile firms (Moulds, 2018). The companies view children as easy to manage and can work for a long period with a minimum wage without complaint.  Low wages provided to adult employees and increased poverty has also resulted in increased child labour in the garment industry. In most cases, an adult working in the informal or formal sector of the garment industry earn fewer wages that cannot meet their family needs (Jafarey & Lahiri, 2001, p.74). The need to provide for the family pushes the adults particularly parents to encourage their children to start working in the clothing firms. The increased child labour in apparel industry has resulted in an increased need for trade unions is to protect the rights of children by helping them bargain for better working condition and wages from their employers.

The media has always played a significant role in the construction of child abuse as a social problem. Reports of child rights abuse have been widespread in garment firms with media playing a significant role in the promotion on child rights through TV programs and covered in genres such as TV drama, films call-in shows and even infamous TV interview debates (Huq, Chowdhury, and Klassen, 2016, p. 22). 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 (Huq et al.,

2016, p. 24). Rather than remaining in the background, the media has come to the rear to fight for the protection of child rights and the abolition of child labour.

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 (Jones, 2018). 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 significant child abuse cases (Jones, 2018). Although media has been lauded for the raising of awareness on child labour among people, more needs to be done as child labour is still high and that more needs to be done.

Two companies that have been highlighted on numerous occasions in the media for the use of child labour are Nike and H&M. Nike has been portrayed initially by the press as a company that does not care about its employees as the firm outsources from factories in Bangladesh where they engage in poor working condition and also child labour (Wang, X., 2013). Nevertheless, today Nike is listed as one of the sustainable companies in the world because of its continued efforts to provide suitable working conditions and eliminating child labour (Huq et al., 2016, p. 23). H&M Company has also faced numerous allegations on the media because of use of sweatshop where the Swedish company has relied on Myanmar factories that employ children to produce its finished products (Huq et al., 2016, p.25).  This study aims at producing a critical debate on the issue of child labour in the continent and ways in which the media has been able to portray it.

Study Objectives

The broad objective of this study is to establish how Nike and H&M have perpetuated child labour and the role media in highlighting the problem.

The specific objectives of this study include;

1. To determine the extent to which Nike and H&M have facilitated child labour through their internal supply chain and indirectly through companies that supply textiles to them

2. To analyse the role of media in portraying the issue of child labour propagated by Nike and H&M.

3. To identify how children, work in the informal apparel sector fits into the larger garment industry and its supply chain and the role that the media can play in portraying the situation.

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 media as a form of social responsibility to ensure that child labour is eradicated.

Literature Review

Child Labour and Forced Labour

Globally, there have been numerous efforts and petitions from the human rights groups for the abolishment of child labour in the clothing industry. However, the forced child labour remains a daily routine in most companies in the textile industry (Khan et al.,

2017).  Most of the companies are focused on reducing their cost of labour and improving their profits. As a result, the plight of the child labourers has been overlooked. The child workers provide cheaper labour and hence more profits for the companies (Ahamed, 2013). Child labour has been a long-term problem globally that have been therefore decades.  According to Moulds (2018), there have been estimates of over 170 million children that are subjected to child labour in the world in the clothing industry (Moulds, 2018). These children are involved in the making of garments to meet the increasing demand in the US, Europe and other parts of the world.

The increased child labour in the clothing industry has been propagated by the growth in demand of new fashion garments in the in Europe, US and other parts of the world. The increased demand forces companies to outsource to garment making companies in India, Pakistan and other places where it is cheap to produce these clothes (Moulds, 2018). Therefore, the home companies do not have power over the companies they outsource from. These companies' intern uses child labourers in the production to maximize profits.

A Swedish based fashion company, H&M, has faced several accusations of child labour and at some points agreed that it failed to abolish the involvement of children in forced labour. The company had contracted factories in Myanmar in which children as young as the age of 14 were forced to work in the factories for over 12hrs on a daily basis (Doward, 2012). The companies forced the young children to work until 10 pm which is against international standards and also against the Myanmar standards. H&M was not initially aware of this, but after reports and media coverage, the company apologized and came up with an action plan and signed an agreement with the companies it subcontracts to make sure that they forfeit using child labour in making the clothes (Doward, 2012). The steps are in a bid to clean its name and also adhere to international standards and also uphold the humanitarian rights.

Nike has also faced numerous complaints on sweatshop child labour. The company was founded in the year 1971, like sports gear producing company (Wang, 2013). The company did not own any factories and thus did not make the shoes and sports gear on its own but outsourced to other factories. The factories that the company contracted in Bangladesh to build the boots and other items were reported to have used child labour (Boje & Khan, 2009). However, after media exposure of the poor working condition and child work and outcry from humanitarian groups, the firm decided to abolished forced child labour.  The management of the condition involved Nike taking action against factories that use sweatshop to persuade children to work in deplorable conditions by withdrawing its support from companies that failed to offer decent standards. 

Factors contributing to child labour

The participation of children in cotton production is influenced by various factors. These factors include both social-cultural and economic factors that defer from country to country. This paper would look at the factors contributing to child labour on the supply side factors and the production side to identify why these two companies prefer cotton from Nike and H&M.

Supply-Side Factors

Apart from low skills, cheap labour, and suitability of children to a specific task in the garment industry, poverty also plays a significant role on the participation of a child in forced labour in the clothing sector (Moulds, 2018). In most cases, the low wages paid to adult employees fail to meet the need of their families. The pressure of parents to provide for their families move then to encourage their children to participate in forced labour (Jafarey & Lahiri, 2001, p.76). Debt also lead to the participation of children in the garment sector. Debt is a demand and supply factor in the production of textile. Debt is a compelling reason why people would engage in child labour especially in rural areas where the labour market is weak, and there exists high levels of structural unemployment, the existence of large families and labour migration to the urban areas (Jafarey & Lahiri, 2001, p.73). 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 a vital source of revenue to the poorest countries and the smallholder farmers. Children working in farms therefore in such countries would be able to derive low production, low labour supervision and small operating margins that would help in easing the cost of production.

The norms and the rules held by the society influences the context and levels to which child labour occurs by either making it acceptable or not acceptable in the community (Ahamed, 2013). The norms of the population in such countries discussed above to ensure 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 (Reja, 2017). 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 labour and its consequences. The two companies are also to blame, by sourcing their supplies from such countries; they are in fact promoting child labour.

The availability of the most basic training that is affordable, accessible and open to all members of the society is closely related to the issue of child labour. Not all countries are in a position to provide primary education to the children, or it is not always available (Reja, 2017). In the instances where education is not accessible to children, they would often be found engaging in child labour as parents would not be in a situation to see the advantages of schooling their children. 

Demand-Side Factors

Majority of the employers prefer to higher and get labour from children for the simple reason that they are less expensive than their adult counterparts. Because 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 (Khan et al., 2017). Similarly, 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 correctly by pre-pubescent girls as it is the case with India (Ahamed, 2013). 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.

How can the Media Help to Portray the Situation?

The media should ensure that retailers in the industry provide products that are child-free labour. This can be done in some ways, one of them is to educate their viewers and subscribers on the laws (Huq et al., 2016, p.22). Education of the society is on the provisions that are laid down on the constitution is and in the International Labour Organization is the first step in eradicating the vice. The media should also be vigilant and report abuse of children in the name of child labour (Reja, 2017). Children need adults to be their voices, and hence the media should ensure that the authorities in given localities and the companies in the industry should be aware and taken to task for child labour. Lastly, the media can participate in pioneer movements and organizations in the region to understand the issue and contribute in making awareness of the same.


Although the media have played a significant role in highlighting the plight of children in the labour market, more still needs to be as little has been done to portray the child labour 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 Labour Organization standards are met. There exist some practical steps that companies can use to provide that the issue of child labour can be ridden off. These 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 labour 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.


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August 01, 2023

Child Development

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