It was on 24 April 2013, exactly 4 years ago, when the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh took place, killing more than 1000 workers and exposing the harsh reality of the international clothing supply chains operations and the dark side of the fast fashion industry.
Pic Source: Google Images
The images of piles of rubble spread on the ground, and the collapsed concrete of the building, still speak of the difficult lives of the thousands of workers who toiled for long hours, just to produce a piece of inexpensive clothing that most of us buy and dispose off after few wears.
This unfortunate incident brought to light a typical scenario of the ‘fast fashion’ industry- the poor working conditions that lacked worker safety, basic human rights and use of child labour. Since then, some progress has been made in terms of reforms for factory safety and increment in the minimum wages, showing some positive signs towards decent work. However, despite this achievement, workers including children continue to be employed, abused, exploited - many of them trafficked to work in factories and other units like Rana Plaza. Big factories that supply major brands might be better regulated now, but most of the smaller operations-that are just one step down in the supply chain- continue to exploit children in producing garments and other products , which can be accorded as one of the worst forms of child labour.
Across the world, according to ILO, there are 21 million people thought to be working under conditions of forced labour within the private economy—primarily in agriculture, construction, domestic work, manufacturing, mining and utilities. Children moreover have been found working in cobalt mines for the some of the major cellphone brand supply chains, Syrian refugees working under terrible circumstances for garment supply chains in Turkey, Rohingya refuges working as slaves in the Thai fishing industry and North African migrants working in agriculture in Italy and Spain. Situations like these have spurred the UN to set Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 on Decent Work and Economic Growth, which calls for: “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.
Pic Source: Google Images
In countries like Bangladesh, where forced labour is rampant including child labour, children spend days working under the scorching hot lights of the ill-ventilated rooms, instead of going to school or playing in their free time. School for most of them is just a dream that probably will never be accomplished, as long as unaware consumers like us, continue to buy products that are made of child labour, and irresponsible producers continue to ignore their responsibilities towards a cleaner and ethical supply chain.
While child labour is a global problem with 168 million child labourers around the world, there is a glimpse of hope that can turn the situation upside down. This ray of hope is the intervention of civil societies such as Global March Against Child Labour (Global March), who are addressing the need for engaging businesses in following an ethical path for sourcing their products and a number of binding regulations regarding modern slavery in supply chains introduced by several governments across the world. In USA, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 is intended to ensure consumers are provided with information about the efforts to prevent and eradicate human trafficking and slavery from their supply chains. The recent UK Modern Slavery Act also binds all companies that do any part of their business in the UK, if they have annual gross worldwide revenues of £36 million or more each year, to publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement. The Netherlands as well is all set to form a law making human rights “due diligence” mandatory for companies. It would require companies to not only to look at their direct suppliers, but also whether there is a “reasonable suspicion” that child labour occurs further down their supply chain.
Labour issues and use of child labour in global supply chains present a serious and pressing problem; therefore it is encouraging to see they are being taken seriously not only by the international community but also by governments. Unless the top level management is made conscious of the existing realities in their supply chains, smaller operations down from the second link till the last link, will continue to employ and exploit child labour-making it impossible for such working children to attend schools, receive an education that gives them a fair chance at life.
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Every day we advocate for the right to quality, inclusive and equitable education for all children, and are working across the world with our partners to ensure that child labour is regarded as a menace and its practice is discouraged everywhere. Our programmes have enabled children to get out of work and go to school along with pledging to not work and not let their peers work as well. We work closely with governments around the world, making them accountable for the gaps in policies related to child labour and education, reminding them of the need for effective implementation at every step.
We support the view that education is a public good and it is the right of every child to receive free and quality education and it is the duty of the governments to deliver the same. To fullfill their duty as the custodian of children’s right to education, governments need to invest in education, adhering to the international benchmarks of allocating a minimum of 6% their GDP and 20% of national budgets to education.
We are doing our bit, and all of us can do our bit in making a difference to the lives of the millions of vulnerable children around the world. Companies, consumers and governments all need to do their part to remove child labour, slavery, trafficking and exploitation, out of the lives of children, who deserve to enjoy their childhoods just as we did.
You can do your bit right now by supporting our work in this #GlobalActionWeekForEducation and can #StandUpForEducation by advocating with your governments that its finally #TimeToDeliver.
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