This isn’t a trick question, or maybe it is. What it gets down to is are we willing to ask the really uncomfortable questions to better understand our global supply chain and then find a way to move forward together. At THR3EFOLD we believe that a full secondary school education is the right to every child no matter their socioeconomic status. However we are constantly forced to confront and understand cultural differences and also believe it is important to respect that culture for their beliefs and the choices they make as a result. To fully comprehend this issue we first need to understand why child labor is in our supply chain now and what is currently being done to limit it.
Why is child labor in our supply chain now?
1 | Poor Families Means Working Children
At first glance, it’s easy to assume child labor in fashion’s supply chain is wrong. Period. But if you look deeper you may discover an alternative point of view. Consider a poor family where only one parent is able to work and doesn’t make enough to feed the family and keep a roof over their heads. Is it wrong for those parents to choose for their eldest child to begin working to help feed the family and make ends meet? This happens. A lot. It's also important to note, that due to the severe need of many families in poverty, a long term investment such as education is not considered as they focus instead on their immediate needs each day.
2 | Massive Population Mixed with Lack of Enforcement
The next important factor to consider is a deeper systemic one. Due to the sheer volume of people in poverty in places like India where much of our garment manufacturing occurs, it is quite challenging to enforce regulations. Many people do not possess birth certificates either because they had home births or because they have been misplaced. Since people can find jobs without birth certificates they do not hold the same weight as in America. India has created a new form of employment identification but existing norms such as corrupt cops and/or small communities where people can vouch for individuals, create barriers for enforcement as legal requirements such as proof of birth can be overlooked.
3 | The Gig Economy is Strong and the Gap to Success is Wide
There are many forms of sustainable employment for people without an education such as housemaid, driver, merchant, etc all requiring very little education if any. That coupled with the fact that often in Asian countries only a few professions such as medicine and law are deemed truly successful and since the chasm to achieving a career of that status is so vast, most people would rather go straight into the gig economy, earn an income, and live happily.
Just like many humble farms and small family businesses in the west, as soon as a child is old enough to contribute, they are working. When a family lives on meager means you have to be resourceful to get by. So where does that leave us with child labor in fashion’s supply chain? Great question. THR3EFOLD only works with factories who are ethically certified to try and curtail child labor in fashion's supply chain.
1 | Ethical Certifications Start with Legal Minimum Age Requirements
Any ethical certification a factory may possess will at least require the legal minimum working age of the country in which the factory resides. This legal minimum working age can range from 13-16 years old depending on the country.
2| Ethical Certifications Require Young Workers to Not Interfere with Schooling
To help combat a sometimes very low legal working age, ethical certifications require employed minors to be limited on the amount of hours they can accrue each week and when those hours occur in order to protect their compulsory school hours.
While it is not a perfect system, it's a start, and one we are committed to improving so more pathways can be created for poor families seeking to educate their children, feed their children, and give their children a life of choice. If you are interested in finding a factory committed to providing sustainable employment for people around the world, check out our newly launched Ethical Manufacturing Platform and get connected today.