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Child Labor in Fashion Industry


Globalization is regarded to be a significant process in our everyday life; it is more than just a simple technological process because it touches upon different spheres at the same time. The successful process of globalization is all about changes and improvements in the ways of how business works. The fashion industry is one of those spheres of life, which have to undergo considerable changes and challenges from time to time. The success of the fashion industry depends on the ways in how different organizations evaluate their chances and work; this is why the more effective and cheaper their costs will be, the more successful their outcomes will be. One of the possible practices to improve the fashion industry is to use child labor. Due to globalization, people get a chance to learn deeper the essence of child labor and evaluate its positive and negative sides. Though it sounds immoral to hire children and make them perform different kinds of work, the idea of child labor is still urgent and frequently used. Taking into consideration the International Labour Law that defines the age of children, who can work, and the conditions under which children can work, the idea of child labor sounds rather clear and understandable. To continue the development of the country, it is necessary to use different practices and decrease costs. Developing countries suffer from poverty and inappropriate living conditions, this is why they found it very effective to use child labor and solve some burning problems in the business sphere. Globalization leads to significant challenges in different spheres of business and fashion industry in particular; to improve the situation in the fashion industry and achieve desirable success, the vast majority of corporations prefers to use child labor as the practice to save money and increase productivity; and even though this labor is immoral and unfair in regards to children, it still returns interests and financial profits.

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Process of Globalization, Its Effects on Outsourcing and Fashion Industry, and the Challenges of Child Labour

Globalization is one of the most provocative modern processes during which it is still hard to define whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous to society. Due to the process of globalization, many unknown before issues undergo considerable discussions and evaluations. For example, the question of child labor has been always an integral part of our everyday life; people know about its existence but do not want to plunge into details. However, thanks to globalization only, the vast majority of people start paying more attention to child labor and get a good chance to analyze its positive and negative sides. “Globalization is probably widening income inequality around the world” (Kaufman and Rizzini 8). Without any doubt, globalization plays a significant role in many spheres of life and causes certain changes in the world of business, fashion, and labor. As a rule, all these changes are connected to the questions of social responsibility in sourcing, distribution, and design of products (Dickson, Loker, and Eckman 10). Globalization is regarded to be a historical process that depends on the varieties of human innovations and constant technological progress. The fashion industry is a complex system of constantly renewed ideas and steps, and even though information technologies are responsible for the development of all spheres of life to a certain extent, fashion marketing requires more imaginative changes in comparison to other spheres. On the one hand, the idea to use child labor in the fashion industry has many financial benefits: children can work on the same levels as adults can do it; they produce all the necessary products and promote the development of the industry; they are not bothered with the same problems as adults are, this is why this kind of labor seems to be cheaper but not less effective. On the other hand, the idea to use children and their skills to achieve improvements and financial profits sounds rather immoral. It seems to be unfair that in many developing and developed countries, child labor takes an important place because more children need to start working and drop their education. Children may drop their education to start their working careers because of many factors: the desire to become independent as soon as possible, inability to pay for their education, family problems, financial difficulties, or some kinds of obligations.

Nowadays, world corporations suffer because of the low cost of workers, this is why they do not have any other way but start buying goods and services in different foreign countries. Outsourcing is considered to be a significant business issue many corporations have to deal with. The nature of outsourcing in the sphere of fashion and business needs to be evaluated on different levels due to its duality Tomkins, Simonson, and Tomkins 19). First, the process of globalization in the fashion industry makes outsourcing become a serious challenge for companies. The necessity to cooperate with another party supposes such negative outcomes like quality risk, when a product turns out to be defective, failures with deliveries, when it becomes impossible to control business transformations and provide an organization with the necessary quality, or some language and cultural difficulties when the interests and preferences of one country differ considerably from the interests of the other country with which it is necessary to cooperate. Differences in language and cultural priorities can make the process of outsourcing difficult and rather costly. However, another understanding of outsourcing in the fashion industry is connected to the idea that it is an appropriate solution to one more challenge in business. If one corporation is not able to cope with existed conditions and requirements, it is possible to address another organization and ask for additional help and support. The process of globalization makes cooperation between countries available at any time, this is why it is quite possible to regard outsourcing in fashion as one more possible solution to the problem. Globalization and outsourcing are the two processes, which have already promoted the world’s development. Outsourcing is driven by the process of globalization due to reducing tariffs, decreasing IT costs and transport challenges, opening new borders.

Unfortunately, outsourcing is not a perfect solution to the problems, developed in many industries, this is why the process of globalization continues spreading over the whole world and requires the use of child labor to achieve higher results and success. Many writers from both developed and developing countries make numerous attempts to underline the urgency of the problem connected to child labor and admit that “child labor becomes either an issue which must be abolished to protect children or an activity which must be defended against the imposition of Western cultural norms” (Lavalette 13). The fashion industry is one of the developing industries all over the world, this is why the increasing of sweatshops that require both adult and child labor continues and leads to rather disappointing results. It does not cost much to hire a child and to pay low salaries for services by the existed standards.

Development Economics and Fashion Industry

Developing economies are the usual characteristics of the countries with a low level of income that is closely related to the low level of manufacturing and industrial development in general. The level of the country’s development is measured with the income rate, life expectancy level, and statistical indexes. Still, being on the low level, the industries in these countries exists and continues their development desiring to reach better quality and higher income in the future.

The apparel industry is on a higher level than other types of industries in developing economies. Several reasons predetermine the better development of the apparel industry than any other manufacturer in the developing economies. First of all, the apparel industry does not require high technologies implementation. It is impossible to claim that the apparel industry does not need innovative technologies at all; still, there is the idea that even if the innovative technologies will fail to enter the industry, this will not prevent the development. Moreover, innovative technologies, such as computer-assisted design, computerized cutting, computer-assigned grading, and marketing come into the industry slowly, even in developed countries. So, referencing this fact, it may be concluded that the level of apparel production both in the developing countries and in the developed ones is alike (Mamic and International Labour Office 149).

Apparel production is a labor-intensive job that at the same time does not require much knowledge. Coming closer to the problem it may be seen that it is possible to come through short learning and in several weeks a person will be a good seamer (Mamic and International Labour Office 149). The absence of education and other skills make it possible for some people to use child labor in the work. Most developing economies do not bother about the legislative acts and supporting children’s work in the textile factories. Many children in developing countries work hard on apparel production to feed their families or earn money for personal needs.

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It is visible that the level of life in developing countries is one of the most urgent problems that should be decided. Most people live behind the low-income poverty threshold and this is the other reason that pushes children to work. Poverty and the absence of necessity to have background knowledge push many children to work hard on apparel manufacturing, producing fashionable clothes. Referencing the child labor and legislation of the issue, it should be mentioned that there is the “link between the use of child labor and the existence of a minimum wage… the suggestion of using minimum wage legislation in developing countries as a form of international standard has the risk of exacerbating the problem of child labor (Jones and Jones M. 191). Still, illegal child labor will always be a problem in developing economies as it is one of the ways to survive for most families.

Furthermore, the use of child labor in the apparel industry is immoral. Many fashion corporations, designer clothes, and sportswear use child labor (Fisher and Lovell 120). The problem is sharp in the developing countries where children are ready to sit to photographers in fashionable clothes and get money for this. Children do not understand the whole problem of the situation. Still, adults must care about it. First, they ignore children’s virtue and dignity, as sometimes fashion clothes ads are too vulgar. Moreover, some specialists claim that the Kantian perspective of morality is ruined with the use of children in fashion shows. The Kantian perspective of morality states that people should treat others as they want to treat themselves. It is understood that most people do not want to be exploited (Fisher and Lovell 120).

The apparel industry in developing economies continues actively use outsourcing. The advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing in the industry were discussed before; still, there is the necessity to point some peculiarities of outsourcing in developing countries. Looking for reduction of costs on the production, some developed countries have understood that outsourcing techniques may play a good part in apparel production. The research shows that the developing countries are the main sources of low labor. The apparel production in the 1980s-1990s spread to Asia, notably to China. Paying attention to outsourcing techniques, it is notable to say that many developing countries take part in the developed countries’ apparel production. Thus, China produces world-known cotton and liner, Taiwan is a specialist in producing materials for outdoor clothing, the shell, and fleece. Thailand is the leading country of imitation fur production and ringing the hood (Mamic and International Labour Office 150).

Many people consider developing countries as the main sources of free labor and cheap manufacturing possibilities. It is notable that to open apparel manufacturing it is unnecessary to rent huge areas and expensive equipment. Moreover, experienced and skilled works are also in no necessity which is why child labor is the main source of production. Concentrating the main production in the developed countries, many companies use outsourcing techniques and organize the production of some details in developing countries.

One of the main problems of the apparel and fashion industry in the developing economies is that the low income of the countries does not allow them to improve the quality of labor and optimize the working process. It is world known that the use of innovative technologies in any industry optimizes the manufacturing process, reduces costs, and increases the effectiveness of the work. Modern developed countries have already chosen this way and now are satisfied with the results. Developing countries cannot allow them the use of expensive equipment so they try to reduce costs using child labor use.

So, it may be concluded that the apparel industry is on a high level in developing countries, although the general position of these countries is low. First of all, the apparel industry does not require high-priced equipment that makes it easy to start manufacturing. Second, people are not required to have background knowledge or special experience, as only for several weeks of learning they will require the necessary skills. Furthermore, child labor is one of the cheapest in the world and the absence of effective legislative power in developing countries makes it possible to use child labor almost for free. Still, if even the law cannot prevent people from using child labor both in apparel production and in fashion ads, the moral laws should stand for their protection. It is both, unethical and immoral to use child labor in its all manifestations.

Child Labour in Fashion Industry: Norms of Working

The fashion industry is, perhaps, one of the biggest users of child labor. This especially goes for the fashion industry of the developing countries where working for low payments is normal for people and where even children have to work for their families to survive. It is not a secret that children hardly ever decide anything. In most cases, the choice is made by their parents. As a consequence, children not only lose their right to a normal childhood but do not have many chances to get an education, which even more contributes to the poor economic development of the country. As far as the fashion industry is concerned, around 90% of the workshops (of mostly the developing countries) use child labor with children often drawn from school to spend long hours in the sweatshops for almost no payment (Nelson para. 14). The government of these countries is well aware of the use of child labor in the fashion industry, but there is no way that this use can be traced for it is practically impossible to check all the factories. Thus, most of the manufacturers in this industry hardly observe any norms of working when it comes to the use of child labor.

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Discussing the norms of working for children, it should be mentioned that they, for the biggest part, are international. The welfare and rights of children are protected by the International Labour Law which sets the norms of working for children and adolescents. The first norms were adopted in the far 1916 during the first session at the International Labour Conference. Back then, the lawmakers “adopted Convention No. 5 on minimum age, which prohibits [ed] the employment of children under the age of fourteen in industrial undertakings” (Servais 135). In the subsequent years, the standard was raised to fifteen years; if the work was especially difficult, the youth of only higher than 15 was allowed to work. Closer to the 1980s the law experienced further modifications. After one more convention, it was decided that children could participate in labor activities only if they were fully physically and mentally developed, though the bounds of such developments have not been agreed upon. With no specific age limits, any child that was regarded as fully developed physically and mentally could be involved in labor. This caused further arguments and the necessity to define the age or at least to set specific age limits for using child labor. A new amendment was made to the law:

The minimum age thus specified must not be less than the age at which compulsory schooling ends and, in any case, not less than 15 years. A logical link is therefore drawn between the end of a person’s schooling and the start of his working life. Experience has shown that where no such link exists, the risk is greater than young people with no defined activity will engage in the unreported work. (Servas 135)

In addition, the countries whose education and economies were developed sufficiently were allowed to employ children of the age of 14. Nevertheless, raising the age to 16 remained the main objective of the International Labour Law. This was eventually achieved and the resulting standards even exceeded the ones that were planned to set. Thus, the minimum age of 18 was set as a standard for young people to be allowed to work. This age could be lowered to 16 “on condition that health, safety, and morals of the young persons concerned are fully protected and that they have received adequate specific instruction or vocational training” (Servais 136). At this, it should be borne in mind that every instance of the 16-year-olds’ involvement in labor should be considered separately. Special attention should be paid to the state of health of the individual, as well as to the kind of work this individual is expected to do. Restrictions are placed on the work with dangerous processes and substances, the underground work, or the work with the transportation of heavy loads. Similarly, there exist certain specifications as for the light work. Children younger than 18 are allowed to do light work if it does not have any harmful influence on their health and development. Again, such cases are individual and permission should be given for the use of such children’s labor. At present, most countries are obliged to observe this law, and the International Labour Organization is expected to watch this observance. This organization deals with different labor issues. Its response to child labor abuse was the creation of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour in 1992; the main goal of this program was to eliminate child labor throughout the world.

Finally, the observance of these laws should not be blind, because there are cases that are not regarded as child labor, though a child may be involved in a certain kind of work. First of all, this is the participation of children in the housework. The help that children give to their parents around the house (of course, if this help does not take their entire time and is not harmful to their health) is not the use of child labor. Secondly, most of the activities that the teenagers may do before and after school, as well as during their holidays are also not considered to be child labor. This, however, goes only for those cases when this work aims to earn some extra pocket money spent by the teenagers themselves afterward. Finally, the activities in which teenagers take part and which are directed at ensuring the welfare of the school (cleaning the territory or the like activities), are also not regarded as a violation of the laws concerning the protection of the children’s rights. All these cases are simply the means of educating young children and teenagers; in most instances, they are directed at fostering responsibility and independence in them. Moreover, they often serve as the main method for developing new skills in them, the skills that will further be required for social adaptation and that will give them a brilliant opportunity to earn pocket money and, with time, contribute to the financial welfare of their families. All the other instances and, especially, the exploitation of children in the sweatshops or workshops (as is often the case in the fashion industry) are immoral and the people responsible for such instances are persecuted by the International Labour Organization and forced to bear the punishment for their actions.


In general, the question of child labor is considered to be a significant point nowadays. Due to the process of globalization, people try to take various steps and activities to improve their work and have enough chances to derive benefits from everything. Nowadays, the discussions of child labor and the process of globalization take place on an international level; this is why both developed and developing countries are involved in this problem. Certain laws are created to protect children’s rights and freedoms and make them free to choose between work and study. Of course, the current state of affairs and the developed poverty promote the development of child labor. The fashion industry and the idea to use child labor in sweatshops continue bothering many people but still, nothing is done to change the situation for the better and deprive children of the necessity to work on the same levels and under the same conditions as adults work. Child labor pervades the fashion industry; and even though this information upsets many people in different countries, the results are not satisfactory. Globalization provides poor people with numerous opportunities to earn money; the possibility of cooperation between poor and rich countries influences the wages paid to children and allows decreasing it by the demands of society. The use of child labor is immoral from all perspectives, and though it may sound beneficial, this practice should be stopped using struggles with poverty and providing people with proper living conditions.

Works Cited

Dickson, Marsha, A., Loker, Suzanne, and Eckman, Molly. Social Responsibility in the Global Apparel Industry. New York: Fairchild Books, 2009.

Fisher, Colin and Alan Lovell. Business Ethics and Values: Individual, Corporate and International Perspectives. Oxford: Pearson Education, 2008. Print.

Jones, Richard and Richard M. Jones. The Apparel Industry. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006. Print.

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Kaufman, Natalie, H. And Rizzini, Irene. Globalization and Children: Exploring Potentials for Enhancing Opportunities in the Lives of Children and Youth. New York: Springer, 2002.

Lavalette, Michael. A Thing of the Past? Child Labour in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999.

Mamic, Ivanka and International Labour Office. Implementing codes of conduct: how businesses manage social performance in global supply chains. Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2004. Print.

Nelson, Dean. “Fashion’s Dirty Secret: 3p-an-Hour Child Labour.” The Sunday Times. 2006. Web.

Servais, Jean-Michel. International Labour Law. Amsterdam: Kluwer Law International, 2008.

Tomkins, James, A., Simonson, Steven, W., and Tomkins, Bruce, W. Logistics and Manufacturing Outsourcing: Harness Your Core Competencies. Raleigh, NC: Tomkins Press, 2005.

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