Child Labor Horrors in Fashion Industry: “Hide the Shame” is the New Strategy (2007 Press Release)

Washington, DC, November 8, 2007 — With news last Friday that an additional 76 child slaves were rescued from Delhi’s embroidery dens, the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) has called for immediate and responsible action by brands and retailers to end child labor and trafficking of children, as well as forced labor, in their supply chain and sourcing. The Global March Against Child Labor (GMACL), for which the CLC serves as its North American coordinator, estimates that as many as 5,000-7,000 embroidery units may be operating in Delhi, with each unit employing between 25 and 30 children. Many of these children are victims of trafficking and bonded labor, a form of slavery.

Gap Inc. acknowledged on October 29, that one of its suppliers was using child slave labor. Children as young as 10 said they worked 16 hours a day for no pay, according to the British Observer newspaper’s investigation. The retailer issued a public statement and destroyed the products, which would have otherwise ended up on shelves at GapKids.

While Gap owned up to the problem, committed to correct it, and vowed to bring its suppliers into full compliance with its standards, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) reports that a cover-up is being attempted by some other companies doing business in India. In essence, ITGLWF is hearing from some suppliers that they are being pressured to eliminate any paper trail between retailers/brands and Indian subcontractors, who may or may not be using child labor.

“If this is occurring, and we obtain brand or retailer names, consumers will hear about it,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League and Co-Chair of the CLC. “A ‘cut and run’ response is completely unacceptable, as is a ‘hide our guilt’ response. We expect companies to ensure there is no child labor throughout their supply chain.”

Gap Inc. recognizes this is not an isolated incident, nor is it a Gap-specific problem. Gap is currently working locally in Delhi to respond to the abuses, while also appropriately working with the GMACL and ITGLWF on the broader issues related to protecting children and developing a mature system of industrial relations between independent unions and employers.

Another key component rests in the hands of the government of India, which can and should be enforcing its laws on child labor and bonded labor and aggressively prosecuting employers found in violation of the laws. Through ensuring adequate resources and training for factory inspections, the government of India will send a clear message to the world that it takes protecting children from worst forms of child labor, including bonded child labor, as a priority.

“Other retailers must join Gap in acknowledging there is a problem in the supply chain in India. We do not support corporations jumping ship and moving these jobs to some other country with similar or parallel problems. That’s no solution,” said Darlene Adkins, CLC Coordinator. “Consumers are watching for a good-faith, credible response to ensure decent work for adults and no child labor. Any textile company that tries to cover-up, instead of an honest effort to clean up their abusive use of child labor, will pay a high price with consumers.”

About the Child Labor Coalition

The Child Labor Coalition is a group of more than 30 organizations, representing consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s groups.  It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers.  Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad.