- Sanya Mahajan
Behind Closed Doors: Child Labour in Bangladesh
© Courtesy of Chris McGrath
The devastating reality of Child labour in Bangladesh and how we are contributing to it.
Imagine a child, with lost hopes and dreams. One who wakes up early in the morning and starts their day picking through garbage looking for their first meal. A child just 12 years old, working day and night in sweatshops; overworked and underpaid.
Now, look at the clothes you are wearing. How sure are you about that brand’s credibility? How many little hands did it take for your jeans to fit just right? How aware are you?
The reality of fast fashion harbours the undisclosed exploitation that takes place behind closed doors. Child Labour in Bangladesh has been in the news since the major incident of the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013; exposing the inhuman conditions and the poor facilities of sweat factories in Bangladesh. Movements and organisations raised awareness and stood up against the ill-treatment of labour and the appointment of children in unhealthy conditions. Intergenerational poverty due to low literacy rates has contributed massively to the current situation.
However, over the years various organisations have worked tirelessly in providing access to school, meal schemes and urban job opportunities. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, years of progress have been reversed. With an increase in layoffs, factories closing down and close to no wages to support themselves, children have been forced to work wherever possible to earn a day’s meal. Closure of schools has also removed their source of meals and access to hygienic facilities making children more vulnerable towards labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Bangladesh is also ranked 4th highest in the rate of child marriage, due to the inability of the families to support them. (UNICEF,2020) Gender discrimination is yet another issue that comes into play due to the lack of education and growth of survival mindset because of the grinding poverty.
The internal works no matter how controversial, stay in play even today. From being forced to work overtime to complete the ‘big order’ to barely making enough money to support a family, the children are abused and exploited to date. Countless organisations have made efforts to persuade parents to enrol their children in schools rather than sending them to the city to sell vegetables or get employed in factories in the hopes of earning money.
Vaccine and immunisation stalls near slums made efforts in improving the health conditions and safeguarding children against diseases. However, no schooling, no vaccines, and no movements regardless of how wide in reach on social media improved their need for sourcing a decent warm meal. Children are still Victims of exploitative labour, working in every and any job possible to earn a decent living. Garment factories even today fail to acknowledge the repercussions of unhealthy working conditions. Child labour is inevitable due to the grinding poverty and lack of opportunities in Bangladesh. What people fail to understand is that if children stop working, they will die of hunger. The problem isn’t with them being employed, it's about the exploitation that comes into play by the unorganised sector that buys and pushes them into a vicious cycle.
Being employed in a ‘good job’ that pays dues and respects human labour and the ‘bad job’ that forces children to work overtime, underpays and abuses is where the line is drawn. Unfortunately, there are more bad jobs than good ones which breed the never-ending cycle of exploitation. Parents in villages often send their children to work with the recruiters in hope that the food and money promised by them would at least sustain their children. However, these tactics and lack of awareness of labour rights contribute to the countless admission of children into jobs that hold them captive.
Brands today want it both ways, cheap labour but higher safety standards with a minimal price to pay for it. This incessant growth of the fast fashion sector refuses the existence of foul play in the background. How many kids will it take for the companies to say enough?
Consumers today are aware of fast fashion brands and the startling low prices at which their clothes are often sold at. The background narrative that highlights the reasons behind such low prices is crucial. Therefore, the only way to effectively make an impact to stop child labour is to have transparency in the supply chain. Consumers deserve to know how brands like Boohoo, Zara, Primark, and H&M are able to produce clothes at competitive prices in sync with the latest trends every week. The aim is to force brands to retrace the manufacturing of the garments and allow consumers access to them. A sustainable t-shirt made with 100% cotton ticks the box for ethically sourced but does it also show who sourced those cotton buds that made the t-shirt? Was it the little hands that were working tirelessly in a field full of pesticide and picking cotton by hands? These are the questions that need to be addressed again by the customers and not just the organisations working towards it.
Transparency, trust, and truth are what consumers need today to be able to make the right choice. Regardless of how tough, brands have to be forced to recognise what goes on in their factories and share it with the consumers.
Organisations like Fashion revolution have a list of brands that can help customers make the right decision by choosing to shop at labels that don't engage in child labour and have the facts to prove it. Complete transparency is the only way to hold brands accountable and now is the time to take action. What are you doing about it?