We wish we could say we’re surprised when these kinds of horrifying reports come to light. We really do. But by now, the sheer number of known instances of child labor and other human rights violations taking place in garment factories throughout the Eastern Hemisphere has truly spun out of control.
While the shock factor may be gone, it is no less painful to hear about children being exploited in clothing shops in Turkey. This latest revelation came about via an undercover investigation by the BBC, which reported that underage workers, as well as adult Syrian refugees, were toiling illegally at wages well below the dictated minimum. One 15-year-old was spending more than 12 hours a day ironing clothes to be shipped to the UK.
Beyond the long hours and low pay, garment workers were also exposed to hazardous chemicals without being provided even a basic protective mask.
The first-person account of Darragh MacIntyre, one of the journalists who conducted the undercover probe as part of BBC’s Panorama unit, stings the senses:
The first time you see a child hunched over a sewing machine in a hot, airless factory will never leave you.
The boy, no more than 11 or 12, peeked up at me with just the trace of a smile before he dipped his head again, back to work. It felt like a punch in the gut.
At the other end of the supply chain, as usual, the reaction is one of bewilderment and confounded fluster. According to BBC, the major apparel brands connected to these factories claim that they “carefully monitor their supply chains and do not tolerate the exploitation of refugees or children.”
In fairness, this is a difficult task. Keeping a close eye on operations in distant third-world countries can be tricky, especially when stakeholders in said locations have incentive to keep the illicit activities hidden. But as the widespread nature of these violations becomes more and more evident, that old ‘we’re doing our best’ explanation is quickly ceasing to be acceptable.
If the current inspection methods are routinely missing these offenses, then it seems safe to say that those methods aren’t good enough. Between this and the child labor infringements in Myanmar, illuminated by a Swedish exposé in August, there have been multiple prominent windows into wide-reaching corruption within the past couple of months alone.
As public awareness spreads, the pressure is growing for major clothing brands to take control of their sourcing and eliminate these kinds of practices. Even if they aren’t directly permitting the violations, consumers will increasingly view these companies as being complicit due to a lack of oversight and active pushback.
In this age, stopping child labor and worker exploitation is becoming as much a business decision as a humanitarian one.
Fortunately, new organizations are continually emerging to assist these vital endeavors. The tools we have created at Inspectorio, utilizing the latest technology to create unprecedented levels of transparency throughout the supply chain, are aimed at just that.
Perhaps it is impossible to eliminate every instance of unfair and unethical dealings. But it would sure be nice to reach a point where it’s no longer so utterly unsurprising to hear about it.