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Child labour in fashion and pandemic

When we go shopping with a friend of ours we do not think about everything that is behind a piece of clothing or a bag and maybe we let ourselves be attracted by attractive offers that offer us a fashion product that follows the trends of the moment at a bargain price.At that moment we only think that we have made a bargain but we have done nothing but feed an industry harmful to us and our planet, very far from all that is responsible fashion, in fact, behind a simple sweater of low quality and low cost there are raw materials highly impacting on the environment and people forced to work in bad conditions, of which a large part are children.

In Eastern countries, like Bangladesh, for example, in any textile factory it is normal to find child workers, torn from their childhood and forced to work for countless hours, without any hygiene or safety standards and for a truly miserable final pay.

In today’s world there are about 150 million slave-children who work and have more or less tiring jobs, children who have been denied the right to childhood and, therefore, that to a future.

According to the ILO report on child exploitation, 74 million children are engaged in high-risk work in contact with substances, dangerous machinery and equipment and the textile and clothing industry is a sector in which child labour is particularly exploited and which takes on a certain importance because it concerns our everyday lives.

Among the many faces and stories that we can read and see in documentaries, there are for example those of young women and girls hired according to the scheme of "Sumangali".According to this system, women who work in looms are literally locked up between 3 and 5 years in factories, with exhausting work rhythms and starving wages.Wages that are then paid by the "employers" at the end of the contract and that, often, are used as a dowry for marriage.

The biggest fashion brands are used to relocate to countries such as India, Pakistan or Bangladesh to cut production costs and, sometimes, exploit labor laws much more flexible and permissive than those of industrialized countries.The relocation is mainly exploited by brands that offer low-cost garments and that aim at the Fast Fashion market, in which the design of clothing passes very quickly from the catwalks to the market, with the particularity and the value of being accessible to all pockets.

Consumers have become more and more inclined to have a greater variety of products and more and more enticed by the satisfaction resulting from the purchase of low-cost and latest fashion products.Producers, on the other hand, have had to adapt to increasingly cheaper and faster production chains, fostering unbridled competition, wage squeeze and - despite the existence of child protection laws - child slavery.

The exploitation of child labour is nothing more than a by-product of poverty.Indeed, we can say that, if it is true that poverty generates exploitation of children, even the exploitation of children does not eradicate poverty.If we remove teenagers and children from schools, the obvious long-term fallout for those individuals will be to maintain a low standard of living, without the possibility of social mobility and with the condemnation to a state of semi-illiteracy for the rest of his life.

On World Day against Child Labour the symbol is Zohra, the 8-year-old Pakistani girl killed by her employers for the sole fault of having freed the parrots from the cage.But there are 152 million of Zohra in the world: girls and boys forced to work, exploited and sometimes tortured and killed like little Zohra.With the pandemic, the situation is likely to worsen according to the ILO-UNICEF report presented in Geneva.

After 20 years of progress, child labour is for the first time likely to grow again as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. According to the report of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Unicef «According to COVID-19 and child labour: A time of crisis, a time to act», child labour has decreased by 94 million cases since 2000 but progress is now compromised: children who are already working are likely to work longer hours or worse, explains the report. Most of them may be forced to perform the worst jobs, which cause damage to health and safety.

«As soon as the pandemic causes a devastating effect on the incomes of families, without support, many can resort to child labour,» explains the ILO’s general manager, Guy Ryder. 'Social protection is vital in times of crisis, as it provides assistance to the most vulnerable. Integrating the concerns for child labour into broader policies for education, justice, the labour market, human rights makes the difference».

According to the report, a percentage point increase in poverty induces at least 0.7% increase in child labour in certain countries.«In times of crisis, child labour becomes a coping mechanism for many families - explains UNICEF director Henrietta Fore. - As poverty grows, schools close and social services decrease, many children are pushed to work».

There is increasing evidence that child labour is increasing with the closure of schools which, during the pandemic, affected more than a billion students in 130 countries.When schools start again, not all parents could afford to send their children to school.Children and young people who could be pushed into dangerous jobs and conditions of exploitation.Gender inequalities can grow seriously, with girls particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and housework, the report explains.


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