Nina Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of GoodWeave International, a charity working to stop child and bonded labour in our supply chains. TRAID is funding GoodWeave to work with retailers to illuminate every part of their supply chains to stop child and bonded labour.
The majority of our clothes and shoes are made by an unregulated workforce in conditions which are hard to see or track. It is here, at the bottom of supply chains, in tiny factories and workshops, and in people’s homes, that labour abuse is at its most prevalent and exploitative.
Brands concern themselves with regulating the first layer of their supply chain – the factory the clothes are supplied from – and avert their gaze from the networks of small producers and home workers which often makes up the majority of their production.
GoodWeave is the leading organisation that has, on a sustained and commercial level, helped companies to fully map supply chains in tandem with investing in community led interventions to address child labour.
In 2017, TRAID is once again funding our work which will see us working closely with selected UK clothes brands to take a long hard look at the lower tiers of their production chains.
This project takes place in four villages in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India, which serves as a hub for home based work, particularly embroidered items. In partnership with brands, we will carry out supply chain mapping through all levels of production and monitor strict no child or forced labour standards.
In the fashion industry, the work of home workers is prevalent especially when it comes to labour intensive embellishment work like embroidery and beading. Factories send clothes to homeworkers for hand work, which are then sent back to the factory to be stitched. This work is mainly done by women, and often, children in the home as young as five are introduced to embellishment as helpers, and later as workers. There is no place for education.
These workers are out of sight, have no power and are easy to exploit – from being paid a pittance to working under systems of debt bondage.
The outcome of proper scrutiny will be accurate data on the levels of child and bonded slavery in supply chains, which in turn will drive accountability down to the bottom of supply chains.
It will also enable the money being spent on corporate social responsibility by brands – currently in the billions – to be allocated where it will make a difference. This is urgent. A report commissioned by GoodWeave based on interviews with 70 experts revealed a complete disconnect between where companies are putting money to stop child labour taking place, and where child labour is actually taking place.
At GoodWeave, we believe that informal jobs can be meaningful when every worker is accounted for. It means children are enrolled in school and that important labour rights criteria are met regardless of work location. This approach is good for workers and for companies, who see outcomes like better product quality, more stable supply and more customer loyalty.
We believe child labour can be stopped. The brands that have partnered with GoodWeave prove that a company can maintain and even advance its competitive edge by making the investment to end child labour and modern slavery.
Now, the time is right to do more. The regulatory environment has shifted with new laws around the world, and we’re seeing companies taking more responsibly for their entire supply chain. We also have the UN Sustainable Development Goal to end child labour by 2025, which has created a perfect moment to persuade retailers to stop looking away, and instead, address and solve the problems in their supply chains.