When it comes to fashion, it should all be about choices. Not just choices in how we exhibit our own personal style but also in how ethical the production methods are of our clothing.

The human aspect of the fashion industry is something that manufacturers like to keep hidden from us. Nowadays, more and more labels are opting for ethical choices. However, sometimes a label can be misleading. They may use ecologically sound manufacturing methods yet still use unethical practises when it comes to their staff.

In this day and age, buying clothes that rely on fairtrade and decent labour conditions is not difficult. You just need to stay informed, do some research and consider what working conditions you are happy for other people to be subjected to in order for you to enjoy a sense of style.




Although child labour is illegal in the majority of the world, it is still a huge problem in some of the poorest countries. In some areas there is no choice but for children to work, yet the conditions are such that they learn a lot and may even enjoy the work. Like in some parts of India, children are taught a skill such as embroidery which they practise with their families and as part of a community and heritage. This is simply an education and the skills they learn will help them survive. However, there are many situations where the conditions are not quite as child-friendly. The hours are long, food is scarce and lacking in nutrition, the wages are unfair and there is no insurance or chance of education. This forced labour under bad conditions is the ugly face of the modern slave trade.

According to the International Labour Organisation, there are approximately 260 million children in employment in the world right now. Of these, it is estimated that around 170 million of them are engaged in what the UN has classified as child labour. Child labour is defined as “work for which the child is either too young – work done below the required minimum age – or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited.”

The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) recently released a shocking report that revealed how recruiters would target the most impoverish areas of southern India, promising families that their daughters would receive three decent meals a day, good working conditions and education and training opportunities if they worked at their spinning mills. The families are convinced that they are doing the right thing and sign their daughters up. In reality, the conditions are appalling and represent the worst forms of child labour, they are the reality of modern day slavery.

Children are often picked over adults as they are easy to source. They also tend to be more compliant and obedient. Some tasks even suit the tiny build of children more. Cotton picking employees have expressed that children small fingers are better suited to the job and less likely to damage the crops.

The SOMO report also reports that 60% of the people working at the mills that were investigated in India were under the age of 18. Children are used in farming cotton as well as manufacturing fabrics and constructing garments. Unfortunately, it is often hard to trace the exact origins of each garment back. Sub-contracting is very common in the fashion industry and many brands have no idea where their textiles really come from.


In 2013, the news that a textile factory in Bangladesh had collapsed killing one thousand people, stunned the world. It was a bleak reminder of the terrible conditions that many people are working under, just to ensure that we stay stylish.

As with child labour, in the poorest countries in the world people are being forced into horrific working conditions for very low rates of pay because there is little other alternative.


A recent report by Human Rights Watch revealed that the conditions in the worst sweatshops are beyond bad, they are criminally abusive. Sweatshops in Cambodia were revealed to supply clothes for popular brands such as Adidas, Marks & Spencer and GAP. Companies such as H&M have recently started promoting their ethical methods, yet the study also revealed that women in Cambodia are being paid just 50 cents an hour to stitch sweatshirts for H&M that retail at $25. The factories that were investigated are not only so hot and noisy that fainting is a regular part of the day, but during recent strikes several of the employees were shot dead by the authorities.

Around half a million Cambodians work in these conditions, because the alternatives can be much worse. The report states that a third of the workers in one H&M factory were children and that they worked as hard as the adults, often stitching for hours on end, including working late into the night.

According to the report, even basic human rights such as using the toilet is prohibited. During a ten hour shift it is expected that you will not use the toilet, doing so can result in punishment.

The report also unveiled that many factories have a habit of promising extra money to employees who meet specific difficult targets. This includes unrealistic goals such as stitching 2000 shirts in a ten hour period. When employees meet this target, the factory refuse to pay them the bonus that was promised. If workers aren’t fast enough, or they fight back, they are replaced.


Organisations such as The Fair Wear Foundation have a code of labour practices that completely prohibit the use of child labour. There are 120 brands on their list, all of which have passed regular audits. There are other similar schemes in place, such as the Fairtrade Label Organisation, the Global Organic Textile Standard, Made In A Free World and the Ethical Trading Initiative.

Labour Behind the Labour are an organisation that are passionate about highlighting the horror behind the fashion industry and they provide information that can help us all to make more ethical choices.

Organisations such as Textile Exchange are working hard at making changes and ensuring that factories provide decent working conditions and fair wages.

The best thing we can do is to keep reading, learning, researching and most importantly MAKING A CHANGE. Follow the work of the organisations that care and really think about where we buy our clothes from. Buying from companies who opt for better social and environmental conditions for their workers and avoiding any brands who we know to be contributing to the modern day slavery in the fashion industry.

You may want to take things further and contact brands directly, telling them why you won’t be buying from them anymore. You can also spread the word, share stories over social media, share information that you find and help keep the people around you informed.

When we really understand the sacrifices people make, just to keep us clothed, we can start to rethink our choices and between us we can build a better and fairer world.

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