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Child Labour

Child labour defined by the UNICEF: work that exceeds a minimum number of hours, depending on the age of a child and on the type of work. Such work is considered harmful to the child and should, therefore, be eliminated. It’s also defined in the ILO Convention; It is work that children should not be doing because they are too young to work, or – if they are old enough to work – because it is dangerous or otherwise unsuitable for them. Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Organized Child labour has been and still is a large problem in the Textile manufacturing industry, organized child labour work started in the beginning of 1990´s when the American footwear giant Nike started outsourcing the production of sneakers and sweats (sweatshops) to low-cost labour countries such as China. These contractors were chosen with one particular mission only; to minimize the cost of production. With undoubtedly beneficial contracts for the buyer started a raw competition among apparel manufacturers to fight for contracts.  Simultaneously did officials and textile manufacturing industry in these less-developed country’s search for brand new and clever way’s continuously lower cost, such as avoid taxes by establishing production in toll-free zones, forcing working families to live under miserable conditions, breathes sneakers twenty-four seven. Working payments as low as one US dollar per day was one of the results of outsourcing. This gave a large company such as Nike an incredible advantage in the marketplace vs. their competitors.

Sweatshops, how did it start?

At the same time, the largest jeanswear manufacturer Levi Strauss Co did the opposite, refusing to establish production in China because of the political situation. In the mid-80´s Levi Strauss, Co-owned and operates more than 40 denim Jean’s factories. Many of them placed in US, UK, and Europe. Many of the factories were only able or constructed to produce 501 jeans because of huge consumer demands, particularly from Europe during the 1980s and beginning of 1990s. The original Levi 501 jeans experienced an incredible growth during the decade of 1980´s due to marketing agency BB&H famous advertising and PR campaign for Levi Strauss Co; greater than 800% sales growth in one single-year was outstanding.  In the mid-1990, however, did Levi Strauss experience stagnation of sales as the newness of their marketing campaign combined with several other factors made the jeanswear giant suffer hard. The denim market became very fragmented as Levis were attacked from both low price, luxury denim brands and clever new marketing from brand new competitors such as Diesel jeans.  Another important factor was a non-denim trend. Denim was not as hot as a fabric anymore, as youngsters grew an interest in workwear brands with polyester and other technical fabrics as their domains.  Levi Strauss Co was in a dangerous situation as 501 jeans became bigger than Levi’s brand, and when the sales of 501 jeans started to drop vastly no other products could make up for the losses.

Finally, the economic situation for Levi Strauss Co was unbearable and together with the emerging outsourcing of production to low-cost countries forced the company to change their policies and started selling their factories one by one. Today with only one factory owned and operated in San Francisco, mostly because of the heritage. No longer could factory workers benefit from Levi Strauss Co beneficial program and care for their employees, gone was production safety, fire escapes, toilets, regulated working hours and wages. Gone was the possibility for factory worker’s children attending schools that Levi Strauss Co supported financially, etc. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their education, is generally regarded as being something positive. Whether or not particular forms of “work” can be called “child labour” depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed and the conditions under which it is performed.” There are many different forms of child labour worldwide; agriculture, mining, manufacturing, domestic services such as construction, begging on the streets is also most often organized by adults and in many cases, a form of slavery. See also corporate accountability in the eco fashion dictionary a-z.

Sources: Kenneth Lyngaas. Trend specialist Levi Strauss Co 1994-2001 Levi Strauss Co Europe, Middle East & Africa and United Nations


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