Child labour is prohibited by law in most countries of the world. Nevertheless, according to statistics from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), around 160 million children work, more than half of whom are between five and eleven years old.
Child labour is defined as any kind of work performed by persons under the age of 15 that harms the physical and mental development of children and adolescents or prevents them from attending school. The 2030 Agenda calls for the elimination of all forms of child labour by 2025 (Goal 8.7).
Forced labour, unlike child labour, does not refer to specific age groups. The ILO defines forced labour as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily." People can find themselves in situations of coercion in a variety of ways. The ILO has defined eleven core indicators that point to exploitative labour. These include, for example, withholding identity documents, restricting freedom of movement, withholding wages and excessive overtime. According to the Global Slavery Index , clothing is one of the two product groups with the highest risk of forced labour in the supply chain.
Situations of involuntary and exploitative labour can occur anywhere and along the entire textile supply chain. In general, risks exist especially in sourcing regions and supply chain stages where social, economic and societal conditions such as poverty, discrimination, uprooting and lack of freedom of association make people vulnerable to exploitation. In addition, precarious employment increases the risk of child and forced labour. Informal employment is widespread in the textile industry, for example in seasonal work for the cotton harvest or in the home production of intricate handicrafts such as ornamental and bead embroidery. When contracts are subcontracted, brand and retail companies have less control and influence on compliance with human rights standards. Vulnerable groups of people are at increased risk. These include migrant workers, children and young people, and ethnic minorities.
As forced labour and Childlabour are mostly concealed, companies often have to use single or multiple indicators in combination to identify risks or or specific cases In addition to social auditing, the OECD guidance recommends working closely with stakeholders to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights violations and ensure effective access to remedy and redress. Through responsible purchasing practices such as fair price negotiations and reasonable delivery times, companies can strengthen their supplier relationships and contribute to the protection and better working conditions of workers in production and cultivation facilities.
The Textiles Partnership has formulated social goals that all members recognize by joining the Partnership. These goals are based on international social standards, in particular the ILO Conventions, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. With regard to child and forced labour, the Partnership goals are as follows:
Partnership members commit to zero tolerance of child and forced labour. They commit to establishing a process for identifying, preventing and dealing with cases of child and forced labour, including promoting access to effective grievance and remedy mechanisms. In the review process, Partnership companies perform a risk analysis, derive targets from it and define measures.
Responsible corporate purchasing practices are critical to preventing child and forced labour. With the Partnership Initiative on Living Wages, companies work on wage growth in the supply chain to reduce economic incentives for exploitation. In connection with the Annual Topic 2021: Responsible Purchasing Practices the Textiles Partnership offers various activities to support companies in improving their purchasing practices. These include offering trainings, self-assessments of their own business practices and supplier assessments, and developing a common framework on purchasing practices with other multi-stakeholder initiatives.
In addition, Partnership members can use an incident list to find out about complaints in the textile supply chain in order to identify risks in their own supply chain. Supply chain transparency is an elementary building block for a comprehensive and reliable risk analysis - read more in the New Guide to Supply Chain Transparency.In addition, companies can voluntarily share information about their suppliers in an aggregated supplier list.
When cases of child or forced labour occur, access to remedy and redress for workers is vital. Appropriate mechanisms and systems put the best interests of the child or person affected by forced labour at the centre. This is why Partnership Initiative Complaints Mechanisms , founded in 2020, aims to support Partnership members in implementing effective grievance mechanisms.
Cooperation with other sector initiatives and organisations is an important part of the work of the Textiles Partnership in order to join forces and jointly drive improvements.
Reports, government sources and testimonies indicate widespread state-imposed human rights violations against Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and other Chinese regions. There is a high risk of forced labour in factories and cotton farms in the textile supply chain. This particularly affects the deeper supply chain, i.e. the production of cotton and yarns, but also the production of intermediate and final products from China. The textile industry accounted for the largest share of exports from Xinjiang in 2019, at 25.4 percent. More than 80 percent of Chinese cotton that is processed into yarn or textiles comes from the region.
The Textiles Partnership is in dialogue with its members, policymakers, the OECD and other industry organisations on the issue. Partnership members joined together in an ad-hoc group in 2020 to discuss strategies for dealing with the situation as well as possible offers of support through the Textiles Partnership.
Further information and tools:
Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ): Gemeinsam gegen Kinderarbeit. Kinder- und Jugendrechte durchsetzen (only available in german).
ILO: Child labour.
ILO / IOE: Child labour guidance tool for business (2015).
OECD: OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector (2020). Modul 1 about child labour
Terre des Hommes: Kinderarbeit: Ausbeutung stoppen, Kinder stärken (only available in german).
The Guardian: Child labour in the fashion supply chain.
UNICEF: Children's Rights and Business Principles (2019).
UNICEF: Children’s Rights in the Garment and Footwear Supply Chain (2020).
Global Compact Netzwerk Deutschland: Moderne Sklaverei und Arbeitsausbeutung. Herausforderungen und Lösungsansätze für deutsche Unternehmen (only available in german) (2018).
ILO / Walk Free Foundation: Global Estimates of Modern Slavery (2017).
Institute for Human Rights and Business: The Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment.
Modern Slavery Map: Interactive Map for Business of Anti-Human Trafficking Organisations.
OECD: OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector (2020). Modul 3 about Forced Labour
Stronger Together: Resources.
Walk Free Foundation: Global Slavery Index.