There are children who are working in textile businesses in Asia who would be prostitutes if they did not have these jobs – Lawrence Summers

The title of this blog is a quote from Lawrence Summers who, according to Google, was the Secretary of the Treasury in the President Clinton administration.

I am not sure how much truth there is these comments or what evidence there is for making them, what I do know is that  the textile industry in Asia is a massive employer and many of the employees in this industry would be considered to be , by western standards,   underage.

It is also  the situation that in many instances these “younger workers” provide significant , and in some cases the only income,  for their families. So as westerners trying to “protect” these children do we insist that the use of younger workers are banned ? If we did insist on this where would they go ?

During the many years Coloursmith have been working in the textile sector and travelling to international markets,  we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of textiles.  In the majority of cases – the factories that are working with international retailers are of quite a high standard.  In many cases the staff are provided with uniforms and given all the amenities and support you could need,  including subsidised or even free meals.

There is obviously a darker side of the textile industry as recent events in Bangladesh have shown and when a tragedy like this occurs the industry wakes up from a complacent slumber and starts to talk again about ethical sourcing and retailers who are normally at the forefront of any potential PR issues have to respond.  The problem seems to be in many cases it is always a reactive situation rather than a proactive one.

In the past there have been efforts by some retailers to make working conditions better and this is obviously easier to do when you are one of the suppliers biggest customers.  The change in recent years with factories no longer relying on one client but now  having a wider customer base, with varying degrees of commitment to ethical working. Has meant that for those retailers trying to do the right thing, the task is that much harder.

We have also seen an almost dumbing down of the textile industry,  the highly technical people, who used to do the audits and set the standards are  starting  to retire or simply move on and new people coming into the industry are doing more “general” courses and do not have the depth of knowledge to be able to guide their suppliers and help them achieve the standards that are required.

You will have seen our recent posting on the article in The Guardian, “Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child slave labourbasically says that despite the indignation expressed by many retailers when they are found out for some ilicit practices in their manufacturing chain,  very little is often done.   Is this because they do not have the power to do anything ? or they do not want to? or because of this loss of skills and knowledge that was mentioned previously the people who need to do something,  dont actually know what to do?

It is probably a combination of all of the above but the simple truth is probably more to do with the retailers own clients behaviour.   While clients demand cheaper garments then someone, this darker side of the textile industry will exist,  its simply a case of supply and demand.  So whatever the truth behind Mr Summers comments, if we are to give these children a better life and safe working conditions,  a coordinated education of European consumers needs to be undertaken so that they understand what their appetite for cheap garments actually means and how it affects the supply chain only when the demand for these low value products is gone will we start to see a difference.


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