Shirley Donlon reports on the exploitation of child labour by High Street Shops.

Your college years can be expensive. From paying annual fees to buying food and drink - the last thing you want to spend your hard earned money on is expensive clothes. For this reason, high-street fashion brands are students’ first choice when it comes to finding inexpensive yet on trend clothing. Unfortunately, the process of creating items of clothing for popular high-street stores is often a very unglamorous and dark journey.

If we knew that a significantly large portion of high-street clothing stores still used child labour to source and make their clothes, would we still buy it? Knowing that behind the inexpensive price label is a background of child slavery, dangerous working conditions and underpaid work reveals some concerns about modern day life and morals.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), child labour refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

Children involved in child labour often work in hazardous industries with the most common problem being children working in environments with fumes or dust. In 2008 the total number of children working in hazardous conditions was 115,314. This number dropped to 85,344 by 2012 but this still leaves a tremendously large number of children working at risk. It was found in the ILO Global Child Labour Trends report that the most child labour performed in hazardous conditions was found in the Sub-Saharan African region with one in five children involved in some sort of hazardous working conditions.

Over the past decade, several high-street clothing stores have come under investigation regarding a background of child labour in the production of clothing. Stores accused of involving child labour in the production of clothing and fabric include Primark, Nike, Abercrombie & Fitch, GAP, Tesco and, Marks and Spencer. According to The Guardian, in 2012 the popular and affordable clothing brand H&M came under pressure by anti-slavery charity groups to investigate the production of their clothing after traces of their cotton lead back to suppliers who buy from Uzbekistan, where child labour is used to harvest large amounts of cotton.

The cheap price of high-street clothing is so appealing to our nation, especially to young students who have a small weekly budget but by purchasing clothing from stores who use child labour in the production of their goods we are supporting this cruel, unfair and unhealthy industry. The Georgia National Child Labour Survey Report revealed that in Georgia alone, 15’600 children are involved in hazardous working conditions. In order for work to be regarded as hazardous it must involve working in dangerous environments, unhealthy conditions, long working hours, late night work or the manual handling of heavy loads.

Campaigns to stop child labour are currently in place. These include an international World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, Supporting Children’s Rights through Education, the Arts and the media (SCREAM) and Concern’s Stop Child Labour campaign which aims to stop child labour by providing full-time education. The problem of child labour does not lie in the hands of the consumer of such goods but the power exists for us to research and detect when a brand has used child labour to produce goods and to show no support to these brands by dismissing their cheap prices and choosing to purchase goods from brands where we can feel confident in the honest, cruelty free production of their items.