Is Child Labor Out of Fashion?

May 15, 2019

Meet Arshi’s family and find out.

This article was written by GoodWeave CEO Nina Smith and first appeared on C&A Foundation’s Blog (now Laudes Foundation) on May 15, 2019.

The hidden supply chain

This March I met 12-year-old Arshi in front of her small house, where her parents, Jousef and Parveen, had stretched a large piece of fabric across a frame. On the fabric were pre-drawn sleeves and the bodice of a jacket to be cut and assembled later. Jousef and Parveen were stitching silver sequins inside the outline of a star covering the back of the jacket. Destined for a European retailer, the piece sparkled under the blue skies of the day.

Embellishment work is Jousef and Parveen’s only source of income. They know they are poor, as they have always been. But they have no idea how underpaid they are in relation to factory workers – or that their skills add significant value to goods being sold halfway around the world. I couldn’t help but think that without the big, silver star, that jacket would be plain ordinary.

This is the hidden, bottom of the supply chain.  The village near Sikandrabad where Arshi and her family live is part of a 200-kilometer stretch encompassing some 500 slums and villages from Delhi NCR to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The tens of thousands of home-based workers that have specialized embroidery and embellishment skills who live there are regularly tapped to produce goods for the global market, yet, they work in obscurity and they are poverty-stricken. Their children work with them, rather than attend school.

The journey of the sequined star jacket.

The brand that will eventually sell the jacket adorned by Arshi’s family likely knows very little detail of the multi-tiered, complex production network of sites involved in the making of its order. Its relationship is with one supplier factory, and that is where it will apply checks for child labor and other labor rights.

Talking with Arshi’s family I learned that the Western buyer placed its order with its “tier one” supplier in Jaipur, Rajasthan, some 360 kilometers away from where we stood.  Then the jacket took a trip:  first the Jaipur-based subcontractor placed the order for embellishment across state borders to smaller factories and “dedicated centers” (DCs) in Sikandrabad. One of those DCs sub-contracted a portion of its order to Jousef, who lives 10 kilometers away. Jousef stitched a portion of the order and sub-contracted the rest to 20 women, home-based workers in his village. And finally, the same chain reversed to get the embellished fabric back to Jaipur for tailoring and finishing.

The DCs were paid 600 rupees, or $8 per jacket. But the home-based workers who completed the majority of production earned 250 to 300 rupees per jacket, around $4.

Documenting this journey is important because here, in the hidden parts of the supply chain, is where most child labor and other economic exploitation happens.  It’s outside factory walls, hidden even to well-meaning brands.

Read rest of the article on C&A Foundation’s Blog (now Laudes Foundation)