Using fashion to fight child labour

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Dutch fashion houses and business leaders have come together to launch a shop that only stocks clothes manufactured without the use of child labour in developing countries. The opening coincides with the 20th anniversary today of the international convention on the rights of the child.

The new store, CLF (Child Labour Free) opened in Amstelveen, close to Amsterdam, to promote the idea. For ten days its shelves will stock only clothes whose manufacturers have done their very best to ensure that no children were involved in their production.

Listen to the Newsline report
[media:audio]

Actress Caroline de Bruin, from the popular Dutch soap opera Goede Tijden Slechte Tijden (Good Times, Bad Times), was at the launch. She told Radio Netherlands Worldwide why she had become a part of the project.

"You don't want to think about a dress you buy for your daughter that has been sewn by a girl the same age. When I heard of a few initiatives in Holland I was glad to join in."

Kids Rights
Miss de Bruin has been an active participant in the group Kids Rights from some years. She says that she backs the shop precisely because it helps to promote the message that children should not be forced to work to the wider world.

"It's very difficult to see from a dress whether it was manufactured by children or not. This shop does its best to guarantee that no child labour has been involved in the whole manufacturing process."

In reality it's hard to be sure there has been no child labour because different fabrics used in the same item of clothing may have come from different parts of the world, but the store aims to be as certain as it can be by pursuing ethical business practice. Miss de Bruijn said that she thinks consumers feel the same way.

"I think people agree 100 percent. It's not difficult to get consensus on this. Nobody wants clothes manufactured by children. You just need to know where to buy them. The shop is here and now you can buy them here."

Education key to success
Finding a way of getting children out of sweatshops is all about education, says Gerard Oonk, director of the India Committee of the Netherlands, which is a party to the Stop Child Labour Campaign. His organisation tries to tackle all forms of child labour that prevent children from going to school and believes that companies also have a responsibility to stop this.

"We are not saying all those products are child labour free. There is a long supply chain and it's almost impossible to know for certain. But some companies are independently monitored and others are willing to join such initiatives."

Effort over money
Companies are concerned with the bottom line, often at the expense of ethics, but Mr Oonk says the costs involved are more about effort than money.

"It is not much more expensive if you employ an adult rather than a child, but the effort you have to put into it is more. If you produce in India or Bangladesh, making sure that the company owner pays well and doesn't allow children to work only increases the price a little bit. If they pay a few cents more, it could increase the wages the adults are making and then the children don't need to work any more."

Despite the efforts, child labour is so ingrained in some parts of the world that it can seem in insurmountable task, but Mr Oonk is optimistic.

"It's a question of incremental steps but is also very realistic. In Andhra Pradesh [India] we work with an organisation that has been able to get 600,000 children from work to school by working with the community, the teachers, the local administration, the parents, the kids. They are now training hundreds of other organisations to do the same. They're even training government officials to reach the girl that is working at home or the boy that is working in a stone quarry. That message has also spread to other countries."

Ethical is the new black
Designers and fashion labels are also keen to get involved. One leader in the field is Peter Ingwersen, the founder of one of the labels represented in the CLF shop, Bllack Noir. He says that he feels there is a market for child labour free clothes although it can be a struggle to open people's minds to the idea.

"It's difficult to get the business and the consumers to change. But we should be at the forefront. So, what's the next black? It could be ethical. I believe that ethical is very zeitgeist and that consumers within the next couple of years will start to demand certain standards from the brands that they choose. Next to good quality and strong designs will also be an ethical point of view."