How to Stop Funding Child Exploitation in the Fashion Industry

Imagine that instead of going to school when you were a child, you went to work. That thought alone is probably alien to most of us, but what if this ‘work’ was labour intensive in conditions that resemble modern day slavery?

Would you actively support it?

The Greedy Demand for Fast Fashion

Unfortunately, western society’s demand for fast fashion has created a culture within the industry where large companies are drawn to the allure of cheap textile and garment production in underdeveloped countries. Turnaround needs to be quick, costs need to be low. In such countries, there’s a lack of stringency on human rights laws, allowing children to slip through the net and enter an illicit world of child labour. They are promised a career, decent wage and access to education only to realise soon after they have been lied to.

According to Stop Child Labour, children in these countries are easy targets because there’s no trade unions or external supervision to support them. This, combined with the fact companies can’t control every stage of the complex fashion supply chain, allows factories to pay these child workers almost next to nothing and put them in unhealthy working environments.

How Fair is Fairtrade?

Without knowing who made your clothes and where, it’s easy to unconsciously support child exploitation in fashion. Even when you think you’re doing the right thing. Victoria’s Secret used to boast that their products were made using only Fairtrade Cotton, however an investigation revealed the conditions on these cotton farms were far from fair. A young 13-year-old girl told of how she slept on plastic sheeting and was beaten if bosses thought her work wasn’t sufficient.

It’s also known that many employers specifically recruit children for cotton picking, as their small delicate hands don’t damage the crop.

In another high-profile scandal, David Beckham came under fire earlier this year when it was revealed that H&M – the manufacturer and seller of his clothing line – employs children as young as 13 in Burma who are working for 13p an hour. It was reported they sometimes worked for 12 hours a day in stifling heat.

David Beckham

David Beckham in Cambodia seeing how Unicef and other partners are helping to protect vulnerable children.

David Beckham, a Unicef ambassador who devotes a lot of time and money to charities, found himself in the middle of a child labour scandal, think how easy it is for the rest of us to purchase clothes without so much as a thought to how it was made. Whilst the standpoint ‘ignorance is bliss’ can help in many situations life throws at us, this is definitely not one of them.

Working Towards a Future of Ethical Fashion

So how do we combat this? It’s quite simple; we need a change in attitude towards our clothes. Would you eat food knowing it had come from unhygienic origins? It’s this ideology we need to incorporate into our daily lives, challenging high street retailers about where the clothes are made and who by. As consumers, we are in our right to know exactly what we’re buying and spending our money on.

To stop funding the exploitation of children in the fashion industry, it’s important to be more conscious of where we shop. Not every fashion retailer is guilty of choosing profits over people’s livelihoods, and even the ones that are might be none the wiser. But if we speak up and inspire companies to educate themselves on their own supply chains, children living and working in these targeted areas will be treated as though they’re…well, children.

What Does an Ethical Fashion Company Look Like?

Everything from sourcing the materials to the impact operations have on the environment should have responsibility at the core. Here’s a few values you should look out for that’ll indicate if a fashion company is responsible, sustainable and ethical.

Made in the same country

  • Not only does this demonstrate a conscious effort to support the economy, but it also means the company has less of an impact on the environment. Cargo doesn’t need to be shipped, saving fuel and pumping less chemicals into the atmosphere.
  • Sourcing materials from local suppliers ensures the company can monitor the quality and gain a deeper understanding of where they’ve come from. This cultivates a strong working relationship where transparency and shared values are key.

Handmade to order

  • The classic ‘sweatshop’ churns out masses of stock per day, with a lot of waste as a byproduct. Companies that make everything by hand to order invest a lot of time, skill and precision to craft the garment, and produce less waste as they only use exactly what they need.
  • To produce such perfectly executed items displays a strong level of expertise that only someone who is trained at their profession could master. From seamstresses to print technicians, a lot of technical proficiency is needed to make bespoke items.

Official material certifications

  • For textiles with ‘special’ properties such as organic and fire retardant, as well as genuine leather and responsibly sourced wood, a company that holds the certificate to confirm the authenticity gives you the power to make informed buying decisions.


  • Fashion printing companies that hold sustainability as a strong value will use non-toxic inks, have a tight, clean supply chain and a low carbon footprint. The most efficient at this are those that control all of their operations on site and in house, where energy consumption can be strictly monitored.

Sustainable fashion at Contrado

Responsible fashion is feel good fashion, and that’s what we ultimately want, isn’t it?

Finding a fashion company that lives and breathes all of these values and more isn’t impossible. Contrado is a UK fashion and lifestyle brand specialising in custom print-on-demand. Everything is handmade in their London headquarters by a team of expert seamstresses, print technicians, dressmakers, product developers and leather workers, ensuring the finest quality and finish. Ethical labour, eco-friendly practices and sustainability are at the core of their operations. Design your own feel good fashion and be a part of the revolution seeking an end to child labour in the fashion industry.


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Danielle is a content writer at Contrado, blogging about all things fashion and fabric related. She is an avid daydreamer, all round creative thinker, animal lover and stereotypical Pisces. Also a pyjama connoisseur.



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