Child labor was mostly unmonitored until the 1990’s when major retailers began to become more sensitive on this practice. Nowadays, with sustained global movement mobilization, governmental action to end the practice, as well as emerging economic expansion in developing countries, child labor has declined by one third over the past decade. According to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, child labor fell by 78 million betrween 2000 - 2012, to an estimated 168 million such workers in 2012.
How the situation used to be in the past
Many retailers became notorious for abusing the child labor practices, either by providing them with 'slave' wages or forcing them to do overtime.Nike for example, was prompted to publicly apologize and promise to improve their business practices after it was found that the company employed 12 year-old Pakistani children to stitch soccer balls. Nike’s officials responded to this negative publicity by showing commitment to following conscientious practices that exemplify companies of the 21st century.
How things have changed today
Global campaigns and actions by both governments and NGO’s have leveraged the conditions of child labor and increased social awareness on the issue.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh has been a landmark for reinforcing the effort of improving the safety conditions of overseas factory workers. President Obama proclaimed that he would suspend Bangladesh’s trade privileges and would only reinstate them once Bangladesh took a series of reformative measures that ensured the safety of work premises.
From a business perspective, some seventy retailers signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which entails the inspection of contracted factories for safety violations. Besides, GAP, joined the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety to develop and finance new factory standards.
The end of the T-shirt age
It is apparent that developing countries steadily move from the centuries-long T-shirt age - in which cheap labor was used to produce cheap clothing - to a more progressive phase in which manufacturers become more socially responsible. By doing so, companies in developing countries not only they see their workers’ productivity boost but they also gain economic incentives as they see their competitive advantage increasing.