It's a good thing you have found your way to fair clothing. Unicef estimates about 170 million children worldwide are subjected to child labour, many of them in the clothing industry. That's 11% of all the children in the world! So it's not that hard to believe that 70-80% of clothing still comes from sweatshops.
The life of a sweatshop worker
The lives of these children are often miserable. They often do exhausting and dull work in appalling conditions. Many kids are routinely shouted at, threatened or abused, and kept away from their parents. They often live in large groups in dilapidated buildings, and have little to no freedom. They work 7 extremely long days a week and their wages are much too low to live off.
A vicious cycle
These children usually come from very poor backgrounds, where they are sent to work at a young age to help support their parents. Parents are lured by recruiters with false promises of good wages and living conditions if they send their children, which is more than they can offer themselves.
However, once they arrive it is a very different story. Small children are seen as easy targets, as they can't stand up for themselves and work for even less money than their parents. They are often preferred by employers because their small hands are better for jobs like cotton picking.
As these children are constantly working they don't get the chance to go to school. Without even a basic education they are stuck doing the simple tasks they learned in sweatshops, so they keep accepting poorly paid work in order to survive. When they have children of their own they are sent to off to ‘good jobs’ and end up in sweatshops themselves. And so the vicious cycle continues.
"Brands offer an extremely low price for which the product can't realistically be made."
A huge profit
Unfortunately it is still much too easy for employers to get away with it. Because the fashion industry has many stages of production, often in different countries, it's difficult for companies to control every stage themselves. That makes it possible for them to employ child labourers without even knowing it. But there are also many brands who purposely use cheap labour. This is to offer their costumers (you) a super low price for which the garment can't realistically be made. Or worse: to maximise their own profits. Did you know there are branded boxers for which you pay upwards of €20, which are actually made for less than a euro? As long as people keep buying them, sweatshops remain too lucrative to give up and children fall victim to the industry.
A better way
Luckily people are becoming more aware of the problem and there are plenty of buyers prepared to pay a little more for a fair product. When brands take responsibility for their production methods, the situation can be vastly improved. This is something we find very important. For starters we don't base our production on a low price for the consumer, but on fair wages. We then add our own costs to that which results in our final product price. We also keep our production circle as small as possible and have rigorously vetted our partners before deciding to work with them. We produce very close to home (just a 15 minute drive!), which allows us to visit the factory frequently ourselves. This way we're sure employees are treated well.
What you can do
By educating yourself and shopping consciously you as the consumer can make all the difference. There are many platforms available with a clear oversight of companies and their ethics. Good On You and the Fair Wear Foundation are good examples. That way you can shop to your hearts content and make the world a little nicer at the same time. Together we can make a difference!