Child Labor in Cotton Supply Chains

Issues Child Labor

Collaborative Project on Human Rights in Turkey

Over the course of 2016, Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Development Workshop Cooperative (DW), a civil society organization based in Turkey, collaborated on a pilot project to trace the garment and cotton supply chains of seven multinational companies sourcing from Turkey and doing business in the Netherlands.

The motivation for the pilot came from the Working Group on Child Labor, a multi-stakeholder group of Dutch garment sector organizations, garment companies, and non-governmental organizations, formed as part of the Action Plan for a Sustainable Dutch Garment sector established in 2013. The goal of the Working Group was to investigate ways to eradicate child labor from the textile supply chains of companies doing business in the Netherlands.  The results are intended to inform government and company efforts to enact their child-labor prevention goals, especially as they relate to the requirements of the Dutch Agreement on a Sustainable Garment and Textile Sector (AGT), signed in July 2016 as the pilot was underway.  The project was initiated by the Stop Child Labour CoalitionUNICEF Netherlands, and the seven garment companies.

Among the conclusions of the report, the pilot team found that:

  • Complete supply chain tracing was very difficult, with traceability breakdowns between spinning mills, ginning mills, and farms — where it is common for companies to interact through agents, keep few records, and maintain no direct business relationships.
  • Despite the challenges, the researchers were able to determine the areas of greatest risk of child labor on cotton farms in Turkey, including areas with little mechanized harvesting and a large refugee population. The team found sub-contracted facilities to be at high risk as well, though researching sub-contracted supply chains fell outside of the scope of the project.
  • The pilot team found that at the farm level, poverty was the primary driver of child labor, with stakeholders reporting that two parents working seven days a week could not fully provide for their families.
  • Weak regulations and lack of government oversight exacerbated the problem at the farm level, where the project team found social benefits ignored, minimum wages too low to support a family, and labor contractors charging illegal fees.
  • A combination of collaborative supply chain tracing by companies and suppliers (to uncover areas of greatest risk and take action to mitigate them) and collective advocacy for governmental solutions at deeper supply chain levels, can help extend companies’ commitment to protect workers beyond their final assembly facilities.