Apparel and Footwear
Globally, UNICEF estimates that as many as 250 million children are likely to be affected by the apparel and footwear supply chain. While child labour is one of the most recognised impacts, there are a number of other ways in which the rights of children are impacted – as dependents of workers, at times as workers themselves, and as community members surrounding factories and farms. Children are also consumers of apparel and footwear products and are therefore vulnerable to harmful impacts from marketing and advertising.
The most salient impacts in the apparel and footwear industry on children’s rights are in the workplace. Child labour has long been a significant concern in multiple tiers of the supply chain, from the farming of cotton to the cutting and sewing of apparel and footwear products. However, children are impacted in ways that both extend beyond, and contribute to, child labour. Working conditions for parents have direct impacts on the wellbeing of children. Estimates vary; however, it is believed that as much as 80% of supply chain workers are women. Poor working conditions can have a particularly negative impact on pregnant women, working parents and their children.
In the marketplace, children’s health and safety may be compromised where apparel and footwear products contain flammable fabrics or harmful chemicals. Special attention should be paid to young children who are most at risk to hazards. Children are also consumers of apparel and footwear products and are exposed to harmful impacts from advertising and marketing.
Community and Environment:
Impacts on children in the apparel and footwear industry do not end in the workplace. In the community and environment, children can be affected by limited access to services, poor WASH and pollution. Where wages are below the cost of living, garment and footwear workers can live in inadequate and overcrowded housing where children’s health and safety could be at risk. Furthermore, there can be limited social infrastructure in industrial areas.
UNICEF’s Children’s Rights in Impact Assessments guidance is helpful for companies to integrate child rights considerations into due diligence and responsible sourcing efforts. The tool can help businesses to assess impacts and take action to prevent and mitigate adverse impacts. Where child labour is discovered, companies can consult the Child Labour Guidance Tool for Business, jointly developed by the ILO and the IOE, to draft and operationalise child labour remediation policies. Although children’s rights are not specifically addressed, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides guidance for apparel and footwear companies to strengthen their due diligence procedures through its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. To empower women workers, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) has also published a framework for business action to advance women’s health, rights and wellbeing in supply chains. To address environmental impacts, the National Resource Defence Council’s Clean by Design program promotes a 10-step process designed to reduce the industry’s environmental impact in dyeing and finishing. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has also developed the Higg Index, which is a suite of tools to measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance.