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III. Implementation Experiences of Codes of Conduct in the U.S. Apparel Industry

C. Child Labor in the Apparel Industry

The consensus of government officials, industry representatives, unions and NGOs interviewed by the Department of Labor in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras is that child labor is not now prevalent in their garment export industries. In the very few cases where child labor was mentioned, the children were 14 or older.4 In India and the Philippines, it was generally acknowledged that most of the child labor in the garment industry is found in subcontracting shops or in homework situations.

There was some anecdotal information about the prior use of child labor times in the garment export industry and currently in subcontracting and homework:

  • Labor union representatives in Honduras stated that up until about two years ago, child labor was used in the garment export industry. At that time, because of a well-publicized case of an under-age worker,5 maquila operators dismissed about 2,000 under-age workers.6 Department of Labor officials received no reports of child labor in the Honduran garment industry at the present time.
  • Labor union representatives stated that the garment export industry of El Salvador fears adverse publicity from the use of child labor. Several plant managers explained that they will not hire workers under 18 because they believe that this is the policy of U.S. retailers. For example, Mr. Lee Miles, of Primo Industries commented that because U.S. retailers are concerned about child labor, so are the Salvadoran producers. Plant managers in El Salvador have apparently begun to refuse to hire workers under 18 years of age, despite the fact that workers can legally begin working at age 14.
  • In Guatemala, the leader of a major labor confederation stated that very young workers are no longer prevalent in the garment maquilas - that is, workers below the minimum age of 14. It was claimed that there are quite a number of adolescents (14 - 18 years old) working in some maquilas; however, the restrictions on the number of hours that adolescents are legally allowed to work are not observed.7 A Unicef representative confirmed this problem, adding that adolescents often are paid less than adults, and are forced to work overtime. Adolescent workers from the Sunbelt plant in Guatemala City and the Sam Lucas plant in Chimaltenango also confirmed that all employees worked the same hours, including overtime.
    • Three young women working at the Lindotex plant in Guatemala reported that the youngest workers in the plant are now 15-16 years old and that in January 1996 all workers under fifteen were fired.
  • Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson of the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, reported that children in the Indian apparel export industry may be found making T-shirts in Tirupur, woolen garments in Ludhiana, and some embroidery, lace, and folkloric garments in cottage industries and small shops around New Delhi.
  • In Tirupur, India, the owner of Chenduran Textiles mentioned that young boys may often work as tailor's helpers in small, local garment shops. SAVE, a local NGO in Tirupur, sponsors a night school for children between the ages of 8 and 17. The children work as tailor's helpers during the day and attend school in the evening.
  • Nearly all persons interviewed in India mentioned that there is an increased sensitivity and awareness of the issue of child labor in the past 2-3 years. The head of Associated Indian Exports, an apparel buying office in New Delhi, Bangalore, and Bombay, acknowledged that more (foreign) customers are now asking about the use of child labor in the production of garments in India and requiring that none be used.
  • An academic expert on child labor in the Philippines garment industry told Department of Labor officials that while the use of child labor in garment production has declined in the last few years, some children are still found in subcontracting units and homework.

The field visits also revealed some problems in these countries with the systems normally used to verify the age of workers. In some countries, birth registries are not common and therefore there is no demonstrable method to determine age. In other countries, youths below the legal minimum age procure fraudulent identification cards or fake government permits required to prove that they have permission to work.8

  • Department of Labor officials were informed by a plant manager in Madras that in southern India, birth registries - as known in Western countries - do not exist. Therefore it is extremely difficult to determine the exact age of a young worker. A medical doctor's certificate or school records may be the only ways to determine a person's age.
  • In the Dominican Republic, plant managers indicated that falsification of the National Identification Card ("cdula de identidad") and other proof of age documents to show an older age and therefore be legally eligible for employment is not uncommon.
  • The general manager of a maquila in Guatemala (Lindotex, a contractor to JCPenney and Wal-Mart) stated that some young workers try to get jobs using the age documentation of an older sibling. He said his company checks age documents very carefully and conducts a thorough interview to ensure that workers under the age of 16 are not hired. It was generally acknowledged by plant managers and owners that falsified documentation of age was an issue of concern.
  • The representative of an NGO (Friederich Ebert Foundation) in Guatemala stated that it was quite easy to buy a fake identification card in that country and that young people who want to work - but find that the jobs in the garment maquilas are only available to adults - often use false identification to try to get a job. In some maquilas, management verifies age records and turns down those young applicants with faked documents, but some others are willing to accept them.
  • In the Philippines, a plant manager in the Cavite Export Processing Zone stated that birth certificates, normally used to verify the age of job applicants, can be forged or altered. Due to the difficulty in determining age, he said that many employers ultimately rely on the word of the employee. Others require more substantive proof of age.
  • Two NGOs in El Salvador, CENTRA and the Olof Palme Foundation, commented that although children under 14 are no longer found in the maquilas, some adolescents acquire false documents in order to work. Many adolescents are required to work overtime, in contravention of Salvadoran law.9

As stated in Chapter I, the ILO notes that children still work in the garment industry worldwide. However, it is more common to find children in small workshops or in homework. Working conditions are generally worse than in larger formal factories, and the number of hours may be more and amount of pay less. During the course of the Department of Labor field visits, a number of allegations were made that children work in these smaller operations.

  • Labor leaders in Guatemala had little knowledge of child labor in sub-maquilas, homework situations, or small local production facilities feeding the export market because they only concentrate on conditions in the maquilas. They did note that when larger maquilas make arrangements with smaller shops or subcontractors they do not assume any responsibility for labor conditions.
  • The Secretary General of the Confederaci-n de Unidad Sindical de Guatemala (CUSG) stated that the larger garment maquilas subcontract work to smaller businesses, particularly in the San Pedro de Sacatepequez area. This area is described as so notorious that is called "the cradle" or "the city of maquila" because in every home there are women and children sewing "without any rights or legal protections." A few workers interviewed repeated these allegations, as did Guatemalan sociologist Edgar Patres.
  • The Director of an Indian NGO, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), stated that in Bhiwande (near Bombay) children may be found in houses used both as dwellings and garment factories. In some of these factories, power looms are operated by children. Dr. Joyce Shankaran, Secretary of the Maharashta, Bombay Department of Labor, confirmed that children work on the looms in Bhiwande. She said that the looms are found within the home, where entire families take on piecework. Dr. Shankaran remarked that the children do not work full-time on the looms, but help after school.
  • Mr. A. Sakthivel, owner of Poppy's, a Tirupur (India) garment firm, and President of the Tirupur Exporters Association, estimated that at least 5 percent of the Tirupur apparel firms are family-oriented with knitting machines located in the homes. Operations such as sewing buttons and other trimmings are also conducted as part of this homework.
  • The head of Yuvraj International, another apparel plant in Tirupur (India), said that child labor in the garment industry takes place in more remote areas. Children perform low-skill duties such as cleaning and sweeping. He estimated that small-scale shops or cottage industry constitute 10 percent of the factories in Tirupur.
  • Most persons interviewed in the Philippines, including government and labor officials and representatives of the American Chamber of Commerce Garment Industry Committee, acknowledged that although child labor is not found in significant numbers in the large garment factories, children do work in subcontracting operations and in homework situations.10 NGOs such as the National Homeworker's Network (PATAMBA) and the Kamalayan Development Center, a children's advocacy group, confirmed that this is the case. PATAMBA explained that children work as unpaid family labor, assisting their parents at home or accompanying a parent to assist in the factory. The children trim garments and do embroidery and smocking (pleating) as well. PATAMBA officials stated that these children do attend school; however, their grades are poor due to inadequate study time, and they tend to suffer poor health. When production deadlines approach and quotas must be met, pressure to meet an order leads to high rates of school absenteeism as the children stay home to work.
  • The Personnel Manager of A La Mode, a garment manufacturer in Quezon City, the Philippines, noted that although his firm tries to comply with child labor laws, he cannot personnally vouch for subcontractors. A La Mode produces for Triumph, Ltd, a Hong Kong-based buyer which purchases garments for a number of U.S. brand name apparel firms, including The Gap.