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