Do your favourite jeans tell the world brand is best? Or do they say comfort over couture?!
Whichever you prefer, the cotton used to make your favourite jeans is now under scrutiny. Yours may be made using cotton grown right here in Australia. But it’s more likely to have been grown in a developing country like India*.
The story of India’s cotton industry is a dark one. It’s highly labour intensive and a lot of children, particularly girls, are used to handle its production.
World Vision believes more than 400,000 children under-18 are employed in India’s major cotton producing states. More than half these children are reportedly under the age of 14 (i). Children from India’s poorest areas, who may be forced to work for low wages to pay off a family debt, are particularly vulnerable. Exploiting children for their labour locks them into a life of poverty and abuse, and drives down adult wages(ii).
Conditions of work
Children employed on Indian cotton seed farms are exposed to dreadful conditions. For example, farmers in the Gujarat region will often make no attempt to protect children from harmful pesticides(iii). Many children work up to 14 hours a day, often in extreme temperatures, for little or no pay(iv). Bound to the fields by debt, they risk threats or physical abuse if they try to leave. Physical intimidation and violence is reportedly common place(v).
Avoid supporting child and exploitative labour
- Find out the facts about cotton and labour exploitation.
- Check clothing labels and buy products made from ethically certified cotton whenever you can. You can start with Fair Trade fashion company Etiko .See below for tips on what to do if the product’s label does not have information about how it was produced.
- Browse Etsy or Madeit for homemade creations. Or make your own - source ethical or fair trade cotton from a local supplier like Ink & Spindle and get sewing!
- Join World Vision’s campaign against human trafficking and slavery!
What can you do if you don’t know if the product was ethically produced?
- Ask the sales assistant the following questions:
> Do you know where these products were produced?
> Do you know what your company policy is on the use of child and forced labour?
> Who can I ask for more information about your company’s supply chains?
- Research a company's policies
> Go to their website.
> Find the section on supply chains or social responsibility and look for a statement or policy outlining the company’s commitment to respecting human rights or for transparent reporting on how they are cleaning up their supply chains.
> If you can’t find the information, go to their contact us page and call or email the company and ask them how they ensure forced and child labour is not used in their supply chains.
> Need more information on supply chains and corporate responsibility before you speak to the company? Read our factsheet on businesses, supply chains and child labour.
Remember, when consumers talk, businesses listen!
*Approximately 70 countries in the world grow cotton. In 2010, developing countries such as China and India accounted for a 51 percent share of end use cotton consumption (http://www.cottonaustralia.com.au/cotton-library/fact-sheets/cotton-fact-file-the-world-cotton-market
source: ICAC 2011)
 Venkateswarlu, Davuluri, Jointly Commissioned Report:
OECD Watch, Deutsch Welthungerhilfe, India Committee of the Netherlands, Eine
Welt Netz NRW and International Labour Rights Forum (2007) Child bondage continues in Indian cotton supply chain Available
[ii] International Labour Rights Forum, India Committee of
the Netherlands and Stop Child Labour (2010)
Seeds of Child Labour: Child and
Adult Labour in Cottonseed Production in India Available from:
[iii] Environmental Justice Foundation, 5/12/07 Press Release: The Children Behind Our
Cotton Available from: http://www.ejfoundation.org/page481.html
[iv] Hindustan Times, 19/07/2007 Re 1 per hour: Children Fuel BT Cotton Boom Available from:
Accessed on 13 March 2012. [v]
U.S Department of State (2011), Trafficking
In Persons Report Available from: