By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One third of children living in the slums of Bangladesh's capital spend more than 60 hours a week making clothes for the garment sector, well beyond the legal working limit, a London-based thinktank said on Wednesday.
The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said 32 percent of children aged between 10 and 14 living in Dhaka's slum settlements were out of school and engaged in full-time work in clothing factories - according to a survey of 2,700 children.
"Our survey raises serious concerns over the issue of child labor in the supply of garments from factories in Bangladesh to consumers in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere," ODI said.
" ... the sheer scale of child employment in the sector – and the links between small-scale factories and large-scale exporters – make it highly probable that children in Dhaka are involved in export production," it said in a report.
More than five million children aged between 5 and 17 are engaged in some kind of employment in Bangladesh, according to the International Labour Organization.
Bangladeshi laws set a minimum working age of 14, however from the age of 12, children are permitted to carry out 'light work' for up to 42 hours a week, provided it does not interfere with their education.
But the United Nations estimates that more than 90 percent of child laborers work in the informal sector - including in small workshops, on the street and in home-based businesses – making labor laws virtually impossible to enforce.
FOREIGN BRANDS INVOLVED?
The apparel industry has come under pressure to improve factory conditions and workers' rights after the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh more than three years ago.
The disaster which killed 1,136 people prompted global brands and charities to launch initiatives to safeguard employees, from ensuring the safety of buildings to providing better pay and working hours.
ODI said almost 20 percent of the child garment workers were aged 12 or younger, while the rest were aged 13 or 14. Many were working longer than the legal limit of 42 hours a week.
Two thirds of them were girls, the study said.
Most children did not have formal contracts, were earning below the minimum monthly wage and reported health problems such as extreme fatigue, back pain and exposure to dust and fumes.
ODI urged clothing firms to require that direct suppliers provide more information on their sub-contractors.
"While ultimate responsibility for strengthening the regulatory regime rests with the Government of Bangladesh, brands could – and should – be creating incentives for firms to comply with child labor laws," ODI said.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla. Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)