Corporate codes of conduct are a new and promising approach that can
contribute to the elimination of child labor in the global garment
industry. They involve the private sector - rather than governments
and international organizations - in developing solutions to this
It is important to keep in mind, however, that codes of conduct
are not a panacea. Child labor remains a serious problem - with
hundreds of millions of children working around the world. However,
their presence in export industries may be reduced by the
implementation of codes of conduct. It is also possible that changes
induced by codes of conduct could have positive spillover effects
for children more generally - e.g., a greater commitment of a
foreign country to compulsory education for children. However, this
relationship requires further study.
Finally, because codes of conduct seem to be tools used by large
apparel importers, there may remain smaller importers without codes
of conduct still willing to overlook the working conditions in the
plants of countries from which they purchase their garments. This
question also deserves further study.
A. Child Labor in the Apparel Industry
There is a growing public awareness of the exploitation of child
labor. Much attention has focused on children working in the export
sector of developing countries. This awareness has contributed to
the development and increased use of codes of conduct by apparel
importers in the United States.
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 currently not prevalent in their garment export
industries. In the very few cases where child labor was mentioned,
the children were 14 or older. However, the use of workers 15-17 is
common, and there may be extensive violations of local laws limiting
the hours for workers under 18.
There was some anecdotal information about the prior use of child
labor in the garment industry in Central America. For example, in
Honduras, labor union representatives said that about two years ago,
the garment export industry began to dismiss young workers to avoid
adverse publicity in importing countries. Often plant managers no
longer hire young workers (14-17 years of age) even if they meet
domestic labor law or company code of conduct requirements. However,
there are also some reports of fraudulent proof-of-age documents
being used by child workers to seek jobs in the garment industry.
There continue to be allegations in Guatemala of children working
for small subcontractors or in homework in the San Pedro de
Meanwhile, it is clear that children continue to work for
subcontractors and in homework in the Philippines and India. They
perform sewing, trimming, embroidering and pleating tasks. It is
also the case that children are not prevalent in the larger
factories in the Philippines, and that plant managers in India
recently have become more concerned about not using child labor.