Trafficking and the Fashion Industry
By Billy Dixon
July 26, 2023

I was enjoying my morning cappuccino in my favourite coffee shop when I saw a group of nursery children and their teachers walking to the local park. Their excitement was barely containable as they bounced and skipped along the footpath. Living for the moment. Theirs is a time of innocence, of play, of learning and of social interaction.

Unfortunately, this scene is not replicated in many parts of the world. In fact, innocence is often exploited as a source of slave labour to harvest and produce cotton garments for our fashion industry.

For them there are no nurseries, no ‘living for the moment’ and little chance of any formal education. Instead, they are forced to work from dawn to dusk and often without breaks. They live in overcrowded conditions, are undernourished and have no access to their families or the outside world.

The contrast could not be starker and tragically the latest figures suggest that as many as 170 million children worldwide are being exploited to meet the demands in our society for cheap fashion. There has been a lot of publicity about the destructive effects that garment production is having on our environment, with huge levels of pollution and mountains of clothing in landfills, and yet very little is said about the insidious crime of child exploitation.

I have been an advisor in the world of fashion for over twenty-five years and still get excited by good designs. On the surface, it is an exciting and glamorous world with designers and models becoming household names, but the dark side is one of manipulation and exploitation. Manipulation of us; the public, encouraging us to buy the latest trends and the exploitation of children to produce cheap versions of those trends.

I fully understand that people love a bargain, especially during these times of financial austerity. We call it ‘retail therapy’ and that is often exactly what it is; therapy, a little bit of happiness in hard times.  But the real price of that cheap T-shirt is a lot higher and as a society, we must start asking ourselves if it is worth it.

My attitude to fashion has changed. I now recommend that people buy less, that they buy from ethical sources and that they buy products that are sustainable. The biggest challenge we face is getting people to boycott or lobby retailers that sell garments that have been produced by child labour. If we are going to do this we need to raise public awareness through education and social media campaigns, as well as encourage influencers to highlight the issue and to refocus our spending patterns.

Human trafficking in whatever form has no moral compass. It is all about profit at the expense of personal liberty. We must come to terms with the fact that when we purchase that cheap garment we support the criminal organisations and manipulators who totally ignore the human rights of others.

Sadly, the children harvesting the cotton or tied to looms will not be given the opportunity to play, to learn, to interact socially or go to the park. Theirs is but a life of miserable slavery and exploitation.