Topshop and Primark could be hiring children aged 14 in supply factories

Representatives from Marks & Spencer, Arcadia, Burberry and Primark took part in a parliamentary meeting to discuss sustainability in fashion

Sabrina Barr
Tuesday 27 November 2018 18:35 GMT

Two of Britain's biggest fashion retailers, Topshop and Primark, have policies that allow people as young as 14 to work in their supply chains.

The child labour policies were put back in the spotlight on Tuesday when representatives from some of the biggest brands on the UK high street appeared before MPs to discuss sustainability and ethical practice within the fashion industry.

The Environmental Audit Committee asked a panel of retailers to explain how their companies would define a "child" within their supply chain.

Representatives from Arcadia and Marks & Spencer both said that the minimum age of workers that they employ in supply factories is 15, which is the school leaving age in countries such as Colombia and Indonesia.

Paul Lister, head of ethical trade at Primark, stated that the company defines a child as being under the age of 16.

However, his statement didn't fall in line with Primark’s published code of conduct, which outlines that the company regards a child as being under the age of 15.

And while Primark's guidelines on child labour may claim to not employ any youngsters under the age of 15 in its supply factories, there are loopholes in the law that could lead to a child as young as 14 joining the workforce.

The retailer's code of conduct says that it doesn't employ anyone under the age of 15, except in developing countries where there's a minimum working age of 14.

This means that in countries such as India, Pakistan and Tanzania, where some of Primark's supply factories are based and there's a minimum working age of 14, children of that age may be hired to manufacture clothing.

Arcadia's code of conduct also follows these same guidelines, which were enacted in 1973 by a International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention.

The convention states that a country "whose economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed" may specify a minimum working age of 14.

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The ETI estimates that there are approximately 211m children under the age of 15 working around the world.

60 per cent of this underage workforce can be found in Asia, the organisation explains.

In the UK, a child can only start working full-time once they’ve reached “minimum school leaving age”.

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