I never got around to posting about the other two parts of the Dateline piece, I will eventually. Until then, I wrote about it today while working on my Bangladesh chapter.
In 1993, Dateline NBC aired footage from inside a garment factory in Bangladesh, featuring a Wal-Mart production line where kids as young as seven were operating machines and trimming garments.
Wal-Mart argued that the people of Bangladesh are extremely malnourished and that people that appear to be seven-year-old kids are actually adult Bangladeshis whose growth has been stunted.
Obviously this ridiculous spin of the situation in Bangladesh did nothing to falsify the accusations. “Made in Bangladesh” became synonymous with “Made by Children.”
The American consumer, out of concern for the child laborers of Bangladesh, took action the only way they knew how – they boycotted clothing made in Bangladesh. The children didn’t want our help. In fact, they along with Bangladeshi children’s rights NGOs, and other garment workers, protested the American boycott. The children didn’t want to lose their jobs. They had to help support their families.
In 1994, The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), under pressure of the boycott and the damaged image of the “Made in Bangladesh” label, required the factories under their power to fire all children under the age of 14 without compensation. The local NGOs and labor unions protested this decision as out-of-work children flooded the streets of Dhaka.
Responding to the crisis, the US and Bangladeshi governments along with international organizations such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), funded schools for the displaced child workers to attend until they were of working age.
And thus ended the widespread use of child labor in Bangladesh. Now you can buy clothes made in Bangladesh and know that they may have been stitched together by uneducated 15-year-old kids but at least they (probably) weren’t stitched together by uneducated 14-year-old kids.