EXPOSED: 10-year-old UNPAID workers who help clothing giants make billions
GAP slave kids
CHILDREN as young as TEN are being sold into slavery by poverty-stricken parents — to churn out cheap, embroidered clothes for fashion chain Gap.
An investigation uncovered the scandal of sweatshop kids who work for NOTHING in India's capital, New Delhi.
After talking to frightened youngsters as they laboured to produce goods in time for the lucrative Christmas season, we can reveal they are:
FORCED to work without pay for up to 19 hours a day in the stifling heat.
BEATEN with a rubber pipe if they cry or protest.
KEPT in stinking, poorly-lit sweatshops running with raw sewage and
BRANDED with tattoos which bond them to their greedy bosses.
When we confronted horrified Gap chiefs with our findings, they immediately vowed to WITHDRAW tens of thousands of their embroidered children's smock tops produced by sweatshop labour before they even reach the stores.
But the news will bring little comfort to ten-year-old AMITOSH, who was sold for around 1,000 rupees—just £10. Ironically, his name means Happiness in Hindi.
Sweating in the searing heat, he wearily pulled threads through tiny sequins on one of the trendy smock tops bearing the Gap label. And he told us: "I was bought from my parents and taken to New Delhi by train.
"Men came to our village near the Nepalese border with loudhailers in July. They told our parents to send their boys to work in the city so they won't have to work on the farms.
"My father was paid a fee for me and I was brought down to Delhi by train with 40 other children. The journey took 30 hours and we weren't fed.
"I've been told I have to work off the fee paid for me so I can go home. But I am working for free. The supervisor has told me because I am learning, I don't get paid." Beside Amitosh on a wooden stool are his only belongings—a tattered comic book, a penknife, a comb and a torn blanket with an elephant motif.
Nervously, he places his grubby fingers over the faded Sanskrit figures stencilled on his arm in permanent ink. It is the number of the sweatshop he has been bonded to.
Around him in the mud-brick factory, situated in a dangerous quarter of New Delhi, half a dozen other youngsters are crouched over cramped workstations. Each is dripping in sweat, with hair coated in dust.
Their shabby four-storey unit is smeared in filth, its corridors covered in excrement from a flooded latrine.
Another child— JIVAJ, from West Bengal, who looks about 12—wept as he told us: "Our hours are hard and violence is used if we don't work hard enough.
"This is a big order for abroad, they keep telling us. Last week we spent four days working from dawn until about one in the morning next day.
"I was so tired I felt sick. If any of us cry we are hit with a rubber pipe. Some boys had oily cloths stuffed in their mouths." A third boy, MANIK, who is also on "probation" and working for free, claims to be 13 but looks far younger. He said: "I want to work here. I have somewhere to sleep at night."
Looking cautiously behind him, he added: "The boss tells me I am learning. It is my duty to stay here.
"Eventually I will make money and buy a house for my mother."
Behind the children, huge piles of completed Gap garments sit in polythene sacks, all labelled for export to Europe and the US. The company has 3,500 stores across the world and revenues of $16billion.
When we informed them of our investigation, Gap's spokesman said: "These allegations are deeply upsetting and we take it very seriously. Our suppliers and their sub-contractors are required to guarantee they won't use child labour. We firmly believe that under no circumstances is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments. It's clear that one of our vendors violated this agreement and a full investigation is under way.
"We immediately took steps to stop this work order and to prevent the product from ever being sold in our stores. We are also convening a meeting of our suppliers in the region, at which we'll reinforce our prohibition on child labour."
Gap's iconic fashion brands have endorsements from some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities, including Madonna and Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker.
Founded in 1969 by Donald Fisher, one of America's wealthiest businessmen, the firm last year embarked on a huge poster and TV campaign for Product Red, a charitable trust to fund drugs to combat AIDS and other diseases in Africa.
It was launched by U2 singer Bono and backed by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, film director Steven Spielberg and actress Penelope Cruz.
But in New Delhi, sweatshop manager Mafeed gloated as he explained to us how the child labour deal was arranged. He claimed one of the multi-national firm's Indian suppliers sub-contracted it to his bosses with a handshake, promising cash on delivery."It's how we do business here in India," he told us. "You westerners are too quick to judge life here."
Panic rising in his voice as he awaited his bosses' arrival, Mafeed added: "The workers are here by choice, they are happy, you can see that. We feed them daal (soupy lentils) and rice and pay them well. They have bedding on the roof. These boys send money home."
But Bhuwan Ribhu, a New Delhi lawyer and activist for the Global March Against Child Labour, blasted Western firms who exploit workers. He said: "The reality is most major retail firms are playing the same game, cutting costs and not sufficiently considering the consequences.
"They ought to know what outsourcing to India really means.
"Employing cheap labour without scrupulous investigation of your contractor inevitably means children will be used somewhere along the chain. " This may not be what people in the West want to hear as they pull fresh clothes from the racks but shoppers should be thinking, ‘Why am I only paying £20 for a hand embroidered top? Is this top stained with a child's sweat?'
"Not only that, but have the children been sexually and physically abused, have they been kidnapped or stolen from their parents? These questions need to be asked."
He explained that one of the most controversial industries that thrives on child labour is Zari work— intricate embroidery with sequins that has become immensely popular in European fashion stores.
"Sweatshop owners prefer to employ children for this because their thin, nimble fingers can work quicker on intricate ethnic designs," said Mr Ribhu.
"By the time the youngsters reach their mid-teens, their fingers and hands are often badly damaged and their eyesight weak from long hours of tedious work in dark rooms.
"Their growth is often stunted by years of sitting in uncomfortable, hunched positions at the bamboo-framed workstations.
"Child workers have no fixed hours of work, and for those ‘lucky' enough to get paid, the combined wages of five unskilled child workers are less than that of a single unskilled adult."
Mr Ribhu claims a number of activists opposing child labour have been murdered by gangsters who run sweatshops and others have had threats made to their families.
He said: "Look, it is an impossible task to track down all of these terrible factories employing children.
"In the garment industry you need little more than a basement or an attic crammed with small children to make a healthy profit. Some owners even hide the children in sacks or on carefully concealed mezzanine floors designed to dodge raids. A lot of money is at stake here."
India employs more than 55 million children aged between five and 14. The UN estimates child labour contributes 20 per cent of the country's gross national production.
Professor Sheotaj Singh, who runs a school for rescued child workers, believes nothing will change as long as cut-price embroidered goods are sold in Western stores.
He said: "The key thing India has to offer is some of the world's cheapest labour and Delhi has 15,000 inadequately regulated garment factories.
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