Are your favourite brands using child labour?

A mural created by street artists Zabou and Victoria Villasana for Child Labor Free in London (Reuters)
A mural created by street artists Zabou and Victoria Villasana for Child Labor Free in London (Reuters)

Many brands proudly advertise their products as being 'cruelty-free' or 'not tested on animals', but are silent on whether child labour is a part of their manufacturing or supply chain.

"It's ridiculous -- how did it happen?" asks Michelle Pratt, founder of Child Labor Free.

A year ago the early childhood education veteran embarked on a mission to rid the world of child labour.

"There's a difference between work and labour -- work is good for children. Lots of us worked on farms as children, we worked in milking sheds, we worked in dairies after school, and it's totally acceptable," she told Paul Henry this morning.

"What's not acceptable is when labour impedes children's right to an education."

In the past year Child Labor Free has accredited a number of Kiwi brands, including designer labels Zambesi, Ruby and Kate Sylvester, and has set up an office in London. More than 100 factories in 12 countries have been inspected, and an early childhood centre in Kolkata is in the works.

While most brands do care about how their products are made, Ms Pratt says many choose to turn a blind eye over fears they'll be singled out.

"There's a fear of, 'If I do find some child labour in my supply chain, I'm going to get named and shamed and blamed, so I'm going to stay quiet.' The thing to do is not to do that."

Naming and shaming doesn't even work, according to Ms Pratt. If it did, there still wouldn't be 150 million kids worldwide being forced into what's effectively slavery.

"You need to look at the supply chain, you need to analyse why it happened and you need to figure out how we can resolve the issue."

If Child Labor Free finds evidence of child labour in a brand's supply chain, rather than race to name-and-shame, they work with the brand to fix the problem.

The only regret Ms Pratt has is not starting Child Labor Free much earlier.

"It has been a frantic year. It's been a really interesting year, it's been a really challenging year."

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