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Indian Children Toiling to Make Clothes for Global Fashion Industry

A major international brand-clothing retailer is vowing to take action after it was revealed that Indian children in sweatshops were making garments carrying its label. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

The Gap, a major international clothing retailer, has confirmed that one of its vendors here had hired a subcontractor that was using children as young as ten to make garments under miserable conditions.

Company officials say the clothes made by these children will be destroyed and not sold.

The Gap has more than 3,000 stores in North America, Europe and Japan. About 200 of its 2,000 suppliers are in India.

The Observer newspaper in London reports the clothing was being produced in a filthy factory where children had been sold by their families and were not being paid.

The head of education and child rights in India with the advocacy group Action Aid, Neeraj Seth, says this is not an isolated case.

"Sometimes the parents they have taken a loan and then the children have to go and work," Seth said. "They are paid very little. All kinds of things happen. All the children who are out of school, they are all potential child labor."

The Gap chain says its vendors must guarantee that children are not used to make clothing. It plans to gather all of its suppliers in India at a summit soon to "forcefully reiterate the prohibition on any child labor."

Child rights' groups say calls to boycott companies or nations using child labor are counter-productive because children can be forced into even worse jobs or become destitute.

Neeraj Seth of Action Aid India says a coordinated attack on child labor is the best approach.

"Just stopping business is not really the answer," Seth said. "The answer lies in collaborative action where the multi-nationals [corporations] and other governments they put pressure on the [Indian] government to bring out an appropriate law and make sure it is enforced."

Revelations of cases where children in India are making clothes for the multi-billion dollar fashion industry garner considerable attention. But experts say only about five percent of working children here are involved with products intended for export.

The United Nations calls India the biggest source of child labor with more than one-fifth of the country's economy dependent on 55 million children under the age of 14.