The employment of children took a dramatic turn in the late 1700s with the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. As more and more factories were built, more jobs were created, making it easier for children to obtain one of the jobs in the textile factories, also know as textile mills. It was thought that children would be cheaper to employ than adults, work faster with their hands, be less likely to complain about the harsh working conditions, as well as be content with making less than adults. As the drive for more products at a faster rate was on the rise, it was more cost effective for the factory owners to hire children due to the fact they could turn a bigger profit in doing so. The breakdown of wages was that men would make anywhere from ten to fifteen shillings per week, followed by women who made about five, leaving children to make only one shilling per week.
By 1835, it is believed that more than fifty percent of the workers in the textile industry were under the age of eighteen and often worked 12-14 hours a day, with increased hours during busy time periods.Conditions in the mills were required to be hot and humid for the spinning of fabric, making the employees sweat profusely, giving rise to the term “sweat shop.” This combined with a large amount of airborne particles would worsen existing lung problems and led to the development of tuberculosis in many of the workers. In addition, moving from the warm damp area into the cold night led to cases of pneumonia. Machinery in the mills was loud and would damage the workers’ hearing. Small children were given the job of scavenger and piecers. Scavengers worked under the machinery to clean dust and oil as well as gather cotton thrown off the machinery due to vibrations. Because the machinery did not stop for their work, they had to quickly get out of the way so they would not be entangled and crushed in the machinery.
Piecers had to lean over machinery to repair broken threads. As with scavengers, the risk of finger and hand crushing was very high. If children’s hair became entangled in the machinery, their scalps could be ripped off, and they could become crushed to death if they fell asleep and fell into the unguarded machinery.
Please take note that these textile factories are still present today in many parts of the world and are more commonly know as sweatshops. In today’s society sweatshops are frowned upon but continue to survive from customers supporting companies that utilize this specific type of labor. Several companies that are accused of using sweatshops include but are not limited to: The Children’s place, Wal-Mart, Gap, H&M, Disney, Sears, Soffee, Victoria’s Secret, Nike, J. Crew, Forever 21, and many others.
When you are out shopping I challenge you to make the conscious decision about the products you are about to purchase and to always shop responsibly. To gather more information about ways to put an end sweatshops without hurting the workers, please visit Green America, Vegan Peace, and Child Labour Public Education Project.
By Jenna McGrath with contributions by Denise Webb
Humphries, Jane. Childhood and child labour in the British industrial revolution. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Tuttle, Carolyn. “Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. August 14, 2001.