I was a child laborer when I was 9 years old…

Please note: author’s original grammar and punctuation have been preserved but slightly edited for clarity.

Fashion Revolution’s purpose was derived from the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that happenned exactly five years ago, on April 24th, 2013. 1,138 died while at least 2500 more were injured following this tragedy. This event was a catalyst for change in the fashion industry. It’s very interesting to see people demand change once human lives are sacrificed. To think that there are people all over the world that are still risking their life in dangerous work conditions because people are still buying products that allow this to continue. Had these companies been regulated consistently and effectively, we could have saved 1,138 lives. But the reality is we all are very disconnected with ourselves and with each other and we are unconsciously bringing unnecessary suffering.

My dear friends……..

I am going to share with you an open letter written by a child survivor of undocumented sweatshops addressed to the CEO’s of global textile Corporations that essentially hold the power to initiate global change. It is my wish that the words I am sharing with you today become more than just words on paper.

I am asking you to take action. This action has the opportunity to ripple out into the world with an exponential effect. This effect will challenge many matters of the existing global trade system.

But I promise you………. the rewards it will bring to the world will be far more valuable than profit.

As a girl born in a conservative male-dominated society, I am allowed to know very little of the world around me. Sadly, being an undocumented immigrant, I have become a victim of global consumerism. 
Today 40.3 million men, women and children from every part of the globe are victims of slavery. 151.6 million children aged 5 to 17 are child labors. Over one billion people live under $1 a day. 35% of all birth and 65% of deaths in these fast industries go unrecorded. I was born in a remote village where neither birth nor death records are kept. If you were to ask me how old I am I couldn’t tell you, honestly. I can guess that I first became a child slave between the age of 9 or 10 I work for well-known clothing corporations that operate under loosely-regulated foreign manufacturing. In order to keep up with their demands for low-cost fast production, these factories have set up illegal sweatshops in the inner cities using undocumented workers. Six of us live, work and sleep in a 10 by 10 room without a bathroom or clean water. We are forced to work 7 days a week for 10 to 12 hours a day, getting paid less than $2 a day. My bed is made of a large pile of clothes I produce each day. At night, I lay on top of these clothes and wonder where they are going to end up and who will wear them. I dream of a life far away from this.

If you are reading this and do not know who made your clothes, you could be wearing the clothes I made in the sweatshop. There are millions of undocumented men, women and children suffering at the hands of corporate profits. In the sweatshops, I have seen how chemicals and dyes are illegally discarded into waterways and drains. We used to have beautiful rivers running throughout the city but they are almost nonexistent now because of industrial waste. Today, industrial pollutants are the number one poison in Nepal’s Rivers. Nature has never known suffering like it has today at the hands of irresponsible and unaccountable corporate manufacturing.

I do not blame you for stealing my childhood or polluting this planet, but I know that in order to be accountable for one, we must be accountable for all. I forgive you. We must make a change in the way we produce and trade goods that ensures the rights of every human being and all of nature.

The principles of Fair Trade have the potential to heal an immense amount of suffering in the world, while also offering an abundant and thriving system of global trade.

I am asking you to take a stand against supporting loosely-regulated foreign manufacturing and instead support companies with fair regulations and working conditions. Trade environmental pollution for agreements to protect the Earth. Trade corporate profits for safe working conditions. Trade child laborers for equal worker’s rights for all men and women. Trade slave labor wages for living wages. Trade shady business ethics for transparent agreements of mutual profits. It’s up to us……… to change the world for all of us.

I truly hope you can feel my voice through this letter. 
Peace be with you.

About the author: Nasreen Sheikh is the Founder and Executive Director of Local Women’s Handicrafts in Katmandu, Nepal. Nasreen is an International public speaker • Anti-sweatshop advocate • Millennial commentator on power, Fair Trade, Gender justice & Environmental protection. You can watch Nasreen’s Tedx Talk right here and donate to her latest project aimed at building a Learning Center in rural Nepal here.