Category Archives: Social

WATCH // Media Theorised: Reading against the grain


What role does advertising play in journalism? Who funds and controls media coverage? Why is representation so important? How are stereotypes produced and reproduced through the media? Does the medium that we use consume information matter?

And, what does any of this have to do with responsible fashion?

The Listening Post has produced a series of short animated films introducing five media theorists: Roland Barthes, Noam Chomsky, Stuart Hall, Marshall McLuhan, and Edward Said. Media Theorised is a project that calls for a critical engagement with the media, and is a nice resource to share with friends, colleagues and students.

Many of the entanglements highlighted by these theorists are brought to the surface through the project itself, with respect to how it is shared and consumed, and all of these tensions would make great topics for further discussion: for example, the fact that I am sharing this content with you through a blog post on an English-language website; that the Media Theorized project was itself developed by a media network (Al Jazeera), and that each video has little Google advertisements that pop-up, and sometimes play before the video starts—a  reminder of the role of advertising in media (briefly mentioned in the Noam Chomsky piece); or the fact that you may have found this post through social media, and may be reading this content on a tablet, phone or laptop.

A couple of years ago I briefly shared some thoughts on how one of these tensions plays out in media stories related to labour rights for IANS: sponsored content surrounding responsible fashion, where the lines between corporate interests, corporate social responsibility, and critical journalism (or even bad journalism, for that matter) become blurred. Although I was picking on The Guardian at that time, the takeaway was that a critical lens is needed when reading any and all media coverage related to these issues (including coverage produced on this site).

I hope you’ll find these resources relevant and interesting. I’ve embedded a couple of the animations below. Each film comes with an essay and a downloadable poster – who doesn’t love a good poster?

EXHIBIT// Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics

Canada’s QUEEN of fashion, Jeanne Beker, is guest curator for an upcoming exhibit at The Design Exchange on the intersection of politics and fashion!

The exhibit covers political fashion from 1960 to the present including a paper dress covered with Pierre Trudeau’s face during the Trudeaumania days, fur coats splattered by PETA, skinhead fashion, and a few pieces from Jeremy Scott’s Arab Spring collection.

Here is Jeanne Beker chatting with the KING of radio, Jian Ghomeshi (big fans!), on Q today and doing an AMAZING job discussing fashion theory, elucidating on the deeper meanings behind fashion, and even adding a few points on second-hand clothing, consumerism, fast fashion, cultural appropriation and thoughtlessness within the fashion industry:


This exhibit is definitely on our #fashionbucketlist next time we’re in Toronto! Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics runs from September 18th – January 25th, 2015.

Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey

Some people are adamant that fashion is not art. This online exhibit proves them wrong.

Silk textile with gilt thread embroidery, 16th Century. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, © The New York Times, Dec. 5, 2005.

The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art have created an online exhibit that features highlights from their 2005 exhibit entitled Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey. The online exhibit is beautifully curated with interactive close ups of the costumes that are so detailed you can actually see the fabric grain. What’s so special about the Ottoman Empire? According to the press release in 2005:

“Three weaves were dominant: velvet (kadife), featuring a three-dimensional surface with some areas of pile and some of metal thread; brocade (kemha) and cloths of gold and silver thread (seraser)—the most expensive and luxurious. In the mid-16th century, Ottoman taste increasingly favored large, bold designs, such as medallions, stylized tiger stripes, and a triplespot design known as “çintamani” (literally, “auspicious jewel”). By repeatedly combining the similar motifs in different scales and patterns, the Ottomans were among the first to use recurrent motifs to create a dramatic and distinct visual language—a quintessentially “Ottoman brand”—that became identifiable with the empire’s centralized political strength and growing economic power—its style and status.”

If you are an educator and would like to incorporate this amazing online resource into your lessons, you can get some ideas from the resource for educators with a 4-part classroom activity that accompanies the exhibit.

Now…go explore!

Online exhibit: Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey

Other online exhibits: The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art

Educator’s resource: Asian Art Connections: A Resource for Educators. Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey

Anti-Slavery International targets European Parliament through Cotton Crimes campaign

Anti-Slavery International has recently relaunched their Cotton Crimes campaign with a new video.

It is our hope that, through our short video, we will reach out, inform and encourage people to act in the interests of the children of Uzbekistan.” (Samuel Cooper, Anti-Slavery International)

Anti-Slavery International is calling on the European Parliament to remove preferential trade tariffs with Uzbekistan. Click here for more information and to sign the petition.

Over 60 international retailers have joined forces to boycott Uzbek cotton, publicly stating their commitment to the eradication of forced child labour through the Responsible Sourcing Network, an As You Sow initiative.

Click below to learn more about what’s happening inUzbekistanand to follow our ongoing coverage:

LEARN // Social Alterations / A Closer Look / Uzbekistan

Where Are These Child Labourers Working?

Today, we’re  playing a game. Read the clues and try to figure out the location before you get to the end of this post.

  • In this country, children between the ages of 12 and 18 are legally allowed to work long hours in all sorts of hazardous conditions as long as the job is classified as agricultural work. If the farm is classified as a ‘small’ farm, children of any age can work as hired labourers.
    • Some of the most common jobs include:
      • picking fruits and vegetables
      • picking tobacco
      • hoeing cotton and weeding cotton fields
    • Some common job-related hazards include:
      • using sharp farm implements such as knives and chainsaws
      • operating heavy machinery such as tractors and grinders
      • pesticide exposure
      • sexual harassment and violence
      • exposure to extreme temperatures
      • repetitive motion injuries
      • unsanitary conditions
      • extremely long workhours sometimes without a day off during peak seasons
  • This country’s Department of Labour estimated that 3% of agricultural workers are children however, this is a flawed measure since it does not include children below the age of 14. Other estimates are as high as 9% of agricultural workers, however, this also does not include undocumented or subcontracted workers and workers working on their own family farms. Farms in this country rely on subcontractors to provide an estimated 15% or more of their workers. These labour contractors mediate the relationship between the growers and the workers. Therefore, the growers often have no contact with their subcontracted labourers. The growers pay a lump sum to the labour contractors who often manage all issues related to wages, transportation to job sites, and pay deductions.
  • Up to 40% of farm labourers are migrants that move with the seasons. Farm labourers are also ‘overwhelmingly poor’. These patterns of migration and poverty drive many adult labourers to ask their children to work alongside them. The impact on the child’s education can be significant. In some cases, because of the migration with the seasons, children may leave school in early spring and return in the late fall missing a few months each year. One third of child farm labourers drop out of school altogether.
  • Both adult and child farm workers are often not paid the minimum wage. In some cases, children are paid less than their adult counterparts, in other cases, a legal loophole provides exception for small farms and farms paying a piece-rate [which encourages unsafe work practices since safety equipment often hampers work speed]. Furthermore, overtime pay is not required for agricultural workers.
  • This country is not mentioned in the US DoL’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor despite the fact that the legal loopholes for farm work create, reinforce and support conditions which are in clear violation of the ILO’s convention for the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor (no. 182 adopted in 1999). ‘Child’ in this convention is defined as all persons under the age of 18 and the worst forms of child labour includes “work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children (Article 3(d))”. This country was one of the first to ratify this convention and has been very active in promoting and instituting the convention worldwide.
  • Did I mention that this country is one of the top producers of cotton this year? Most of its cotton is exported to major clothing producers including China [the top destination], Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Did you guess where? Watch the video to find out:

The Harvest/La Cosecha – Promotional Trailer from Shine Global on Vimeo.

Shocked? So was I!

For more info, check out the following:

Human Rights Watch: Fields of Peril

  • A lot of the information in this post is summarized from this report. Thanks to Human Rights Watch for their continuous and unwavering commitment to this issue. This report contains a lot more information that I barely touched upon with enormous detail on the plight of these child farm workers. They also have first hand accounts of the working conditions the children must endure. This report is a must-read if you are interested in learning more about this issue.

Cynthia Castaldo-Walsh’s post on

  • This is an excellent overview of the legal loopholes in the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) which allow for these conditions. She also gives a brief description of changes proposed in the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment. This bill was introduced in 2009 and is still being churned through government machinery. You can track what’s happening with the bill here and here.

Mike Elk’s post on In These Times

  • This post discusses the proposed revisions to federal law by the Department of Labor to better protect child farm workers. In particular, Elk points out how slow the process has been but he does also draw attention to the next resource in the list.
The Department of Labor’s proposed changes
  • The DoL’s proposed changes to federal law are up for public comment until November 1st and can be found here.
60 Minutes did a short (11 minute) segment about a family weeding cotton in the Texas plains. I strongly suggest it as a way to draw students into a debate on these issues:
[please keep watching beyond the ad in the first few minutes, I promise it’s worth it!]

The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs Children in the Fields Campaign 

The Harvest/La Cosecha: The Story of the Children Who Feed America

Special thanks to for bringing this issue to our attention. It really made us think about our preconceptions. Sometimes, just because something is “American [or Canadian] made” doesn’t necessarily mean it is responsibly made. Growers may be fulfilling their legal obligations, which is part of their responsibility, yet they are under enormous pressure to provide products at low prices giving them incentive to maintain and perpetuate this system of labour. At the same time, we, as consumers, are also part of the problem by constantly demanding low-priced commodities. But, these low prices do not reflect the real costs of production. These issues are very complicated. There is no easy answer. At the end of it all, someone, somewhere along the line still has to pay the real cost in one way or another.

Next up…A Living Wage!


It’s no secret that the CSR industry cycles through trends of the ‘it’ topic. For a while the hottest topic was workers at Latin American maquiladores, then it was human rights in the sports lifestyle industry, then we moved on to organic cotton, and water ‘stewardship’ and the cycles continue. Lately, I’ve noticed something interesting. A new hot topic is on the horizon and will probably emerge full force into ‘mainstream’ CSR conversations within the next few years: living wages!

Some of you may be thinking that you’ve heard of this issue before…nothing new! That’s true, it is not a new concept. Actually, the idea of a living wage [or fair wage, I’m going to use the two terms interchangeably until someone can tell me their exact definitions and how they differ] has been around for a long time. Katrine discussed the Asia Floor Wage Campaign on this very website in 2009. But, long before the Asia Floor Wage Campaign started it’s activities, fair trade products were being sold with the goal of providing a fair wage to producers. So what’s the big deal? Why am I talking about this as though it’s a hot new trend?

Well, there’s been another interesting set of events this year that at first may seem unrelated.

  1. The release of the UN’s long-awaited Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework
  2. The release of the OECD’s newly revised Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Recommendations for Responsible Business Conduct in a Global Context
  3. The release of the FLA’s updated Workplace Code of Conduct

Reading all these statements and the background papers, the conference proceedings and so on that lead to the final product can be a bit tedious. Luckily, I have to do this for my dissertation anyway so, I’ll just summarize the relevant points and briefly explain the significance of these events.

The UN: Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework

When Professor John Ruggie was appointed the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on business and human rights back in 2005, he had a 2-year research based mandate “to ‘identify and clarify’ existing standards and practices.” In 2007, the UN Human Rights Council extended Ruggie’s mandate for 1 year with a request for recommendations based on his research. This mandate concluded with the publication of the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework in 2008 which was “welcomed” during the 8th session of the UN Human Rights Council. Once again, Ruggie’s mandate was extended for another 3 years during which the UN Human Rights Council requested that the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework be operationalized.  The outcome of this long history is the publication of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework which were “recognized” by the 17th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

So what’s so important about these guidelines, and this history in general? They clarify the duties of  businesses and states when it comes to human rights. What I think is especially important is the fact that the UN  has basically placed corporate activity right in the middle of human rights discourse stipulating very clearly that not only does business have a responsibility to respect human rights, it also has a role in creating and supporting the mechanisms to remedy any rights violations associated with business activities. Essentially, the UN [which some have argued is the purveyor of global norms] has validated and legitimized the idea that business has a role in the governance of human rights. As a side note, one of the features of The Gap Inc., 2010 CSR report is the launch of their Human Rights policy [one of the first companies I know of with one of those] which directly references and uses similar terminology as the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework.

But I still haven’t shared the best part. If you read this document carefully, you will notice section 12:

“The responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights refers to internationally recognized human rights – understood, at a minimum, as those expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (p. 13).”

You would think that I would be really excited about the ILO reference in this, but that’s not interesting at all since the commentary section clarifies that what they mean by the ILO’s declaration is actually just the 8 core rights which almost any business serious about CSR already acscribes to anyway. No, the interesting part is this simple mathematical equation:

International Bill of Human Rights


United Nations Declaration of Human Rights


International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights


International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

If you go deeper and look at the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights you will find a small statement, Article 7.a.ii, that is very relevant:

And so, hidden away within the background documents of a report promoted by the UN Human Rights Council as a “guidance that will contribute to enhancing standards and practices with regard to business and human rights, and thereby contribute to a socially sustainable globalization, without foreclosing any other long-term development, including the further enhancement of standards” is an indirect link between business activities and “a decent living”!!

The OECD: Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Recommendations for Responsible Business Conduct in a Global Context

As you may have noticed, these declarations and reports and guidelines feed off each other. When Ruggie’s Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework was first released, the OECD took notice. In 2009, the idea was floated that maybe it was time to update their own guidelines for businesses which had not been reviewed since 2000! Kudos to them for noticing that a lot has changed since 2000. So it’s 2010, and after a whole lot of negotiations and discussions, the 48 member countries come up with a document called the Terms of Reference for an Update of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises which basically set out the parameters for changes to the guidelines. On page 4 of this document is this line:

“Chapter IV (Labour and Industrial Relations) and Chapter II (General Policies) of the Guidelines and the related Commentary may need to be revised to take into account developments in the ILO including the adoption of the ILO Decent Work Agenda and the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation, and other proposals from labour stakeholders (p. 4).”

One of the objectives outlined in the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization [adopted in 2008] is “developing and enhancing measures of social protection – social security and labour protection – which are sustainable and adapted to national circumstances (p. 4)“. The document gives examples of such measures one of which is “policies in regard to wages and earnings, hours and other conditions of work,  designed to ensure a just share of the fruits of progress to all and a minimum living wage to all employed and in need of such protection (p. 4)“.

The OECD then had conferences and meetings, some with John Ruggie, to discuss the future form of their guidelines. Finally, this year, the updated guidelines were launched in May. In those 84 pages, Chapter V, section 4.b stipulates:

“When multinational enterprises operate in developing countries, where comparable employers may not exist, provide the best possible wages, benefits and conditions of work, within the framework of government policies. These should be related to the economic position of the enterprise, but should be at least adequate to satisfy the basic needs of the workers and their families (p. 34)”

If you look at the 2010 set of guidelines, there is no mention of adequate pay to “satisfy the basic needs of the workers and their families” so this was definitely an addition to this year’s guidelines. But, the commentary section doesn’t mention it at all! I don’t think this was an oversight. Maybe this was a way to test this proposition and gauge reactions. In any case, once again, a reference to some sort of an improvement in wages to meet basic needs is out there in an official document. The idea is becoming more embedded in the global normative outlook even if it still hasn’t been defined or had its parameters clarified.

The FLA: Workplace Code of Conduct

In June this year, after a 2 year process of consultations with their stakeholders, the FLA revised their Workplace Code of Conduct. And they made it really easy to spot the differences between the 1997 code and the revised 2011 code with a side-by-side comparison. This picture shows an interesting change [1997 on the left, 2011 on the right]:

Again, “basic needs” is used to describe the same thing the OECD was talking about; some sort of improvement in wages so that workers can afford their basic needs plus a little extra. To go a little further, the FLA stipulates that if the minimum wage does not cover basic needs plus a little extra, FLA members have to work with the FLA to reach such a level of compensation!! And so here it is, a direct call on businesses to work to improve wage conditions so that workers can afford their basic needs and have a little extra leftover!

Even though many organizations have been working on promoting the idea of a living wage including the Asia Floor Wage Campaign and the Ethical Trading Initiative, this is the first time that we are seeing these ideas seep into policy related documents at the global level. And this conversation about living wages isn’t contextually relegated to ‘developing’ countries. Check out this article from This Magazine about the living wage debate in Canada. Things start to get really complicated when there are discussions about the nitty-gritty details. Whose responsibility is it to implement these types of policies? What will the wider impact on the rest of society be? How will these policies be implemented within supply chains? and the questions just keep coming. The video below is from the ETI Conference in 2008 where these questions were actually discussed (start at 1:34). At the end of the day, this is just the beginning of the mainstreaming of the conversation but it is still a start!

Mass Faintings, Fixed-Duration Contracts and the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia Program

You’ve likely followed the mass faintings of garment workers that have taken place in Cambodia this year. While most reports have cited gruelling working conditions and worker exposure to toxic chemicals as likely causes, reasons for the faintings remain unclear.

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Fast Facts // Cambodia

The face of the Cambodian garment worker is that of a young, rural female. (Tearing Apart at the Seams, Yale Law: Pg. 8 )

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Earlier this month, while investigating the faintings, the International Labour Committee’s Better Factories Cambodia (ILO-BFC) program offered various recommendations to factories, including the obvious suggestion that they adhere to full compliance with the Cambodian Labour Law (Media Update 06-08 August 2011 “Actions Have to Be Taken to Prevent Mass Fainting”: ILO-BFC)

Speaking of the Cambodian Labour Law…

Cambodian garment workers have seen a difficult year. Back in September, guest writer Dr. Robert Hanlon informed us on how the Cambodian court was cracking down on garment worker protests. The Clean Clothes Campaign still continues to fight for the reinstatement of workers who were fired during the protests: “Over 300 Striking Garment Workers Still Victimised.”

Add to this a recent report out of Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, “Tearing Apart at the Seams: How Widespread Use of Fixed-Duration Contracts Threatens Cambodian Workers and the Cambodian Garment Industry.”

The report highlights an amendment to relax restrictions on fixed-duration contracts would compromise the rights of garment workers under both Cambodian and international law. As a result, the authors advise the government not to amend the current labour law.

The Cambodian government has been considering amending the labor law to ease restrictions on fixed-duration contracts. The country’s apparel industry is already facing heightened international scrutiny because of the mass firings of workers who participated in a strike last year over low wages. One of the main competitive advantages of the Cambodian garment industry is its reputation for progress on protecting workers’ rights, so it is important to understand the human rights consequences of using FDCs and the impact that permitting their expansion could have on Cambodia’s competitiveness. (James Silk, director of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic)

The study calls for the ILO-BFC program, along with other relevant parties, to work with stakeholders to support long-term contracts. In return, the program has stated it will investigate “how the general trend in using short term contracts can be converted in the industry wide understanding of the long term benefits of changing over to longer term employment relationships” (Media Update 17 August 2011, “Yale Law School releases a report on Fixed Duration Contracts”: ILO-BFC).

While we wait to learn how all of this will continue to play out, we thought we’d leave you on a positive note, and (re)draw your attention to an important health and safety education initiative we posted on our Facebook page a couple of weeks ago: The ILO-BFC’s Garment Workers Open University 2011.

Each Sunday, nearly 500 workers, from 20 garment factories, attended a full-day training to learn some basic knowledge about the Cambodian Labour Law, and obtain information about social protection services available to them. (ILO-BFC)

Check out the training resources available through the ILO-BFC, as well as their 2011 tentative training schedule. Click here for the list of active factories registered and monitored through the ILO-BFC.

Sneaky Business // Oxfam Australia organizes virtual protest to support the rights of footwear workers

Oxfam Australia has launched a new online campaign: Sneaky Business—a virtual march touring protesters across factories in Southeast Asia, China and Central America, all the way to the headquarters of leading shoe manufacturer, Nike. The march is a call for action for workers rights in the global footwear industry. As I write this post, there are 205 virtual protesters marching through Indonesia.

The journey shows that poor working conditions are a global problem. Worker exploitation exists whether in Australia, South East Asia or Central America. However Sneaky Business also demonstrates that there are companies doing the right thing— ensuring that footwear workers are treated with dignity and have access to their rights.(Oxfam Australia)

When the march finishes up in the next few months, Oxfam will deliver the messages of each protester to the shoe manufacturers. Teachers, this sounds like a perfect project to get your class involved with come September.

To join the march, simply choose your message and upload a picture of your sneakers!

Bloggers, be sure to check out the Sneaky Business Toolkit.

Great work Oxfam!

Call for Papers // Research Journal of Textile and Apparel

The Research Journal of Textile and Apparel is seeking papers for two Special Issues:

1) Fashion and Textile Strategies for Sustainable Design and Consumption

Submission of original papers: December 2011

Reviewer’s feedback and evaluation: February/March 2012

Notification of acceptance: April 2012

Publication: August 2012

2) The influence of natural colorants in modern textile design and production

Submission of original papers: September 2011

Reviewer’s feedback and evaluation: November/December 2011

Notification of acceptance: January 2012

Publication: March 2012

Submissions for each are encouraged (but not limited to) the following topics:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

1) Fashion and Textile Strategies for Sustainable Design and Consumption:

  • New sustainable textile and fashion design strategies combined with new materials or technologies
  • Emerging fashion and textile strategies in the context of sustainable design
  • Fashion and textile design systems which aim for sustainable consumption
  • New eco-materials for textile and fashion manufacturing
  • Green economic systems in the field of fashion and textile design
  • Product service systems PSS for textiles and clothing
  • Sustainable innovations in the field of textiles and fashion
  • Consumer perspectives towards sustainable textile and fashion design

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2) The influence of natural colorants in modern textile design and production:

  • colorant production, dyes, pigments
  • techniques of applications, dyeing and printing techniques
  • design for natural dyed and printed textiles
  • quality of final textile products
  • consumer perspectives towards natural dyed and/or printed textiles
  • economical aspects of the usage of natural colorants
  • environmental aspects of the usage of natural colorants
  • cultural aspects of the usage of natural colorants
  • green textiles and natural colorants


Click through for the details, and to meet the editors. Good luck with your research!


Source: Cumulus – International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art Design and Media

Bangladeshi garment workers denied rights, War on Want reports

War on Want has published a new report outlining current conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh—Stitched Up: Women workers in the Bangladeshi garment sector.

Of the many issues addressed in this report, the research outlines the true impact of short lead times, explaining how wages earned can depend on whether or not a worker meets production deadlines. It also showcases certain worker rights that have been denied as a result of an absent rule of law.

The research conducted for this report reveals that women in the garment sector have been systematically denied their rights to maternity leave under Bangladeshi law.” (Stitched Up: pg 8 )

The report investigated 41 garment factories (there are an estimated 4,825 garment factories in Bangladesh) and interviewed nearly 1000 workers (there are an estimated 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh) (Stitched Up: pg 2). 86% of the mostly women interviewed (988/1000) were between the ages of 18-31 (Stitched Up: pg 2).

Head on over to War on Want to read the report and to learn more.