Bangladeshi textile manufacturers pledged on Wednesday to investigate child labour allegations after a British television network showed children making clothes for supermarket giant Tesco.
Channel 4 News had secretly filmed children as young as 12 it said were working at four factories that supply the British supermarket giant.
SM Fazlul Hoque, president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), announced an immediate investigation but said child labour had been phased out in recent years due to pressure from Western buyers.
"The companies named are our members and they know how sensitive the child labour issue is in the West.
Employing child labour exposes you to all sorts of punitive action from the buyers," he said.
"We believe this will turn out to be baseless, but it's a serious allegation and we will send inspection teams to the factories today to find out the truth. But we suspect that this footage may be old," he said.
For the past three years the trade group has employed its own inspection teams to conduct unannounced visits to members' factories.
Any employer found to be employing workers under the age of 18 faces an on-the-spot fine of up to 50,000 taka (740 dollars).
Channel 4 said there was no suggestion that Tesco was aware of the use of children at two factories owned by Harvest Rich Ltd and two others belonging to Evince Group.
Tesco said it abhorred child labour and carried out regular audits of all suppliers.
It said that following the allegations it had made its own unannounced inspections of the four factories and was confident there were no child workers there.
Bangladesh is one of the world's top 10 garment exporting countries. In the year to June 30, garment exports grew over 24 per cent to 7.9 billion dollars.
More than 95 per cent of the garments were exported to the United States and European Union.
Tesco is a founding member of the Ethical Trading InitEative -- an alliance of companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade union organisations that safeguards international labour standards -- which states that child labour must not be used.
One alleged worker from a Harvest Rich factory told Channel 4: "I am 12 years old. I said I was 11-and-a-half and they took me in ... In the whole of Harvest Rich there are 200 to 300 child workers."
The minimum age for workers in factories that supply clothes for Tesco is 18.
Harvest Rich denied using child labour, telling Channel 4 the ages of all employees were verified by an authorised doctor and/or a local government representative.
Evince issued similar denials, adding that every worker had their age checked by a physician.