January 5, 2007

Sweatshop Labor : It's all Around US

A while ago at my previous college I had wrote an artice for the school paper. I wan't to share some of its contents with everyone, hope you enjoy.

Probably most of us when we shop don't think about who makes the products that we purchase, how much they get paid, their working conditions and other issues that they face. First, we have to ask, what is a sweatshop? Sweatshops are places that violate laws and human rights. The wrokers experience extreme exploitation by not receiving a living wage and/or working long hours. The wages that they receive are below the poverty line and there are no benefits. The people who work in sweatshops also experience poor working conditions. The poor workiong conditions include things like health and safety hazards, verbal and/or physical abuse, and arbitrary discipline. They also experience fear and intimidation when they speak out, organize, or attempt to form a union. "Many child laborers are in exploitative conditions with low wages, long working hours, no medical or welfare facilities, no proper meals or accommodations, no permanent employment status, exposed to dangerous working environments with few educational opportunities. Some children are working under bonded and slave-like conditions, harmful to physical emotional growth and development. Even those who find jobs i nfavorable working conditions are outside the social safety nets of family, school, trade, union, employment or welfare laws. These conditions are unacceptable for children" (http://www.sweatshopwatch.org).

Sweatshops and als othe use of child labor are growing problems. They can be found in countries all over the world and even here in the United States. The main reason for their existance is because of corporate greed and global competition for to produce at the lowest possible price. This creates a race to the bottom for to have cheap products that can be sold for a greater profit. In this race we all lose. We lose things like our families, communities, farmers, workers, and also the environment. For corporations, it is cost-effectivr for to "subcontract their manufacturing to suppliers who produce goods cheaply by minimizing worker salaries and benefits, skimping on factory and dormitory upkeep and standards, and dermanding high levels of productivity from their workers" (coopamerica.org). The countries that are developing need the foreign investment, and that requires competition to produce goods more cheaply. "As retailers compete with one another by seeking lowest-cost workers, they put pressure on suppliers to keep their costs down, and they encourage consumers to buy more at "discount" prices. This market for cheap goods then squeezes factory owners to pinch even more. The result is forced overtime, low wages, punishments and fines for slow work and mistakes, worker intimidation, child labor, and other abuses" (coopamerica.org).

People's stories behind the products we buy:

These two personal accounts of sweatshop work come from a world connected website.

"In a village in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam a woman and her twelve-year old daughter sit all day in the shade from five in the morning until five in the evening making straw beach mats. For their labour they receive $1 a day."

"In China, workers at Wellco Factory making shoes for Nike are paid 16 cents/hour (living wage for a small family is about 87cents), 11-12 hour shifts, 7 days a week, 77-84 hours per week; workers are fined if they refuse overtime, and they're not paid an extra rate for overtime hours."

The following four stories is taken from an article Behind the Products We Buy...

"When you purchase a Disney shirt, so you ever imagine young women in bangladesh who are beaten, denied maternity leave, forced to work 15 hours a day, seven days a week, paid just 5 cents for each $17.99 shirt they sew, living in utter misery? Women whose families are collapsing - their children left alone and sick - because the women are never home." When dedlines have to be met, they have to work 20-hour shifts. THe women expoerience harsh treatment like being beaten, punched, slapped, and screamed at. They also don't get maternity leave, benefits, and the drinking water is unsafe, the factory in which they work is hot, crowded and poorly ventilated.

"When you purchase a toy from Wal-Mart, do you ever imagine teenage women in China working from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., 18 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week, in 104-degree temperatures, handling toxic chemicles with their bare hands, and paid as little as 13 cents an hour? One woman described how she felt at the end of her shift at 2:00 a.m. - her vision bvlurred, eyes watery, sick to her stomach, her back aching, her fingers bleeding from the sharp metal edges of the die-cast toy cars she had painted. Mattel spends 30 times more to advertise a toy than it pays the workers in China to make it."

"Could you ever imagine that Alcoa workers in Mexic high-tech factories making auto parts for export to the U.S. are living in dirt-floor cardboard huts and selling their blood twice a week in order to survive?"

"Were you aware that the U.S. government made clothing in Burma, a factory that was a joint venture with the military and where the workers were paid just seven cents and hour - $3.23 a week? Any worker daring to speak up for their rights would be immediatley imprisoned and tortured."

Some current issues of sweatshop labor that happened within the past year:

ADIDAS AND NIKE: They force their employees to work overtime, violate safety guidelines, and they also interfere with workers rights to organize. COCA COLA: its bottler in Turkey tortures union activists and their families. 100 employees had been fired after joining a union and protesting the company action. The employees were beaten with clubs; tear gassed, and put in prison so other employees would not join the union. NEW BALANCE AND WAL-MART: In January Workers paid 41 cents an hour, mandatory 14-15.8 hour shifts seven days a week, forced to work 36 hours overtime without receiving overtime pay, housing conditions poor, food contaminated, and not private showers.

The Wal-Mart issue:

Wal-Mart, the country's largest retailer, implemented a corporate policy of requiring its vendors to continually seek even-lower prives for its products. "Wal-Mart fails to provide health insurance to over half of their employees." "Wal-Mart workers are costing taxpayers billions every year." Their worker abuses include things like, forced overtime, illegal child labor, unusually harsh treatment, sub-minimum wages, and 12-hour working days seven days a week, and unpaid overtime. At a local level, Wal-Mart plans to double it retail outlets by 2110. Just in the United States we have 4,000 abandoned shopping malls, we have more shopping centers than high schools, and 15 states have 10 or more empty Wal-Mart stores because of relocation with the super centers. (Information from globalexchange.org)

CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) is a branch if NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). According to Sweatshop watch, free trade aggrements promise more market access to all countries involved by lowering or eliminating trade barriers such as taxes or tariffs. CAFTA shows that money values of big corporate interests are above human values of workers rights, fair trade, and environmental protection. CAFTA would expand over countries in Central America and they include : Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. NAFTA caused a loss of 38,000 US family farms, and pushed 1.5 million Mexican farmers off their land. "CAFTA will undermine workers rights, drive countless family farmers off their lands and exposed communities throughout Central America and the US to privatization of essential public services like water, electricity, health care, and education." (www.globalexchange.org)

With free trade putting profits before workers affects the garment workers in a few ways like:

* Workers lose their jobs when factories move to other countries in search fro lower labor costs or weaker regulations.
* Wages and working conditions are driven down all around the world because of the competition in the global economy. This system pits countries against each other as they compete to make clothes for U.S. consumers.
*Workers' rights to speak up and resist exploitation or organize a union are weakened because clothing companies can easily close shop and move elsewhere to avoid workers' demands.

When workers demand their rights:

*They are often fired, suspended, or verbally abused by their bosses.
*In the U.S., employers often threaten that they will call the immigration authorities to report undocumented workers. Workers, who need their jobs to support themselves and their familie, are often scared and silenced by such threats.
*Around the world, workers have been met with violent repression og their attempts to form unions.

What you can do:

You are probably wondering, okay I have an idea of what is going on, but how can I help? There are several ways that you can help and make a real difference for the people who work in sweatshop conditions.
- Demand sweatshop free products where you shop
- Buy union-made, local, and secondhand
- Buy fair trade
- Sign a petition to the president and congress
- Support legislation that doesn't support sweatshop labor
- Shop with conscience
- Join a campaign to ask companies to do the right thing
- Mobilize in/at your workplace, school, or in your community
- Use shareholder clout
- Ask questions
- Educate others

Some other sites that you can visit to learn more about sweatshop labor and also about taking action:

- www.coopamerica.org
- www.sweatshopwatch.org
- www.america.org
- www.aworldconnected.org
- www.globalexchange.org
- www.behindthelabel.org
- http://studnetagainstsweatshops.org
- www.maquilasolidarity.org
- www.u-can.org
- www.greens.org
- www.cleanclothes.org

No one should have to work in these kinds of conditions. I hope that by informing you of what is going on, you will help in the fight to end sweatshop and child labor.


  • Sweatshop issues
    • Federal labor standards
    • Foreign Governments
    • Free Trade
      • Andean Free Trade Agreements (AFTA)
      • Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)
      • Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA)
      • North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
    • Garment industry based on subcontracting system
      • How does global economy/free trade affect garment workers?
    • Labels
      • Made in the USA
      • Union made
    • Labor unions
    • Laws
      • Laws poorly enforced
    • Lawsuits
    • People for sweatshops
    • Politics
    • Sweatshop conditions
    • Sweatshop existance : past and present
      • Corporations
        • Coke
        • Nike
        • Wal-Mart
    • Sweatshop laborers stories
    • Sweatshops in the USA
    • What is a sweatshop?
    • When workers demand rights
    • Where are sweatshops found?
    • Who owns/operates sweatshops?
    • World Trade Organization (WTO)
    • countries reliance on loans