A sweatshop is a work place, often a factory, in which employees, mostly immigrant women, work long hours at low wages under poor conditions, and although sweatshops virtually disappeared after World War II, they have since reappeared and are steadily increasing in number throughout the world. This is due, in large part, to economic globalization. Large corporations have been moving their production facilities out of democratic, industrial nations into impoverished, developing countries in order to take advantage of cheap labor and to avoid scrutiny from governments and human rights organizations. These corporations are concerned only with the production of goods at lowest possible costs in order to maximize their profits, and unfortunately, the exploitation of workers is commonly a consequence of this global "development".
You may be surprised to learn that these sweatshops are not only restricted to poor and developing nations. In fact, The US Department of Labor has indicated that 50% of garment factories in the United States violate two or more of the basic labor laws...thus, establishing them as sweatshops. Sadly, we will find these sweatshops existing wherever there is an opportunity to exploit workers who lack the knowledge and resources to stand up for themselves. Of the typical sweatshop employees, at least ninety percent of whom are women...young and uneducated, they are subject to horrible working conditions... many of whom are recent or undocumented immigrants unaware of their legal rights.
These sweatshops violate women's human rights throughout the world. Common abuses include:
- low wages that fail to meet basic costs of living.
- substandard and unsafe working and living conditions.
- long hours of overtime for which employees are not compensated.
- sexual harassment.
In addition to the above, women are often forced into indentured servitude having been lured by recruiters who promise them wonder opportunities in foreign lands; these young women often pay thousands of dollars in recruitment and contract "fees" which tie them to contractual obligations that can last for years, and because their wages are often only $.10 to $.20 per hour, the women may receive no wages for years as they attempt to pay off these debts. If the women try to return home without fulfilling their contractual obligations, they are often blacklisted, fined, or arrested.
Even without these debts, many women still do not get paid for sweatshops are notorious for failing to pay their employees on time, if at all. The workers, unaware of their rights, have no choice but to continue to work because sweatshop managers threaten and punish them for insubordination. Many of these factories, as well as the women's living quarters, are crowded, filthy, and rat-infested. They are located behind barbed wire fences that are monitored by armed guards. Not only are the women not allowed to come and go freely, but they are also forbidden to have any visitors. .
In addition, the women are always under the threat of corporal punishment. The women are verbally abused, spat on, and beaten. They are not allowed to take breaks or go to the bathroom during their shifts, and are fined if they do so. I Female sweatshop employees are forced to endure numerous instances of sexual harassment.
There needs to be full public disclosure. Companies must disclose the treatment and pay of workers and how and where products were made. This disclosure needs to be backed with independent monitoring of working conditions and pay. Violations that are discovered must be corrected in a way that protects workers and their jobs. This includes paying for education for child workers found in factories and paying parents a living wage.
As a consumer, you play a critical role in the system that allows for sweatshops to exist. Without sweatshops many, many people would be unemployed and forced to turn to other income generating activities, possibly prostitution. The goal is not to get rid of the garment industry altogether but rather to drastically improve the conditions these workers must endure.
As more consumers spend their dollars buying clothing constructed under fair conditions the industry will have to follow the lead and provide clothing that is manufactured through fair means.
The following links will provide you with more information as well as things you can do to help stop this.