When you buy your branded clothes and shoes or sip your daily cup of coffee, do you ever stop to wonder where the materials and ingredients come from? If you ever did, and if you tried to do some investigating, it won’t be surprising to find out that the garments you wear or beans in the cup of joe you love so much actually came from a sweatshop. Sweatshops are work environments that are characterized by low pay, long hours, and unhealthy or unsafe working conditions. Some sweatshops also have policies that severely restrict worker’s rights and freedoms, like having no rest days, limited bathroom breaks, and no wage increases. Today, most stories about sweatshops may come from the regions of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, but these actually also exist in first-world countries like America. Get to know more about the shocking conditions in modern day sweatshops.
Sweatshops in the Modern Day
- The apparel industry is thought to have active sweatshops in many countries across the world. Wal-Mart, Gap, Nike, Liz Claiborne, and Kathie Lee Gifford have all come under criticism for selling goods that are produced in sweatshops.
- According to the Department of Labor, 50% of garment factories in America violate 2 or more basic labor laws, classifying them as sweatshops.
11,000 sweatshops in the United States broke laws on minimum wage and overtime, while 16,000 violated health and safety conditions. In Los
- Angeles, a study in 2000 shows that 98% of garment factories in the city violate health and safety standards.
- The agriculture industry has some of the worst working conditions. It employs legal and illegal immigrants to pick and harvest produce, till the land, and plant crops.
- Clothing, shoes, coffee, chocolate, bananas, and toys are the most common commodities produced in sweatshops.
- Apple faced allegations in 2006 that its iPod product was produced in sweatshops in China. The tech giant quickly launched its own investigation, and this event highlighted the challenges involved when outsourcing labor, especially in places that do not implement fair labor laws.
- Some governments of developing countries hesitate to implement strict laws for protecting workers for fear of discouraging international investors. They see cheap labor as a means to attract multinational companies that will provide more work opportunities and additional capital for development.
- Each year, 12.3 million people are working in forced slave labor at any given time.
- In developing countries, it is estimated that there are 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are forced to work in sweatshops. Most of them are forced to work for 16 hours a day.
- Children in Asia as young as 5 were reported to work for 13 hours (6 AM to 7PM) with a daily wage of less than 20 cents.
- Between 10% to 25% of children under the age of 16, in Latin America work in sweatshops. In India, about 5% to 30 % of 340 million children under 16 are classified as child laborers. In Bangladesh, approximately 1.3 million children work full time to support their families.
- Young women aged 15-25 make up 85% of sweatshop workers.
- The ASSL League acclaims that many Nike workers die by the age of 15.
- 98 million child labors work in Agriculture, 54 million in services, and 12 million in industry sectors.
- The salaries of apparel workers dropped by 16% between 1968 to 1999, due to inflation.
- Sweatshop workers must spend most of their salary on food in order to feed and help their families to survive. They barely have enough for their basic needs.
- If salaries of sweatshop workers were doubled, this would increase the price to the average consumer at only 1.8%. Consumers say they are willing to spend 15% more on average to guarantee that merchandise is created in safe, healthy, and legal work environments.
- In China, the average hourly wage for manufacturers is only 64 cents.
- A shirt that costs $60 in the U.S. can pay less than 10 cents to the laborer.
- NBA jerseys sell for about $140, but the women who sew them receive only 24 cents for each garment they make.
- Physical, mental, emotional, and even sexual abuse is extremely common.
- Some workers in sweatshops are forced to work for 48-hour shifts straight and can only rest during required sleep breaks.
- Most female sweatshop workers are fired when they get pregnant because a maternity leave equates to an unproductive worker and an unnecessary expense for the employer. Some are forced to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests.
- Doors in poorly ventilated factories are locked and windows and exits are barred or are shut closed.
- In 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company factory in New York City, which ended in the deaths of 146 workers who were mostly young women. The owners had locked the exits, leading to the high number of casualties. This is known as the most infamous sweatshop incident in the United States.
- A garment factory in Bangladesh caught fire in 2012, killing more than a hundred workers and injuring over 200 because they couldn’t escape the burning building on time due to the lack of safe emergency exits. This is just one of the many incidents where sweatshop laborers have died or were injured due to fires in poor working environments.
What You Can Do
With more people becoming aware about the shocking conditions in modern day sweatshops, advocates are hoping that consumers will take a more active role in demanding for the fair and just treatment of laborers all over the world. Some activists have asked the public to boycott products made in sweatshops or to at least join the movement in pushing companies to stop working with outsourced partners who do not follow fair and legal labor codes. Everyone needs to take action today to bring this issue further into the spotlight and to make sure that consumers purchase materials and goods that are created in conditions that are favorable to workers.