Itís Time to Think About Sweatshops
By Kimberly Skinner
Owner, Eco-Footprints/The Sox Club, www.eco-footprints.net
Most people have heard about sweatshops and have an awareness that some clothing is made under less-than-ideal conditions. Itís not likely that anyone would actually choose to buy garments made in a sweatshop. But what does it really mean to choose "sweatshop-free" clothing and accessories? These are not just words. There are people behind these words.
Frequently, workers in sweatshop put in 15-to-19-hour workdays, working weeks at a time with no break. They are often housed at the sweatshop location, sleeping on the floor, and in some cases, are not allowed to leave. Workers complete their tasks in an environment of threats and punishment. There is no allowance for sickness. Wages are below poverty level, and in many cases are below the legal minimum wage set by the local government. Harsh overseers ensure that workers do not have the opportunity to unite and request fair treatment. These conditions are endured by adults and children alike.
Sweatshops are not limited to foreign countries; they exist in the United States as well. Even a clothing label stating "made in the U.S.A." is not a guarantee that it was produced under sweatshop-free conditions. The garment could have been produced in a U.S. territory not subject to U.S. labor laws, or it could have been produced in a sweatshop on U.S. soil that is under the radar of the Department of Labor.
Sweatshops do not exist because of necessity. They exist because of greed. At the bottom of this article is a link to a downloadable report called "Ending Sweatshops." Within that report you can find some of the worst offenders in the corporate world, and learn of the salaries paid the top executives in those companies.
So, knowing all this, why would anyone purchase anything that was possibly made in a sweatshop? What can you do to make sure you are not contributing to the exploitation of other people?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Purchase clothing and accessories second-hand, from vintage clothing stores, consignment stores, thrift stores, garage sales, craigslist, or find clothes in your size on freecycle.
Make your own clothing, hire a local seamstress to make your clothing, or buy clothing from craft fairs.
Sell, consign, or donate the clothes you aren't wearing anymore.
Only buy what you need.
- Select clothing and accessories from manufacturers and retailers who guarantee sweatshop-free conditions. Look for descriptors such as fair trade, fair wage, socially responsible, sweatshop-free, union-made.
In addition to your conscious shopping choices, you can inquire of manufacturers or retailers the conditions under which their garments are made. Ask them if they pay their workers a living wage, enough to support a family. Do they provide healthy working conditions? Are the workers given an opportunity to organize themselves? Tell them that your shopping dollars will be spent on clothing made under fair wage and fair trade conditions.
You can also join an advocacy and educational group such as Co-op America (www.coopamerica.org)
When you chose garments and accessories produced by fair trade and fair wage companies, you are supporting fair treatment and respect for other people. Many of us probably canít fully imagine actual sweatshop conditions; it doesnít take much imagination, however, to realize that sweatshop conditions are intolerable.
Guide to Ending Sweatshops publication produced by Co-op America. http://www.coopamerica.org/programs/sweatshops/orderguide.cfm
Gogoi, Pallavi. "Wal-Mart Supplier Accused of Sweatshop Conditions." Business Week October 9, 2008. http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/oct2008/db2008109_219930.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index+-+temp_companies
copyright 2009 Kimberly Skinner