Blogger of the Week: Sweatshops and Modern Day Slavery

Nike sweatshop in China [1]

Many brand name companies use them. It allows them to continue making millions and even billions of dollars each and every year. However, they are illegal and negatively impact the lives of people living in developing countries. What are they you may ask? Sweatshops. In general, a sweatshop can be described as a workplace where workers are subject to extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living wage or benefits, poor working conditions, and arbitrary discipline such as verbal and physical abuse [4]. The US Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as a factory that violates two or more labor laws, such as those pertaining to child labor or working hours [4]. Often, people who work in sweatshops have nowhere else to work. They’re poor and cannot afford education which leaves them with a few options to be able to support their families. Children are even forced to work in order to help their parents, and are denied an education and a normal childhood. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in sweatshops in developing countries [4]. From these 250 million, 61% are from Asia, 32% are from Africa, and 7% are from Latin America. It is no doubt that this is a significant issue in the world today.

Conditions in the factories: 

  • Workers are confined and beaten
  • Denied the right to leave the workplace and go home to their families
  • Some children are abducted and forced to work
  • Work in small areas 
  • Face starvation
  • Work long hours
  • Terrible working conditions
  • It is dangerous to be working in these factories because your life is at risk
  • Don’t make anywhere close to minimum wage
  • Can’t pay for the basic necessities of life

This video shows the truth about the working conditions and pay for people in China who provide clothing for the brand name company that we all know as Nike:

Why do people work in sweatshops and how is it allowed to function?

Defenders of sweatshops often bring up the fact that even though sweatshops are bad, they at least give people jobs that they wouldn’t have had otherwise [4]. However, because the pay is atrocious, it rarely improves the economic situation of the worker. Furthermore, working in sweatshops for prolonged periods of time can have negative effects on your body physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Unfortunately, these people are trapped in an awful cycle and have to go and work everyday and suffer just to be able to make it through another day. Some aren’t qualified for other jobs and if they’re living in Canada or the U.S. it is difficult to find another job because English isn’t their first language. Most factories are monitored by inspectors, who are paid by the industry. Often, they’ll call ahead to arrange a visit, this will give factory management time to make the place look presentable, and coach the workers about what to say [4]. This is why the conditions may not seem as horrible as it actually is to an inspector. Lastly, sweatshops aren’t severely restricted which allows them to still exist today.

What products are made in sweatshops?

  • Shoes and sneakers
  • Clothing/garments
  • Rugs/carpets
  • Goods and other products

The majority of garment workers are immigrant women that work 60-80 hours per week [4]. Additionally, they’re not paid minimum wage and they do not receive overtime pay. A lot of child labour is in the rug industry, nearly one million children are illegally employed making hand-knotted rugs worldwide [4]. In Pakistan this is a major issue because 75% of the weavers there are girls under the age of 14. What’s even more shocking is that North American toy makers earn $11/hour. However, in China this is drastically reduced to 30 cents! Cocoa and coffee workers receive wages that leave them at the edge of poverty and starvation. Finally, banana workers have one of the most dangerous jobs for they’re exposed to dangerous pesticides! 

Which companies use sweatshops and why?

Brand name companies who use sweatshops [2]

We often buy clothes and other products without taking into account where its from and what kinds of people are making it [5]. Many brand name companies such as H&M, Nike, and Wal-Mart rely on the services of sweatshops in countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and China to manufacture their clothing [5]. This is because using sweatshops increases profit. Furthermore, some companies could even go bankrupt without the use of sweatshops. Also, companies would have to raise the prices of their products in order to maintain profit. However, this doesn’t seem to be a problem because a recent study by American professor Robert Pollin who is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and founding co-director of its Political Economy Research Institute showed that doubling the salary of sweatshop workers would only increase the consumer cost of an item by 1.8% meanwhile consumers would be willing to pay 15% more to know a product did not come from a sweatshop [6]. These companies have dealt with severe consequences for their actions and have been publicly exposed for the use of sweatshops. Unfortunately, even though some of these companies claim that they no longer use sweatshops, it has been revealed that companies like Nike still use them.

Why you should care:

The Bangladesh Garment Factory Tragedy [3]

A building in Bangladesh collapsed in April of 2013 killing hundreds and trapping or injuring many more may have housed workers producing clothes for some of the world’s best-known brands. The death toll from Bangladesh’s worst industrial accident has passed 1,000 as recovery teams continue to find more bodies in the wreckage [8]. The truth of the matter is some people who work in sweatshops are working in environments that aren’t capable of holding a high capacity number of people. Ultimately, sweatshops are a danger to the workers, and need to be shut down. 

To learn more about the collapse and sweatshops watch this documentary:

What needs to be done in order to help bring an end to sweatshops: [4]

  • There needs to be full public disclosure 
  • Companies must disclose the treatment and pay of workers and how and where products were made 
  • The disclosure needs to be backed up with independent monitoring of working conditions and pay 
  • Violations that are discovered must be corrected in a way that protects workers and their jobs 
  • Companies could pay for the education of the children working in sweatshops and increase the wages of the parents 

What can you do?

  • You can boycott products made in sweatshops or by child labour
  • Spread the word and educate people on the topic
  • Donate money to charities supporting people who live in developing countries
  • Buy less clothing (you have more than you need anyway) [7]
  • Go used (you minimize the profit of other clothing companies) [7]
  • Make your own clothes [7]
  • Look for the following labels: Fair Trade Certified, Goodweave Label, and Rainforest Alliance Verified/Certified for clothing, rugs, and produce [7]
  • Research companies who don’t use them [7]

Conclusion:

Next time when you go out to shop, think twice about supporting large corporate companies who are run by greedy CEO’s. Look for the appropriate labels, or research into which companies make clothing that are made in Canada, the U.S.A. or other first world countries. Let’s all try to bring an end to sweatshops so that there can be a brighter future for us all.

Now, I want to hear from you:

  1. Will you continue to buy clothing made from companies who use sweatshops? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think are some other alternatives to using sweatshops?
  3. Do you think this is a worthy cause to support? Why or why not?
  4. Has this post changed your perspective on the priorities of large companies?
  5. What was the most interesting/shocking fact that you have learned from reading this post?

References:

[1] No Author, “Nike Sweatshops in China”, n.d. Retrieved May 4, 2015 from http://fashion.lilithezine.com/Nike-Sweatshops-in-China.html

[2] Rodriguez, Ivan, “Stop Sweatshop Labor”, n.d. Retrieved May 4, 2015 from http://stopsweatshop.weebly.com/solution.html

[3] No Author, “Sweatshops”, June 11, 2013. Retrieved May 4, 2015 from http://aiikc.com/artbot/?p=3365#.VUbVDvlViko

[4] Embar, Wanda, “Sweatshops and Child Labor”, n.d. Retrieved May 4, 2o15 from http://www.veganpeace.com/sweatshops/sweatshops_and_child_labor.htm

[5] MacIntyre, David, “10 Major Clothing Brands Caught in Shocking Sweatshop Scandals”, July 8, 2014. Retrieved May 4, 2015 from http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/most-shocking/10-major-clothing-brands-caught-in-shocking-sweatshop-scandals/?view=all

[6] No Author, “11 Facts About Sweatshops”, n.d. Retrieved May 4, 2015 from https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-sweatshops

[7] Rakestraw, Marsha, “5 Tips for Keeping a Sweatshop-Free Closet”, April 3, 2013. Retrieved May 4, 2015 from http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2013/04/03/5-tips-keeping-sweatshop-free-closet/

[8] No Author, “Bangladesh toll passes 1,000”, May 10, 2013. Retrieved May 4, 2015 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-22476774

25 thoughts on “Blogger of the Week: Sweatshops and Modern Day Slavery

  1. you talk a lot about how bad sweatshops are. Don’t get me wrong your article is great however what are the pros of sweatshops?
    Think about it, if you get rid of sweatshops a lot of products become expensive and harder to make. A lot of stores would go bankrupt if sweatshops went away. So what i’m asking you is that are sweat shops really as bad as we say they are?

  2. Cool post, really promotes the awareness of slavery and all that what-not. I’ll certainly be refraining from buying those brands. I really support stores such as Value Village, where you can buy clothing second hand. Rather than supporting companies that use slavery/sweatshops, it supports stores with fair pricing, good quality articles that give back to the community. Plus it’s reduce-reuse-recycling!

  3. Ron, the only positive aspect of working in sweatshops is that you’re able to help your family by supporting them financially. However, the only way for people in developing countries to be successful in life is to go to school and have a career afterwards. As stated before, a recent study by American professor Robert Pollin who is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and founding co-director of its Political Economy Research Institute showed that doubling the salary of sweatshop workers would only increase the consumer cost of an item by 1.8% meanwhile consumers would be willing to pay 15% more to know a product did not come from a sweatshop. This means that people would prefer that the product did not come from a sweatshop, and are willing to pay the extra cost. As for the products becoming harder to make, this point is invalid. This is because there are other workers around the world, and major companies prioritize their profit over the conditions that that their workers work in. Therefore, sweatshops should be closed down and are as bad as I said they were.

    • When i say are they as bad as we say they are, im referring to that we need them to grow as a economy, why would i pay a person minimum wage to make things that a i can pay a kid 10 cents to make? Yeah okay a costumer may be willing to pay 15% more to buy an item not made in a sweatshop but either way in the long run you are making more money if you hire a bunch of kids to do the work. They help grow an economy in my opinion but don’t get me wrong they are bad while on the other hand good. Do you understand what im saying?

      • It’s unethical and immoral. You should know that, and furthermore, they could be beneficial to the economy if the workers are paid higher wages, and actually work in proper working conditions. I do understand what you’re saying, but I encourage you to watch the videos if you haven’t to really get an idea of how sweatshops work and how they’re operated.

  4. Thank you Jeremy. The whole point of my post was to raise awareness and help create a positive change in the world. I am glad that I have inspired you to work towards the cause, and together we can reduce the profits of brand name companies who would rather make money than care for their workers who struggle on a daily basis.

  5. I have to say before I even answer your questions that you really know how to pick your videos. Both were over 20 minutes and yet I watched through both despite saying I wouldn’t. On to the questions.
    1. After doing some research I am having a lot of trouble finding familiar clothing lines that are not sweatshop run. If they created a store that was only sweatshop free clothes then I would definitely shop there but for now I think I will still buy clothes made in sweatshops.
    2. I think alternatives would be (as you said) to raise worker wages and (as said in the 2nd video) make factories safer.
    3. I do think this is a worthy cause because human rights are never an unworthy cause.
    4. It did not change my perspective of these companies.
    5. The most shocking fact was certainly that doubling wages would only result in a 1.8% increase in prices.

    There is a show being started by “Much” called “Untraceable”. It is supposed to be a show following sweatshops and such but since I saw the first commercial up to a month ago I have not been able to find any info on it so it may have been cancelled but it may also still be in production.

    Finally, to end off this comment of random info, I think that I found a grammar problem in your first sentence in the section “why you should care”. You should see if you can find it first so that we can carry on the conversation later.

  6. The use of sweatshops is sickening! What’s even worse is that the workers are severely underpaid and the celebrities they use to promote their products are severely overpaid. It’s horrible to know that it is designed to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Aside from overpaying celebrities to promote their products, Nike donates 6 million dollars worth of shoes to places to help teens that get active. Donating is not a bad thing by any means, my point is that, the people doing the hard work for you are suffering and you turn your back to that issue to donate millions of dollars worth of shoes somewhere else. It is honestly horrible and heartbreaking like in the video where the workers saw how much Tiger Woods made and were astonished and said he made enough in a second to buy them a house! Do you think that places that use sweatshops donate to feel less guilty about what they are doing in the sweatshops?

  7. Awesome post, this topic is definitely the one of the issues in the world that people should be more aware of! I should definitely try to avoid buying product that are made in companies who uses sweatshops, and look for the labels you have mentioned such as Fair Trade Certified, Goodweave Label, and Rainforest Alliance Verified/Certified for clothing, rugs, and produce. It was very shocking that sweatshop workers in China only receive 30 cents even though I already knew that sweatshop workers receive very small amount of money. As Jeremy has commented, I also think it is very important for promote stores such as Value Village and other second hand shops.
    While I was reading your post I had a question in my mind: even though many people are aware about this issue, they can’t easily take an action like you suggested because either other products that has not been made in sweatshops are too expensive, or, people want to have the popular brand because of the brand power and to follow the trend. What would be a way to make people more aware of this issue? Is there an action that would work for everyone or most of the people?
    Overall, very interesting and good post! You did well on raising the awareness on this issue. 🙂

  8. Great post Subhan this really made me change my perspective of large companies greatly. Also I gonna think twice before buying any of those brands. I also did a little research and i found some other clothing brands that have sweatshops and I found some interesting things about well known companies here in North America.

    1. The Disney Store: Sweatshops in countries like China, Bangladesh and Haiti have been known to produce clothing for the company, with Chinese labour workers in particular being paid 33 to 41 cents an hour, with numerous employees being as young as 14 years of age with no health benefits or a pension included with their employment.

    2. Victoria’s Secret: Victoria’s was caught in a sweatshop scandal of its own when it was revealed that conditions regarding their workers in Jordan were far from ideal. In fact, such conditions involved their workers being slapped and/or beaten if their production was sub-par. Furthermore, those workers were found to have been forced to work five or more overtime hours per day, without being given the overtime pay they were legally obligated to receive.

    3. Walmart: After a factory building in Bangladesh collapsed in April of 2013, it was reported shortly after that Walmart was one of the major companies that the factory building supplied to. The company said after the collapse that the use of the factory to manufacture their clothing wasn’t even authorized. Before that, Walmart was accused in 2008 of forcing Bangladeshi workers to work 19-hour shifts while only earning about $20 or so a month – lower than the legal minimum wage in Bangladesh.

    This is the site where I got this information take a look at it if you are interested: http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/most-shocking/10-major-clothing-brands-caught-in-shocking-sweatshop-scandals/?view=all

  9. Your post is very well written and your topic is sad and surprising. Unfortunately, I will keep buying clothes from companies that use sweatshops because they have the best quality and prices. You’re asking us to stop buying from companies like Nike or Adidas. How could I? They have the best quality sport products and any other famous company with not as good quality like Reebok or Puma also uses sweatshops. I don’t think its right in anyway, but I don’t see much of a choice and your solutions aren’t an easy way to go.

  10. Thanks for watching the videos in their entirety Cameron! I tried to find videos that were interesting and engaging. You’re right, there are barely any stores that sell clothing that aren’t made in sweatshops. Buying used could definitely help, or looking at the labels of pieces of clothing and finding ones that are made in USA/Canada could help bring an end to sweatshops. I will definitely look into that show, and thanks for the feedback.

  11. Thanks for adding your opinion on this topic, Brianna. I completely agree with you, and I am glad that the video made an impact. To answer your question, I do think that companies donate money to feel good about themselves. However, I think that it is deeper than that. Companies donate money to worthy causes because it makes the company look good, they couldn’t care less about the conditions in the factories, they just want their profit to increase.

  12. Reading this post and spreading the word around could help Esther! As mentioned, people buy products without knowing how their made. Researching which companies don’t use sweatshops and then buying products from there could be an action that everyone could take. Furthermore, going used or making your own clothes is also another option.

  13. Hello Mohammed, I agree that your problem is one that most people have. Companies like Nike and Adidas are famous and their products are of great quality. However, companies who don’t use sweatshops actually charge more for their products because it is of higher quality. This is also because the company who don’t use sweatshops actually pay their workers well. It is more expensive but it is worth the extra cost because behind the scenes, the workers aren’t working in terrible conditions, and suffering on a daily basis.

  14. Hey Subhan,I would like to say before I comment to your questions that your post was formatted GREAT! I understood what I was about to read,headings helped a lot and it definitely answered the question of who cares?.Its great that you brought up this topic because its one that needs to be looked into and we should take action against it.

    Will you continue to buy clothing made from companies who use sweatshops? Why or why not?
    Like you said in the post “Donate money to charities supporting people who live in developing countries.”For me thats the better option because the others don’t do as great of a job for example let’s say people protested it got to an extreme and ends up shutting one factory,what happens to all those co-workers?
    What do you think are some other alternatives to using sweatshops?
    For alternatives I would agree with what childrop8174.He said,”I think alternatives would be (as you said) to raise worker wages and (as said in the 2nd video) make factories safer.”
    Do you think this is a worthy cause to support? Why or why not?
    If were talking about taking action for or against it,honestly I would say it goes both ways of course they go through so much but sometimes its all they can get,so even though its almost nothing its still something.But some things should change though for example,giving the workers medical attention when needed,sick days,a higher pay,supplies like masks and by doing so people wouldn’t complain as much and the company wouldn’t dig themselves a deeper hole.
    Has this post changed your perspective on the priorities of large companies?
    Not that it changed but that more knowledge of what it is was givin to me.
    What was the most interesting/shocking fact that you have learned from reading this post?
    For me it was the death toll,I find it saddening that when so much people did at once you just become another worker crossed of the list and sooner or later a person will take your spot.

  15. Subhan, I enjoyed reading through your blog, and this is definitely one of my points of interest, but there is something that I wish to point out. Sweat shops are something that most of the public has knowledge of its occurrence, but it never impacts them directly, so the general public sadly doesn’t care about sweatshops. I’m not saying that they should remain, because believe me when I say that I’m egalitarian , or that everyone is equal, and therefore the concepts of slaves, and child labour is somewhat difficult to wrap my head around. If you watch the revelations of companies scandals, and how big of an impact on sales there is almost a limited difference. People care about prices, if something is cheaper than another product, or a product has a certain brand name then it is purchased over other products. John Oliver did an amazing piece on this at:

    Finally my question to you is about Starbucks, they’re on the picture of companies that use sweatshops, but do they use child labour for extraction of coffee beans, or paper production? In what ways does Starbucks use sweatshops?

  16. Very informative and well layed-out post Subhan! You chose a very interesting topic, and your usage of videos and pictures enhanced this. Good job!

    1. Will you continue to buy clothing made from companies who use sweatshops? Why or why not?
    I avoid buying clothes that are made by companies that are widely known as using sweatshops (such as Nike), but it’s very difficult to avoid it completely, as many brands use this sort of labor and I don’t know about that. I’m against sweatshops, but it’s very difficult to get rid of them.

    2. What do you think are some other alternatives to using sweatshops?
    Buying used clothes or from brands that don’t use sweatshops is a good option.

    3. Do you think this is a worthy cause to support? Why or why not?
    Yes it is, since if everyone or the majority of people stop buying from brands that use sweatshops, they’ll realize that they need to change their policy and where they get their products made from.

    4. Has this post changed your perspective on the priorities of large companies?
    Although this post is very informative and detailed, it hasn’t changed my opinion, since I already knew about sweatshops and that large companies are using them. I’m still against them, and think of it as a cruel way of taking advantage of the less fortunate.

    5. What was the most interesting/shocking fact that you have learned from reading this post?
    I found it shocking that in China the wage for the average sweatshop worker is a mere 30 cents an hour.

    My question to you is- do you think it is realistic that this issue will ever be stopped? And if so, how long will it take?

  17. Thanks Laela! To address some of your points, shutting down all sweatshop factories is the ultimate goal. This allows the people in the factories to focus on education with the help of donations. I agree with you on the point that their working conditions should be improved, and wages should be raised. This will allow the parents to better support their families. Still, children should not be forced to work in sweatshop factories. Finally, the fact that many workers risk their lives and work in unsafe environments is yet another reason to shut them down.

  18. Sebastian, I completely agree with you. I have brought up this study many times but I will repeat it: a recent study by American professor Robert Pollin who is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and founding co-director of its Political Economy Research Institute showed that doubling the salary of sweatshop workers would only increase the consumer cost of an item by 1.8% meanwhile consumers would be willing to pay 15% more to know a product did not come from a sweatshop. Therefore, people are willing to pay extra money to buy clothing/products from companies who don’t use sweatshops! Furthermore, the point of this post was to inform the public and spread awareness to make people learn about the affects of sweatshops and what they could do to help. Also, it shows the reality of sweatshops all around the world which I know will have an impact on people who read this because it has impacted me as well as our classmates. To answer your question about Starbucks, I advise you to visit this website which talks specifically about them and their use of sweatshop workers: http://stopsweatshop.weebly.com/famous-companies.html

  19. Thank you, Alex. Getting rid of sweatshops will be difficult but I believe that together we can make a difference, and it will definitely be a collaborative effort. What you said is true, if people stop buying products from these companies then they will realize that they need to change their policies. I am confident that this problem can be solved but it is hard to determine exactly how long it will take.

  20. This is a very well-written and informative blog post. The topic is interesting, one that I was aware of, but didn’t have much knowledge on. It is evident that you have researched the topic in great detail, I have learned many new things. You have provided insight and given attention to a much deserved topic. I would recommend moving image references to the bottom of the post, currently, they distract from the reading.

    This article has emphasized the saddening and bewildering use of sweatshops. Though I will continue to buy from such brands, I will try to buy things as less as possible. These brands provide the best quality of clothing and shoes. If I stopped buying from them, where would I buy from? In order to stop the use of sweatshops, it is important to spread awareness. This could be done through the use of media. We further need to establish brands that do not use sweatshops, brands that can provide these workers with better working conditions. After all, if we closed down sweatshops, what would happen to the people working there? Many places in Asia and Africa are overpopulated; there are more people than there is work. It is important to find an adequate solution or replacement for these people before we take actions against their current working environments.

  21. Thank you Abiha. I will make those changes soon. There are certain stores that sell products not made using sweatshops. Also, you could look at the tags/labels and look for clothing made in USA/Canada. I completely agree with you, social media would be a great way to spread awareness. If the current working conditions continue, then sweatshops should be closed. If companies such as Nike raise the wage for their workers and make other changes then people could have better lives and could be appropriately paid.

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