What You Can Do About Sweatshops

toothpaste for dinner


It’s hard to believe that sweatshops could possibly exist today. But they do. And if you buy stuff without paying attention to where it comes from, you may unknowingly be supporting the cycle that causes them. In an effort to make cheap stuff even cheaper, sweatshops exploit workers with long hours, unfair pay, and unsafe working conditions. Sweatshops are most common in poorer countries where labor practices and health and safety violations often go unreported. But these factories have also popped up in the U.S., as poor workers are lured with the promise of high pay and good benefits, only to essentially become indentured servants.

Why Do Sweatshops Exist?

In order to stay in business, the factories and farms that produce stuff like clothing, carpets, coffee, chocolate, and bananas must compete with each other to offer the lowest possible prices. In the U.S. standards for fair wages and safe working conditions (generally) keep workers from being exploited. But in other countries, these standards are not always in place or enforced, making it easy for companies to exploit and even enslave workers just to supply the world market with more t-shirts and candy bars. In order to offer products at bare-bottom prices while still maximizing profits, many retailers turn a blind eye to (or even encourage) the unsafe and unfair labor practices of the companies that supply them.

But hey, even low wages are better than none, right?

Wrong. Forced overtime, low wages, worker intimidation, child labor, and physical abuses for mistakes or slow work are common practices in sweatshops. These factories are also notorious for forcing workers to labor in unsafe or even downright dangerous working conditions.

And take, for example, the Levi’s factory in Saipan where workers made just $3.05 during the same period that Levi’s CEO Philip Marineau was paid $25.1 million (or $11,971 an hour,) according to Sweatshop Watch. While the cost of living in Saipan is lower than in Mr. Marineau’s hometown of San Francisco, these low wages ensure that employees never truly make enough to make ends meet, promoting a cycle of debt and dependence. Incidentally, Saipan is a U.S. territory, so clothing made there can bear the “Made In The USA” label even though it is made in a city that is exempt from U.S. federal labor laws.

What Can You Do About Sweatshops?

The best way to ensure that your dollars don’t support sweatshops is to be very careful about the types of products you buy…and where you buy them from. Look at labels and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Bottom line…if the price seems too good to be true…it probably is. You can learn more about sweatshops at Sweatshop Watch or by reading  CoOp America’s Guide to Ending Sweatshops.

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Original post for 5 Minutes For Going Green.

One Response to What You Can Do About Sweatshops
  1. Sami Amir
    October 7, 2008 | 7:30 pm

    Sweatshops are a universal problem that continue to go undetected by the mainstream media. They are popular in overpopulated countries with major debts and a large lower class, such as India. The best way to end the problem is to boycott all the goods that the companies with sweatshops produce.