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The clothes you wear

Take a moment to reflect on your job. Chances are, you despise it. You get up at 7AM every morning only to put on some uncomfortable attire that matches the "dress code", you commute through noisy morning rush hour only to arrive at an environment where you have to deal with the office politics and sucking up to an ass of an advisor.

You know you deserve a raise. You also know that no matter how dull or dead-end your job seems, it's not nearly as bad as people who work in sweatshops have it.


Sweatshops are dirty. They're loud, sweaty, and restrict the rights of the people who work in them. Speaking from an humanitarian vantage point, they are an atrocity.

The public does not like the idea of sweatshops. They are troubled by the possibility that a 12 year old girl who works 60 hours a week sewed together their shoes. If asked for their stance on child labor and sweatshops, the public would emphatically agree that they are against it. So why is Gap apparel the most lucrative clothing company in America? Why is the Walton family (of Wal-Mart fame) still the richest in America?

Because the public feels distant. We all know that these people work long, horrid hours with no breaks and little pay. But we don't know exactly how little pay, or how many hours these people work. We don't quite understand why these people can't quit their job and look for something else.

What are Sweatshop Conditions Like?

Depending on the factory in question and the country it is located in, conditions range from horrible to downright despicable.

A sweatshop worker can be expected to work an average of 60 hours per week*. If they are asked to work longer, there is little they can do to refuse. After work, these people do not go home to their families, but rather to a camp with their fellow workers. This housing has been found in some cases to be dirty and rat infested.

A sweatshop worker has no choice. Some are lucky enough to make a sufficent amount of money to get by; many are not. In these countries, the factory is the centerpiece of the city, literally. The multi-acre sweatshop usually has a tall concrete wall around it, and the city expands from it. A sweatshop worker can not get up and leave because leaving would not only meaning quitting their job, but quitting their job and moving to a different city. I know as well as the next person that moving can be pretty damned expensive. These workers are paid barely enough money to feed them and their family so it's understandably very hard save up for a big move.

The wage of a sweatshop worker can be anywhere from $1.15 in the Dominican Republic to $0.15 cents in Indonesia, including benefits (but usually without).

It is typical to find signs in these sweatshops that say "No Smiling!", "No Talking!", or "Do Not Listen To Talkers; They are Agitators!" (Phillipines). Workers in Indonesia have tried to unionize in the past, but have found they are just too tired and too busy to band together and organize a protest.

Some sweatshops make workers clock out to take bathroom breaks. When strapped for cash, it has been known for a sweatshop worker to urinate in a bag under the table rather than lose the few minutes it takes to use the washroom.

Conditions in sweatshops are often dirty and in some cases poisonous to the workers. On July 5th 2002 workers in El Salvador were hospitalized for chemical poisoning.

Pregnant women in sweatshops have it worse. In some sweatshops in China, a female worker can be fined for becoming pregnant. In Mexico, some factories make prospective female employees undergo pregnancy tests before starting their job. All women hired in these factories are under a 28-day contract to be renewed only if the woman doesn't become pregnant. In some Mexican factories the women can even be forced to undergo "pad checks" to prove they are menstruating. In Honduras there have been reports of factories forcing their women employees to have abortions if they become pregnant.

What Can Be Done?

1. Boycotts

Pro - People vote with their dollars. If enough people boycott Gap and dirty their public image enough, Gap could find sweatshops generally unprofitable. Boycotting could be cause a serious impact on a company's bottom line.

Con - Wishful thinking, admittedly. Personally, one can feel they are making a statement by not purchasing Gap clothes. Gap doesn't care. Their new fall line is just too scrumptious for the average teenager to think about the sufferings the sweat shop workers endured to produce it. Therefore, Gap's profits don't take a hit.

2. Tax Incentives

Pro - If the government taxes a company like Nike a ridiculous amount of money to import their shoes in from Indonesia (or wherever), Nike just might find it unprofitable to keep going on this way.

Con - This action could have a reverse effect. If the government even did put this issue on their agenda and raised taxes, I don't see why a corporation like Nike would voluntarily take their contract to a more expensive factory. Rather, they'd more likely hike up prices and make the consumer pay.

3. International Labor Union

Pro - Finally, international jurisdiction to speak for sweatshop workers! They could cross the border of any participating country and clamp down on the wrongdoing. If created, an Internation Labor Union could organize and revolt where the labor workers themselves could not before. Remember, most of these sweatshop workers are too overworked and tired to do this on their own. They need someone in their corner.

Con - We know from the struggles that the United Nations has faced that it is very hard to enforce rules across borders. To make an International Labor Union work, all countries would have to be willing to participate. This could prove to be very difficult for countries such as China, seeing as their resistance to such labor organizations would make them a magnet for the majority of corporations in search of cheap labor.

These are just some solutions I have pondered on my own time. I hope that this article can spur further discussion, and I hope to hear ideas that I haven't even considered.



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