Written over 50 years ago, was a declaration made, promising equality and fair treatment for the working, which unfortunately turned out to be a false promise for some. The people I speak of, are our fellow human beings working in slave-like conditions called sweatshops. Sweatshops have always been prevalent in society, this can be shown by looking at the history of sweatshops.
Presently organizations are failing in there strive to end sweatshops, companies are failing to abide by the moral code (apparel industry code), there is an ever growing gap between rich and poor, and consumers are continuing to buy the companies products and remain unaware. Sweatshop is a term for makeshift factories where poverty-stricken people- mostly women and children- work at top speed for 12 or more hours a day in an effort to earn a living wage (library). Often called the sweating system, which began when the factory system developed in the early 1800s.
Factories were not always large enough to house all the workers, instead the owners would sublet contracts for part of the work. Then the other subcontractors set up makeshift factories in dimly lighted, poorly ventilated buildings. They hired workers for low wages and long hours on a work when needed basis. Americans began to object to this almost right away, as early as the 1830s. In 1880, large numbers of immigrants began to come to America, and the problem became serious. The owners of sweatshops took advantage of the immigrants ignorance and poverty to get them to work for low wages.
During the 1900s, many states began to pass laws prohibiting products from being manufactured under sweatshop conditions. A fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in 1911, in which 146 women died, urged many states to pass anti-sweatshop laws. States then began passing laws on wages, hours, child labor, making it impractical for factories to sublet work. Sweatshops became illegal in most countries. But not all, such as Asia and Africa, the less developed countries . There are many organizations out there trying to put a stop to sweatshops.
Organizations such as MOJO, co-op America, HRWF (Human Rights For Workers), Feminists against sweatshops, UNITE, No Sweat, USAS. This is only a small fraction of the organizations trying to put a stop to sweatshops. MOJO, co-op America and HRWF have posted web sites, and held campaigns to ban sweatshops. All these organizations try to make the public aware and more informed, rather then take the initiative to do anything specific about the problem. Feminists against sweatshops focus more on women in sweatshops, than child labor. UNITE is helping workers form unions to get the fair labor conditions they deserve.
Making their own union, UNITE already has over 500 members who are fighting for better wages, decent conditions and other rights. They have rallied for things like The New York City Council passes anti-sweatshop legislation for City uniforms. (Ref 1). They have training programs and give many good ideas towards making a statement, and things we as people can do to help. The United Students Against Sweatshops (or USAS), is an international student movement that involves individual students from campuses all over America and Canada fighting for sweatshop free labor conditions and workers’ rights.
The University of Toronto has its own version of this, and offers ideas on how you can start your own group (refer to appendix A). NO Sweat offers the most out of all these organizations. They have reports on garment enforcement going back to 1995. Although it mainly focuses on sweatshop conditions for American workers, its making the most difference, probably because they are so close to home. Although there have been many successes for these groups, all these efforts and many more, have still not put a stop to the issue of sweatshops.
In sweatshops, workers work seven days a week, having to be at the factory by 6:45 am, and must stay until 8:00 pm, with only one half hour lunch break, to sustain them through the day. The workers get paid anywhere on average from 6 cents per hour to 40 cents per hour, not even close to what is needed to survive. Half the companies that have signed the Apparel Industry Partnership are doing this very thing, which keeps people in poverty (refer to Appendix B & C). One example is the company NIKE, who as you can see, has signed this code, but are clearly not following it.
There is a whole website dedicated to Nike, and all the articles, television shows, stories, all talking about Nike, and how they treat there workers unfairly (refer to appendix D). Other companies are trying there best to follow the code, such as The Gap. True the Gap was using sweatshops, but in 1995, they changed their manufacturing process (ref 2). The Gaps vice president flew to El Salvador, and saw nothing that was out of code or conduct. While he was there he interviewed workers and heard nothing. However the Gap didnt stop there, they later sent more officials who found nothing.
The independent human rights ombudsman in El Salvador later publicly disputed them. The Gap had had enough, and indefinitely removed Mandarin from the approved factory list. The Gap would not approve their factory until they came up with a fair compromise Mandarin and the Gap could agree on. As you can see, not all companies are inflexible and unwilling to change. There are still many conditions at The Gap factories that are not appropriate, they still make less then a dollar an hour, and the working conditions are terrible. Although they have taken a step forward, but it is nowhere near enough. In 1996, global production of apparel exceeded $200 billion in retail value. About $125 billion is exported between countries, and $75 billion is consumed in the country of origin. The United States produced $49. 3 billion (or 25%) of the world total and imported $36. 4 billion worth of apparel. Some argue that overseas production lowers manufacturing costs, which ultimately reduces prices to consumers and strengthens the U. S. economy (ref 3). These numbers dont even compare to what the workers at Ralph Lauren are being paid. The base wage for these workers is 10 cents an hour, which translates into $4. 0 a week, $20. 90 a month and $249. 60 per year! (Ref 2). These low wages are largely responsible for why less developed countries cannot evolve into a developed country. Another reason why there is an ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor, is because these are the best jobs out there for them. Too many countries take advantage of them financially, and that the only choice is to work in a sweatshop to make a living. The only other option people have is slavery, which still doesnt make it okay. We are not treating everyone as equals, there will always be struggling countries until we do something about it.
People are forced to work as much as there bodies will allow, and yet it is still not enough to survive. One of the largest contributors to this problem, is that people are unaware of the treatment of others and still continue to buy these products. The first thing we can do as individuals and a society is to become aware and get involved. Know what you’re buying and where its coming from. Canadian companies like Woolworth, make clothes for several companies such as Northern reflections. Companies like Mattel who make Barbies, Nike, The Gap, Liz Claiborne. The easiest way to make a difference is to boycott them.
Next time your shopping ask the store clerk if she knows where the clothes are made and how they are made. If you are serious enough about this, start your own organization. When one considers the injustice the sweatshop worker deals with at the hands of corporate America, one can only wonder how such actions are allowed. Where is the Declaration of Human Rights? This document declares rights to all humans, but somehow sweatshop workers are overlooked? They are human beings too. Something must be done to end this parade of abuse. Take some action, next time you see The Gap, walk right by it, every little bit helps.