We’ve all heard about how bad sweatshops are. But, what does that really mean? I mean, what is a sweatshop, and who works there? What do they make?
I started wondering this today because of Wal-Mart. Did you know that, according to PBS, Wal-Mart is the biggest employer in the United States outside the Federal Government?
They’re also one of the biggest importers of foreign-made goods…much of which is made in sweatshops. Here’s an illuminating tidbit from PBS:
Despite a well-publicized “Made in the U.S.A.” campaign, 85 percent of the stores’ items are made overseas, often in Third World sweatshops. In fact, only after Wal-Mart’s “Buy American” ad campaign was in full swing did the company become the country’s largest importer of Chinese goods in any industry. By taking its orders abroad, Wal-Mart has forced many U.S. manufacturers out of business. The chain was broadly criticized for being the primary distributor of many goods attracting controversy, including Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line, Disney’s Haitian-made pajamas, child-produced clothing from Bangladesh and sweatshop-produced toys and sports gear from Asia.
Now, this isn’t a post to bash Wal-Mart. But it’s important to keep in mind that every time we go into that store, or another discount retailer, to buy an uber-cheap tank top or handbag, we’re probably buying a product that some underpaid worker made in an incredibly unhealthy environment. It’s not good.
This also illuminates why we should make an effort, a strong one, to support eco, Fair Trade fashion. Fair trade designers don’t use sweatshop or child labor…ever.
So, let’s take a look at sweatshops, and what they’re like.
What Is A Sweatshop?
A sweatshop is a loose term, and there’s no “set” definition for what it is. But, there ARE a few standards.
Sweatshop workers are incredibly exploited; they don’t earn a living wage, or receive any benefits. They have very poor, unhealthy working conditions, work 60-80 hours per week (with no overtime) and often go through verbal and physical abuse. Most sweatshops employ children.
Because these workers barely earn enough to eat, they’re never able to save enough money to improve their lives and get out of the situation. So, they’re trapped in a vicious cycle.
Sweatshops are constantly shifting. Right now, Asian countries like China and Taiwan contain the highest majority of sweatshops. But other countries like Jordan, Mexico, and Bangladesh also have a ton. Anywhere where laws are lax and there is plenty of cheap labor will have a sweatshop. And yes, there are even sweatshops here in the US, often in biggest cities with a large immigrant population.
So, what are sweatshop workers making?
Here’s an eye-opening list from VeganPeace.com:
Many types of shoes are made in sweatshops. However, the biggest problem is found with sneakers and athletic shoes.
Most athletic shoes are made in sweatshops in Asian countries.
Child labor is also very common in the shoe industry.
Clothing is very often made in sweatshops and with the use of child labor.
In the U.S. the majority of garment workers are immigrant women that work 60-80 hours a week, usually without minimum wage or overtime pay. Overseas, garment workers routinely make less than a living wage, working under extremely oppressive conditions.
A lot of child labor is used in the rug industry. Nearly one million children are illegally employed making hand-knotted rugs worldwide.
Approximately 75% of Pakistan’s carpet weavers are girls under 14.
A lot of toys are made in sweatshops and by child labor. Especially toys made in countries like China, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam. The average North American toy maker earns $11 an hour. In China, toy workers earn an average of 30 cents an hour.
43% of cocoa beans come from the Ivory Coast where recent investigators have found child slavery. In addition, cocoa workers who are paid, receive wages that leave them at the edge of poverty and starvation.
Banana workers are some of the most exploited workers in the world. They have to work long hours, get low pay, are forced overtime and are exposed to dangerous pesticides.
Coffee is the second largest US import after oil.
Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the cost of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and deb
We have a choice here. We can continue to support the sweatshop industry by buying cheap clothing and shoes and other things from discount retailers like Wal-Mart.
Or, we can support designers and small companies that use Fair Trade practices. They’re all over if you look.
Here at Earth Divas we strongly believe in Fair Trade. It’s our fundamental reason for doing business, and it’s why we started this business. We’ve met so many amazing designers and eco-fashion retailers who believe in the same thing we do: that people all over the world should get paid a fair, livable wage for their skills.
So, think twice before you head out to a discount retailer to buy shoes, clothes, or a handbag. You never know who made it, or what they went through to get it to you.
Filed under: Fair Trade Living on May 20th, 2010