No one likes to pay too much for the things they need, but the desire to save money from a consumer perspective and the greed that is seen from a manufacturer’s perspective has led to the creation of the modern sweatshop. Sweatshops can be defined by three primary characteristics: low pay, long hours, and unhealthy working conditions.
In the United States, a sweatshop is defined by the US Department of Labor as a factory that violates a minimum of two current labor laws.
Facts You Didn’t Know About Sweatshops
The modern sweatshop does not have to be inside of a building. In the agricultural industry, where many immigrants are employed, working conditions include all day hours under hot sunshine with wages that may be below the minimum wage. The problem with sweatshops is this: those who work in them typically have no other option because of their current life circumstances.
- An estimated 250 million children ages 5 to 14 are forced to work in sweatshops in developing countries.
- Products that commonly come from sweatshops are clothing, coffee, shoes, toys, chocolate, rugs, and bananas.
- The price increase to the average consumer if sweatshop salaries were doubled: 1.8%.
- Consumers say that they would be willing to spend 15% more, on average, to guarantee workers wouldn’t need to work in sweatshop conditions.
- The people who are forced to work in sweatshops must usually spend the majority of their paycheck on food in order for their household to survive.
- Women sewing NBA jerseys make 24 cents per garment – an item that will eventually sell for $140 or more.
- In 2000, more than 11,000 sweatshops in the US violated the minimum wage and overtime laws.
- The percentage of sweatshop employees that are women: up to 90%.
The issue with the modern sweatshop is that many people are not aware that they currently exist. There are tragic stories that hit the news every so often, but with the amount of violence that is also included in the news, this social injustice barely registers on the average person’s radar. That’s not to say that they have fault in the creation of a sweatshop. It just means that we all need to do a better job of being aware of poor working conditions and low pay so that everyone can have a chance to chase their own dreams.
What Are The Average Wages of Workers?
- Numerous nations around the world are thought to have active sweatshops in the apparel industry that are currently operating.
- In Bangladesh, the average worker’s hourly wage is just US$0.13, which is the lowest in the world.
- The average worker’s hourly wage in Vietnam: $0.26.
- Only 4 out of the top 10 nations that have the highest number of suspected sweatshops have an hourly wage that exceeds $1 per hour.
- Costa Rica has the highest average hourly wages for apparel workers at $2.38 per hour.
- It takes an apparel worker in a sweatshop an average of working 70 hours per week to exceed the average income for their country.
- Apparel workers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua earn 3 to 7 times the national average.
Comparable wages only mean that someone has enough to get by. Although some nations have emphasized the removal of sweatshops and this has led to a natural increase in the amount of money that workers can make, there are still nations that barely provide their workers any money at all. If someone from the working poor in Bangladesh is only making $.13 an hour, then that is an effective life sentence. They can do nothing else because all of their money goes to support basic living conditions. In the United States, we have households who also make around the average and they need basic service supports just to make ends meet. Imagine not having any basic service supports available to you and that’s what the sweatshop worker faces every day.
Why Do We Need to Support An End to Sweatshops?
- Children are as young as 6 or 7 years old when they start working at a sweatshop for up to 16 hours per day.
- In Asia, children as young as 5 were found to work from 6 in the morning until 7 at night for less than 20 cents per day.
- A shirt that sells in the United States for $60 can cost less than 10 cents in labor.
- In India, between 5% – 30% of the 340 million children under the age of 16 are estimated to fall under the definition of child labor.
- In Latin America, the proportion of children under the age of 16, working in sweatshops, is estimated to be between 10% – 25%.
- The Department of Labor indicates that 50% of garment factories in the U.S. violate two or more basic labor laws, establishing them as sweatshops.
- 1 million jobs have been moved away from the US since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
- Many Nike sweatshop workers die by the age of 15, which is acclaimed correct by the ASSL League.
Think about the clothing you have on right now. If you have a national brand name, then there’s a good chance that your garment was created in a sweatshop from overseas. For a child who can make four of those clothing items per hour at $.20 per hour, the stark reality is that the retail price of your clothing paid that child five cents. What can you do with five cents? Not a whole lot. Even in developing nations, five cents doesn’t do much. This is why we need to support an end to sweatshops everywhere they exist. It doesn’t matter that a majority of people make earn less than two dollars per day. By giving these workers fair opportunities, they can create more opportunities within their local communities. That is how we can build up our world economy.
Can We Reach Those Who Need Help?
- It is estimated that 1.3 million children in Bangladesh are working full-time in order to help support their families.
- The number of children in Bangladesh who have never enrolled in school: 1.5 million.
- 85% of sweatshop workers are young women between the ages of 15-25.
- Women are often fired from sweatshops if they become pregnant because maternity leave equates to an unproductive worker.
- A study in 2000 found that 98% of Los Angeles garment factories violated workplace health and safety standards.
- The average manufacturing wage in China is just $0.64 per hour.
- Sometimes workers are forced to be active for 48 hours straight and any breaks that are allowed are required sleep breaks.
The problem of sweatshops isn’t just an international problem. It is something that happens in every country on the planet. This is the problem that capitalism represents. There are laws in place to prevent the exploitation of workers, but we must be able to reach those workers in order to improve conditions. When one out of every two factories is believed to be out of compliance in the United States and defined as a sweatshop, that’s a problem. When only 2% of garment factories in Los Angeles are in compliance with workplace health and safety standards, that’s a problem. This isn’t the 19th century anymore. There are no excuses. Taking advantage of people who are trying to earn a fair living, combined with our own needs to have cheap garments and other products, has created this problem. If the conditions of sweatshops are going to change, then the first change that may need to be made is within our own buying choices.
How Bad Have Sweatshops Become?
- In 1999, the average American family of four spent $1,831 on apparel.
- The total amount of that $1,831 that went to the wages of workers who created the apparel: $55.
- The salaries of apparel workers between 1968-1999 had an inflation-adjusted 16% drop.
- There are about 12.3 million people annually who are subjected to forced slave labor at any given time.
- The Department of State reveals that 40% of workers in some fishing industries are under the age of 18.
It isn’t up to everyone else take action. We need to take action. Some companies have been supporting sweatshops for over two decades and we still continue to purchase products from them. We are the ones who are creating a market for sweatshop products. If the average person is willing to spend at least 15% more on items so that workers can get a fair living wage, then we don’t have to wait to begin that process. We can start focusing our purchasing habits on materials and goods that have been created in conditions that are favorable to workers right now. If we all come together to do this, we can put the sweatshops of the business for good.