Sweatshops have been with us for generations. Majority of the sweatshops` workers are from the Third World countries. Sweatshops refer to employment places where workers are exposed to inhumane working conditions in terms of long working hours, low wages and mistreatment by employers, child labor and lack of work unions to protect the workers` rights. The sweating system originated through forwarding of jobs to smaller firms by big garment industries and manufacturers, especially in London, England and New York City, the United States of America. Sweatshops were associated with poor immigrants who left their own countries in search of green pastures in the big cities. As a result, immigrant workers were employed. These workers worked for long hours in harsh conditions, such as overcrowding, risk of fire breakouts and infestation of rats, whereas they were paid very poorly for their sacrifice.
Over the years, there has been a global concern of the welfare of workers working in the sweatshops. The textile and the clothing industries are most associated with sweatshops.
Sweatshops developed as a result of many factors. Firstly, most people who work in the sweatshops are immigrants from Third World countries. These immigrants consider such opportunities of work as ‘golden’ opportunities to earn a living in order to survive in Western nations. In fact, in most cases back in their home country they have the exactly same working conditions as those they are exposed to in the sweatshops and, therefore, they do not see anything wrong with them. In addition, since some of the immigrants are illegal in a country, employers exploit them by forcing them to work long hours with low pay, instead of reporting them to the relevant authorities for deportation. Consequently, the law does not allow employers to employ illegal immigrants, according to provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). So, when they employ illegal immigrants, some of the sweatshops do not have the capacity to handle the increase of workers; as a result, employers are forced to reorganize their facilities in such a manner so as to accommodate them and still maintain their profit margin. In doing so, they are forced to cut down on production costs, such as wages, which results to a decline in all workers` living standards. Some workers decide to take more than one job to meet their needs or work longer hours than usual.
Consequently, their jobs are not secure, as long as there is someone else in line waiting and willing to be employed to do the same job at a lower wage and longer hours. The government, on the other hand, has not been very supportive since they expect the employers to regulate themselves in the management of the sweatshops in order to create more employment for the members of the society. Moreover, the workers’ trade unions are not very effective in negotiating for higher and reasonable pay for their members nor do they protect their rights in work places. Actually in some cases, employers fire anyone found to be involved in any form of workers union.
For example, it has been noted that the Disney is among the top of the worst operating sweatshops (Kirch, 1997). They were found violating the minimum wages law especially in the Haiti Disney, as reported by the National Labor Committee (NLC). In addition, accusations against them included sexual harassment of women and dismissal of pregnant women in order to avoid giving them maternity benefits, and firing of workers who tried to speak out about the poor work conditions they were subjected to. Another illustration shows that in Nepal, Pakistan, India, Morocco and other countries of the third world children, aged 5 to 14 years, are exposed to work. In fact, in some cases they are hidden behind the doors for years to tie knots of rugs, purchased by America and other Western countries. The situation is also similar in Pakistan, where children aged 6-14 years are used in stitching handmade soccer balls. The stitches are so small that they cause their fingers to be stunted and underdeveloped in the long run. The worst part of it is that they are only paid $0.30 per one ball stitched and yet the same ball is sold for $30 in America. Moreover, these balls are sold by worldwide known shops, such as Reebok, Nike, Adidas and many others.
Anti- Sweatshops organizations have been formed in various nations. According to Echikson (1999), European companies groups have come together and formulated a code of conduct for the labor situation and they demand their own subcontractors adhere to them. Although some employers are resistant, especially in wage increases, the code has greatly improved working conditions in the region. Also clean clothes campaigns have been conducted by religious groups, human right activists and labor unions across Europe, and in some places branches of organizing and mobilizing campaigns against sweatshops have been opened (Echikson, 1999).
In America adequate exposure of unfair treatment has been done by journalists, called Muckrakers, and politicians who have campaigned for change of laws in favor of workers in sweatshops. In Australia and the United Kingdom anti- sweatshop campaigns, held by the National Anti – Sweating League, led to the formulation of Trade Boards Act 1909. Moreover, a group known as the international Ladies’ Garments Workers’ Union was also formed to make the working conditions of the sweatshop workers better. In this countries safety regulations and laws governing labor were drafted. However, some argue that sweat shops make commodities more available and affordable to average consumers since production costs are kept law. Subsequently, it provides employment especially to the illiterate and less educated who otherwise will not have sources of income or would have been forced to immoral behavior such as prostitution in order to earn a living. In addition, others say that sweatshops benefit countries with big economies, contributing to their GDP and reducing their balance of payments deficit. This is because, most goods /products are exported and others are consumed locally.
Even though sweatshops pay less than the expected standards in the US, UK and other western nations, the wages are much better than those that the immigrants would earn in their original countries. Actually, the same immigrants working in the sweatshops could be paid better than some of the workers, working in the third World countries (Budd & Slaughter 2000). According the World Bank report, in most third World countries a large percentage of people live on less than $ 1 and $ 2 per day.
Moreover, at a personal level when one compares what she or he is earning in a sweatshop with other available alternatives, one may decide to go for a sweatshop job if it better paid. Therefore, they can serve the interest of a sweatshop worker better when the payment is higher than the payment of the next best alternative.
Actually, the majority of economists believe that sweatshops are of benefit to the third world workers because they provide investment and employment opportunities for them (Bhagwata). Their views are based upon the demand and supply effects of a market, allowing it to balance itself to the equilibrium level, creating a win - win situation where both the employer and the worker win (Williams 2004).
On the other hand, the economists who believe that sweatshops should be abolished argue that the demand curves are negatively sloped must be very illiterate (Miller, 2003).
In most third world countries the average number of working hours usually exceeds 50 hours per week, which is considered the international average weekly working hours. In countries like Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras and Dominican Republic, the working hours are at an average of 70 hours per week, which is almost the same number of hours per week in sweatshops.
In the example of children making rugs (Kirsh, 1997), efforts are being made to set them free and enroll them in education and rehabilitation programs. In the process of eradicating sweatshops, an organization known as Co-op America has conducted research and found out that sweatshops can actually be eliminated. Their main idea is to provide the information to the public in order to assist them differentiate products from sweatshops and those from quality shops (Kirsh, 1997). This can be done through labeling brands. They also aim at exposing companies that exploit workers to the public. This will affect the taste and attitude of consumers towards specific products and as the result will put them out of the market. For instance, as the result of a research, they have ranked Blue Jeans Company as the best company that provides excellent working conditions for their employees, while rugs has worst practices regarding employees` management.
To conquer sweatshops and eradicate them we must work as a team. There are several things we can do as nations and communities. First and foremost, we must acknowledge that sweatshops are real and they are unacceptable since they exploit other people unfairly. Then, we must communicate with those within our reach to let them know about the disadvantages of sweatshops. We must demand to know the welfare of workers in the places we purchase goods from. And if they are mistreated the situation must change through campaigning and mobilization. If nothing is done, bring awareness about the sweatshops to the entire communities, universities, churches and nations. In doing so, we will discourage purchase of goods manufactured in these factories, industries and companies and we will let them know why we do not buy their commodities.
Establishment of strict labor laws and sound trade unions that protect the welfare of workers and children will greatly contribute to the reduction of sweatshops. Any employer found not abiding the laws should be punished accordingly. Also, third world nations should stop acting like victims of slavery and desperation. We should endeavor to live and work in own countries so that we can develop our own economies. Preferring to live as immigrants and working as sweatshop workers should be discouraged at all costs.
According to Kirsh (1997), creation of awareness by the Co- op America Organizations has caused the consumers to pressurize the International soccer`s governing body to sign a code of conduct that they will not use children in soccer balls` production. As a result, there is a strategic plan to build factories to produce soccer balls by Reebok and Nike in places like Pakistan and only adults are to be employed. Moreover, rehabilitation programs are also instituted to develop the academic skills of children. This will cater for the children, especially those previously employed in production of soccer balls. In addition to the above, Co-op America has suggested various measures to assist consumers in selection of products for purchase. They advise e that the consumers choose a particular product which they often buy, and stick to it. They should also ensure that they buy the products from a fair trade organization or a green business company. The other thing they advice is to raise awareness.
If possible, consumers should be bold enough to question retail stores whether there is any exploitation of workers of whatever kind in production of their products. Consequently, they could send coupon or questionnaires to manufacturer companies and request them to be filled by both employees and employers (Kirsh, 1997).
As a result, awareness will be created to both the local and international community.
Companies who sell products resulting from sweatshops will run great losses and close down if they do not stop sweatshops.
As the sweatshops will be reduced, better working conditions and protection will be accorded to workers. This is because, trade unions will be empowered and many employers will seek to abide to the law. On the other hand, unemployment levels may increase for immigrants who are not educated or do not have skills that match job descriptions in the foreign nations. Therefore, the governments should establish centers to train and equip them for the job market and also to provide basic needs for them until they are employed and able to vend for themselves. Preferring to live and work in the country of origin will lead to greater heights of development; hence, employment opportunities will also increase and, therefore, immigration to western countries will reduce.
As a conclusion, the sweatshops have been with us for many years. Eradicating them completely may take some time. A majority of sweatshop workers come from the third world countries. This is mainly caused by the demand of cheap labor in order to meet market demand. As a result, the companies end up employing immigrants who are desperate to earn a living and survive since they are not educated enough to do well paid jobs. Governments are not aggressive in fighting the problem, since some feel that it contributes to low unemployment rate. However, several anti sweatshops groups have raised up to express their displeasure in operation of sweat shops. The measures, such as mobilizing both the local and international communities and creating awareness about highly infringed human rights of those immigrants, were taken. This has led to closure of some companies and establishment of labor laws to protect the welfare of workers and to stop child labor in sweatshops.
The bodies involved in this exercise include ECPAT, National Anti – Sweating League and the international Ladies’ Garments Workers’ Union; they and many worker unions have been established to protect the workers` rights. Other companies have resulted to construct their own factories to get rid of the problem, for example, Nike and Reebok constructing factories in Pakistan to produce soccer balls and to build rehabilitation centers for children abused before.
Even though it has been argued that sweatshops pay workers more than local firms in the third world countries, they cannot be accepted. This is because in comparison with output products, the wages are low and also the working conditions are practically inhuman. Research conducted by organizations such as Co-op America shows that we can live and produce effectively and efficiently without sweatshops.
Finally, in my opinion, sweatshops should be banned completely in both the local and international communities. This is because sweatshops degrade humanity. Every human being has a right to proper treatment, especially in working places, no matter whether he or she is an immigrant or not