It has become a habit of mine to take a peak at the tags before I purchase any clothing item. It seems that nine times out of ten when I look at the label it reads: “Made in China”, or recently, “Made in Bangladesh”, as these two countries have become the top clothing manufacturers in the world. But, that isn’t the only thing they hold in common. As well as the top manufacturers, they both have less human rights protections for their workers and citizens. Coincidence? Not at all. In fact, their lack of protections is how they have been able to hold the title of mega-world-clothing-manufacturers.
Bangladesh and China are able to compete so well in the apparel industry because they can offer the cheapest of the cheap when it comes to their products. These clothing factories are able to produce more-than-affordable apparel items because they slash their costs by lowering their employees wages and cutting corners when it comes to factory safety. In other words, these factories are running on sweatshop practices where their workers are subject to extreme exploitation. These sweatshop laborers usually work 60-80 hours per week and are not paid enough money to put food on the table and care for their families. Often, the sweatshop environment they are forced to work in is unsafe. They are harassed, they work overtime without compensation, and are made to work in dangerous and unhealthy environments.
So, these workers produce a cheaply made product, which is then sold to retailers here in the United States, and then we purchase these items at ridiculously inflated prices. And then the cycle continues, keeping these factories open and allowing sweatshops to become the norm. Sweatshops are not a thing of the past. They are a trend today and will continue unless it is made possible for these factories to run in an ethical manner. Let’s not allow sweatshops to be the norm. Let’s push for improved workers rights and better-quality products.
Easier said then done? I think not. Think before you buy. Look for ‘fair trade labels’ or search around for stores that boast about their ethically made products. Do a little investigating and check into production practices of your favorite clothing stores. Sweatshops are being exposed and the information is out there. A simple google search could surprise you. Some searches may return positive news stories, and some may show you an ugly truth. Either way, it’s time to start thinking before you buy.
If you’re like me and you have an inner-activist in you waiting to get out, then ‘thinking before you buy’ won’t be enough. It’s surprising how few people know how their products are being produced. Education is another step we can take to help end sweatshop labor. Get the word out there. Write a letter to your local government telling them how important this is to you. Government is a force, and that force can be used to put an end to labor injustices. Along with that, you can build a ‘SweatFree’ community in your town. We are doing this right here in St. Louis and we hope the trend spreads.
SweatFree Communities, a campaign of the International Labor Rights Forum, assists sweatshop workers globally in their struggles to improve working conditions and form strong, independent unions. If your local government decides to become a SweatFree Community they will sign onto a Resolution or create an ordinance that will require them to look into buying practices of their own uniforms and apparel. SweatFree Communities have become a national trend, and their website is filled with useful information to assist you and your town. Even if you are not interested in helping your community become SweatFree, take a gander at their website. It provides information on ethical clothing producers and up-to-date news releases on sweatshops around the world (you may be surprised to see some are right here in the United States).
Contributed by Kara Sheehan, affiliate of the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America