By Susie Olubo
Do you know where your clothes come from? Have you ever thought about who makes your garments? Did you ever think about how much they make, or what kind of place they work in? A sweatshop, according to Benjamin Powell of Suffolk University, is a workplace with low wages, and poor, possibly unsafe, working conditions and benefits (Weeks). In many of these sweatshops, workers are paid below minimum wage by at least $1 or more, no tips. Why are we letting this happen? Can we not provide American workers with safe, well-paying jobs? Of course we can, but for that to happen, we need to change. By pressuring companies into improving work conditions, we can help keep our jobs safe.
Most sweatshop employees who work more than 40 hours a week do not receive overtime pay. On average, a sweatshop worker puts in at least 11 hours of overtime. Those that come in early or stay late are also not given pay for the extra time they put in outside of their normal shift. Workers are given meal breaks, but these are often interrupted, cut short, or taken away. When they are injured on the job, workers are afraid to file for compensation, making it even more difficult for them to live (Damon). People across the U.S. are unaware of what conditions these employees are put through. Many of the employees are not U.S. citizens; they have immigrated to to work under the radar. US companies also outsource to other countries where workers accept lower wages and are willing to work in almost any kind of environment.
Alexander Wang, an American fashion designer, had a $50 million lawsuit against him for the working conditions used in a sweatshop in Chinatown, Manhattan. Thirty workers had complained, saying they worked 16 hours or more a day in depressing working conditions. In the 200 sq. ft. room, the workers suffered from injuries, illnesses, and loss of sleep (Carrega). While working in these conditions they are also not paid overtime, like many sweatshops. Nike Inc. has been accused on many occasions of using sweatshops since the 1970s and Nike has even admitted to it. Despite the many claims, William Stepp of Mises University stated that the workers received benefits from working at the factories “by showing up for work every day, and by accepting a paycheck based on mutually-agreed-upon terms” (Stepp). It is true, and there are many people who would agree with him. If they know the conditions and they agree to them, why is it illegal?
Matt Zwolinski of bleedingheartlibertarians.com also agrees, saying that sweatshops benefit the poor. In the case involving Nokuthula Masanga of a South African sweatshop, Zwolinski states that there are three points to remember: 1. The exchange between the worker and employee is mutually beneficial. They will only take a sweatshop job if it is better than the other alternatives. 2. It’s a bad idea to prohibit sweatshop labor. Taking away these jobs makes choosing a job harder for those in poverty because it is the best option they have. Anti-sweatshop activists can influence a sweatshop to shut down rather than raise wages, and in the end, the workers all lose their jobs. 3. It’s better to do something to end global poverty than to do nothing. Most of us do nothing to improve the lives on the workers while these companies are providing jobs (Zwolinski). Although, many can understand why workers will accept the conditions due to more stressing and unfavorable alternatives, the U.S. does not have the same problem as those in South Africa. Many U.S. jobs offer much better conditions than sweatshops. Even if the employees agree to work like this, there is no reason conditions should be this repellent.
Allegations like this can permanently scar a company’s image. When people learn that a company has been verbally and physically abusing their workers, would they still want to purchase those products knowing that the employee that made this had to be hospitalized? Since accidents like this have happened to Nike, they have been trying to train and monitor their managers closely to keep anymore incidents from happening and hopefully improve their image.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was passed to prevent such things from happening. On their website, www.osha.gov, it explains that each worker has the right to a safe workplace. They provide information on which workers they cover as well as contact information to file complaints. If called, they can inspect companies to make sure they are conducting proper safety measures (“You have the right”). Continuous physical and verbal abuse has lead workers to become afraid of confronting the problems and this keeps them from contacting help. There is a risk of the shops being shut down, but there may also be a way to help save them from the hell they go through every day. OSHA needs to be informed of what goes on in these shops. After having so many problems from sweatshops, shouldn’t they know that many employees are afraid to confess what goes on in their company? If there is suspicion of foul behavior in the company, there should be immediate precautions taken to help keep workers safe.
An organization, called the Clean Clothes Campaign, is a great example of how we can change and improve the working conditions in any industry. Recently they just won a dispute over compensation for 2,800 Indonesian workers who were owed $1.8 million in severance pay. Through this monumental movement, workers posted through social media sites and encourage other activists, like War on Want and People and Planet, to demand that they fix these problems. In the end, the factory was closed down, and the funds were rightly given to the workers who had fought for these rights since April of 2011 (“WE WON!”).
Working long hours with short, if any, meal breaks and repetitive name-calling can cause serious damage to a person’s mental and physical health. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration needs to thoroughly monitor big corporations such as Nike. American consumers can also pressure US companies to treat workers overseas fairly. The workers need to be treated with respect because the success of the employers starts with the workers.
Carrega, Christina. “$50M suit alleges designer Alexander Wang runs Chinatown sweatshop.” New York Post. NYP Holdings Inc., 5 March 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhatta/suit_alleges_designer_alexander_7hrwVZg5c6Mac1SBFX4sHK?utm_medium=rss&utm_content= Manhattan>.
Damon, Andre. “Study Exposes sweatshop conditions in US workplace.” World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International, 5 Sept. 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2009/09/labr-s05.html>.
Stepp, William. “Nike is Right.” Ludwig von Mises Institute. N.p., 14 March 2001. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://mises.org/daily/628>.
“WE WON! Adidas pays Kizone workers.” Clean Clothes Campaign. 29 April 2013. Web. 1 May 2013. <http://www.cleanclothes.org/news/2013/04/29/we-won-adidas-pays-kizone-workers>.
Weeks, Bob. “Sweatshops best alternative for workers in many countries.” Voice for Liberty in Wichita. N.p., 9 April 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://wichitaliberty.org/economics/sweatshops-best-alternative-for-workers-in-many-countries/>.
“You have the to right to a safe workplace”. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. U.S. Department of Labor,n.d. Web. 8 April 2013. <http://www.osha.gov/workers.html>.
Zwolinski, Matt. “Three Reasons Sweatshops are Good for the Poor” Bleeding Heart Libertarians. N. p., 8 June 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/06/three-reasons-sweatshops-are-good-for-the-poor/>.