Sweatshops and child labor are a growing problem, particularly in clothing and textiles. No one wants to buy products made with sweatshop labor, but it is hard to know what to avoid, and where to find green and Fair Trade products.
Corporate greed and global competition to produce goods at the lowest possible price are the main reasons for the existence of sweatshops. It’s much more cost-effective for corporations to subcontract their manufacturing to suppliers who produce goods cheaply by minimizing worker salaries and benefits, skimping on factory and dormitory upkeep and standards, and demanding high levels of productivity (long hours and big quotas) from their workers.
Developing countries desperately need foreign investment, and therefore compete with one another to produce goods more and more cheaply, allowing US corporations to dictate their purchase prices. As reported by the business journal Fast Company in December 2003, Wal-Mart (the country’s largest retailer) actually implements a corporate policy of requiring its vendors to continually seek ever-lower prices for its products. “[Wal-Mart] has a clear policy for suppliers,” writes Fast Company’s Charles Fishman. “On basic products that don’t change, the price Wal-Mart will pay, and will charge shoppers, must drop year after year.”
As retailers compete with one another by seeking lowest-cost workers, they put pressure on suppliers to keep their costs down, and they encourage consumers to buy more at “discount” prices. This market for cheap goods then squeezes factory owners to pinch even more. The result is forced overtime, low wages, punishments and fines for slow work and mistakes, worker intimidation, child labor, and other abuses.
What you can do to make a difference.
Unfortunately, no overarching “sweatshop-free” label exists. Some independent monitors follow the supply chains of companies that pay a fee for that service and help facilitate follow-up correction programs for factories found to be in violation of labor standards. Because conditions can change rapidly at factories, often these companies do not go on record endorsing particular companies or factories. For some select industries, however, dedication to recycling efforts has resulted in useful Vintage labeling for a handful of products. For example, Dust Factory combats the existence of child labor in the apparel industry by recycling vintage products to re-issue back into the fashion industry. Labeling specific items with a Vintage Tag, letting consumers know that the item is eco-friendly and child-labor-free.
By purchasing products that are recycled, fairly traded, cooperatively produced, or produced in a unionized factory, you can help end sweatshop and forced child labor. Many other well-respected organizations have called boycotts to put an end to unfair labor practices, animal testing, dangerous pesticide use, and other abuses of people and resources.Whether you’re protesting treatment of workers at a national retail chain or mobilizing against the construction of a waste dump in your community, a boycott can help you get the attention of your community and the company you are targeting.