Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Sweat-Free Closet

What is a sweatshop?
The US Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as a factory that violates 2 or more labour laws. This means a manufacturing facility that breaches human rights. Most commonly, this is in regards to general safety, low wages, long working hours, child labour, and even physical, sexual and mental abuse. 

Who uses sweatshops
Unfortunately, almost every major company and brand that is on the market and doing well. This is because while they are raising prices for their goods/services, their cost of production remains much lower than their expenses. A lot of companies/brands market products for prices in which only a small percentage is enough to cover manufacturing costs, and only a small fraction of that percentage can cover labour costs. 

Where are sweatshops
Sweatshops are commonly placed in developing nations - popularly in China and Bangladesh. The high demand and desperation for jobs in these countries also means lower labour costs and fewer unions that protect the rights of workers than in the West. However, there have been some cases in which sweatshops have been set up in functioning economies under the radar, for instance, in Los Angeles and Britain.

'Christmas' by Pawel Kuczynski

What is made in sweatshops
The heartbreaking answer - a large percentage of what we consume daily. From clothes, accessories, toys, technology, right down to the food we eat. For instance, cocoa farms employ 'farmers', sometimes under the age of 14, to work long days with little pay to endure physical labour in unsafe working conditions to provide cocoa for chocolate, no less.

A case for more sweatshops...?
Sweatshops were a topic of study for me in university for one of my units, and we had to read this article. It puts forward the point that developing nations and their governments need sweatshops to increase their economy as well as provide job opportunities for their citizens. If workers in China were being paid the same as workers in the USA, it would make more sense for businesses to stay within the borders of their nation. (More on this soon.)

So then... what can I do?
This is where it gets interesting. We have greater power than we realise. As consumers, we dictate the future of business and marketing. While it seems the big guys in the big buildings with their big wallets are running it all, it's all on us. I found an image that I feel like sums up consumerism brilliantly (although originally about politics I believe):

Artist: TC 

From here, there are two routes you can take. First is to shop sweatshop free. This means buying from companies/brands that have ethical standards and abide by laws of human rights. This can be done by checking the label, look for 'Made in Australia' or 'Made in the USA', as opposed to 'Made in China'. To go the extra mile, do background research on companies and brands so you know exactly where your products are coming from.

Otherwise, you can shop Fair Trade. Fair trade means that manufacturing facilities are set up in developing nations, however are closely monitored to ensure safety regulations and human rights laws are well in check. This allows citizens of developing nations to work, learn and live above poverty, as well has help the nation thrive. Buying Fair Trade means that job opportunities arise in developing countries, and the nation's income can thrive allowing the country to move forward on a journey to alleviate poverty.

If you decide to go sweatshop free with me, I will be continuing my research and sharing what I learn, brands that are ethical and other ways we can help.

The issue of sweatshops has been around for years, and too many humans have suffered as a result. The time for change is now, especially when consumers are steering the direction for where business goes next in this unpredictable society. With the rise of the Internet, the world has become smaller than ever and rather than being citizens of our countries, we are citizens of the world. We can come together to make change for our fellow citizens, and for the future of this world.

Helpful links & Reading Material


  1. This is interesting. Ideally I'd shop sweatshop free but it does seem so ubiquitous (no excuse for complacency of course!). Looking forward to reading more of what you have to say on this!

  2. Thanks for writing about something that really matters. It can be daunting presenting issues like this, but rest assured, I am with you on this one!
    That image is so perfect. We need to exercise our power!


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