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This paper explores the way in which sweatshops, cheap labor, and violation of workers rights continues to exist throughout the world. Providing inside information that the average individual might not know about the products they purchase and use everyday. This paper touches on what goes on in these sweatshops, which the most common workers are, and what countries are receiving the lowest wages for their work. Some of the most popular companies who have been recognized as abusers of labor laws are addressed, along with an update on how they’ve fared since being accused. As the paper draws to a close different solutions to stopping this abusing form of labor are revealed.
If the average individual were to take a look around their home, one would find all sorts of objects and clothing produced in different areas from all across the globe. Majority of the time, these items are taken for granted and strictly valued depending on what they can do for us. This is quite unfortunate when we take into consideration the conditions most of these objects were manufactured in. It’s very seldom that we picture the blistering hands of the child who slaved over our designer tennis shoes as we slide them on as the finishing piece to that new designer outfit. It is ironic how the things we pay the most for in life are often times produced under the harshest working conditions by individuals paid incredibly low wages. Children and women’s rights are violated day in and day out for these companies to save a couple of dollars, yet we continue to ignore the issue and send our hard earned money to these corrupt companies and corporations. According to dictionary.com, a sweatshop is a “shop employing workers at low wages, for long hours, and under poor conditions” (Collins English Dictionary).
Despite the adversity and embarrassment that some of the most popular companies have received for producing their products in sweatshop, cheap labor and exploitation of human rights still remain prevalent. Some individuals feel that the use of these sweatshops allows for a healthy balance in the economy, or that working for these wages is the best possible option for citizens of third world countries, concluding that we need not tamper with the means of production for the economy’s sake. Many of these ideas are addressed in Arnold D. and N. Bowie’s Sweatshops and Respects for Persons, as they discuss exactly why these allegations or theories are dysfunctional untruths. There are definitely alternatives to sweatshop labor for companies to produce their products. For example in Paron and Reemes’s, “Beyond Cheap Labor” they propose a solution to these countries’ low wages; “to justify higher wages in a globalized economy, middle-income nations must find their comparative advantage” (Paron & Reemes 2005). If these nations find something they can offer, then they can create a job market for their workers, resulting in higher wages. Granted this is a very hard task and may be perceived by many as unachievable, but there is no amount of revenue worth sacrificing our morals or these individuals’ rights as humans.
Cheap Labor & Exploitation
According to the United States labor law, there are certain wages that must be provided to individuals for performing services; when these laws are violated, there are severe consequences to whoever is deemed responsible (DOL, 2009). Cheap labor is when an individual provides labor for unreasonably low wages, long hours, usually under harsh or extreme working conditions, and many of the female workers are subject to sexual harassment along with all the other violating activity that occurs. Unfortunately, many women and young children are victims to these violations of labor laws for a company’s benefit, all to save a buck.
According to Snyder in his article Exploitation and Sweatshop Labor “The most common understanding of exploitation in the literature on sweatshops interprets exploitation as taking unfair advantage of workers” (Snyder, 1991). The rights of these workers are exploited for economic advancement from both structural and organizational perspectives. The organizational aspect of the exploitation is tied into the market power received by the organizations that exploit these individuals in order to increase profit margin. The structural aspect pertains to exactly where these sweatshops are located; production warehouses employ large groups of individuals concentrated in certain societies or communities in order to maximize production. The cheap labor provided for businesses through the use of sweatshops is nothing more than a loophole in order to save the companies’ money. It is a complete disregard for human rights, yet people continue to selfishly turn the other cheek on this issue.
Violation of Workers’ Rights
According to Sweatshops and Third World Living Standards: Are the Jobs Worth the Sweat; Bangladesh workers are bringing in roughly $0.13 an hour, the next lowest is Vietnam at $0.26, followed by China at $0.44 (Powell & Sharbek, 2004). Here are some of the lowest wages in the world, all found in sweatshops:
These numbers are well below the minimum wage; the minimum wage required for compensation of work is determined based on the economies output divided by the number of working and non-working people. In fact it is often argued that the minimum wage determined in the U.S isn’t enough for most individuals to survive independently on, especially single parents. In addition to that, sweatshops fail to pay their workers on time for their labor if they pay them at all. Cheap labor is just one of the violating aspects of human rights that takes place in sweatshops.
Along with not being properly compensated for the amount of labor the workers produce they also work long excruciating hours. Some workers may work anywhere from eighteen to twenty hour shifts consecutively under hazardous conditions, without breaks for food or water. They work extremely long hours in order to make a wage that isn’t sufficient enough to live on. “Workers work long hours in which they aren’t compensated for, under unsafe living conditions, and women are often sexually harassed”, there isn’t a single characteristic of a sweatshop that is safe or complies with labor laws and regulations. (Snyder, 1991)
Women and children often make up majority of these sweatshop employees; it’s hard to imagine an adult working sixteen hours under unsafe conditions but sweatshop managers don’t treat these children any differently, nor do they show any sympathy. Women are often sexually assaulted, abused, not paid for their labor, and in many instances stripped of their employee status and forced into servitude. “Lured by recruiters who promise wonderful opportunities in foreign lands, young women often pay thousands of dollars in recruitment and contract”; after being taken advantage of these women end up working for low wages in order to pay back these huge debts, consequently they become property until they can escape or pay off all the debt, both are highly unlikely (Snyder 1991). Women are treated as if they aren’t human beings, for example: “In some Indonesian sweatshops, women were forced to take down their pants and reveal to factory doctors that they were menstruating in order to claim their legal right to menstrual-leave” (Morey, 2000).
When discussing the cheap labor industry third world countries often come to mind but these same things occur right here in the U.S, ” The Department of Labor indicates that 50% of garment factories in the U.S. violate two or more basic labor laws, establishing them as sweatshops”; sweatshops exist when individuals who cant stand up for themselves have their rights taken advantage of (Morey 2000).
Not many people are aware of just how many of our every day items are produced by cheap labor. If one were to take a look around their home they’d be astonished by just how many objects come from sweatshops; there are factories for clothing, technology, furniture and other items that you would never expect.
Nike is what comes to mind first when the topic of sweatshop labor is at hand; mainly due to their being accused of producing their shoes and shoes under the air Jordan line in China. Nike claims that all of their factories employees compensation complies with the U.S labor laws and any individual who is interested is welcome to visit any Nike manufacturing shop, however this has yet to happen and their has been no footage released of their factories. Nike doesn’t own any of its accused sweatshop factories, they pay factory owners and those owners are responsible for paying the workers their wages, not Nike. Many say this is just a loophole to escape labor laws in order save money. When the founder of Nike Phil Knight was asked, “why doesn’t Nike start its own factories in the U.S” he replied: “ I honestly believe that U.S citizens don’t want to make shoes, they don’t want to do that job” (Jilani, 2011). It’s quite obvious that Nike isn’t interested in the people, Phil Knight and he collogues are strictly focused on maximizing the companies net income, even if that means sacrificing the rights of workers and passing up the opportunity to produce more jobs right here in the U.S. however Nike is the only familiar household name that has suffered from sweatshop accusations.
Six years later technologies peoples champion Apple still carries the negative stigma from its labor law violations in its sub-contracted factories. “More than half of the audits revealed problems, including employees regularly working more than 60 hours a week, underage workers, falsified records, wages below minimum levels, pay withheld as punishment and improper disposal of hazardous waste” (Walters, 2012). The wages and long hours was the least of Apples worries; workers were suffering from severely swollen legs to the point where they could barely walk, being exposed to poisonous chemicals & factory explosions, some were even killed do to these conditions (Walters, 2012). Although Apple received much criticism for producing it’s products in sweatshops under these conditions somehow over the past six years they have managed to become the leader in technology, outselling all competitors. Apple’s ITunes is also the largest music retailor in the U.S, followed by Wal-Mart whom is also been accused . This goes to show that this subject isn’t taken serious enough; if so the purchase of Apple products would have drastically decreased. Here is a chart of Apple’s yearly earnings since the unveiling of their sweatshop production (Powell, 2011):
If people continue to show that they aren’t concerned with how the products they purchase are produced then companies will continue to manufacture their products by these inhumane means. It’s almost as if these companies need to be taught a lesson, show them that cheap labor is unacceptable by not purchasing their goods and they will change their methods. There is no reason why Apple should have flourished in such a way after being exposed for its production methods.
Sweatshops Effect On the Economy
Some Economists feel that without sweatshops many of these workers who are now employed in third world countries would be without work and consequently be worse off then they are working for low wages; “We find that most sweatshop jobs provide an above average standard of living for their workers” (Powell & Sharbek, 2004). Hypothetically speaking, if one were to assume that this is correct and the standard of living is above average this still doesn’t justify the treatment and conditions these workers endure. Just because an individual has no other choice doesn’t give anyone free reign to destroy all regard for their rights. Cambodia for example has nothing to offer economically, so sweatshops are one of the only choices for many of it’s natives; this wouldn’t be a problem if workers rights were respected and at least received a reasonable wage for the amount of work produced. This would be a great solution to the problem, without ruining company’s production, without violating workers rights, and without disrupting the economy whatsoever.
Possible Solutions to the Issue
When it comes to the task of stopping sweatshops, cheap labor, and exploitation there are two major methods that can be taken. The first and the most unlikely method to succeed is to place the responsibility on the third world countries economy; second would be for people to refuse to purchase goods or products that have anything to do with sweatshop labor. “Take the attention off of the low-wage assembly jobs and focus on higher valued jobs and comparative advantages” (Farrell & Paron, 2005); this is a great proposition but we have to take into consideration the likelihood of this happening. We can’t expect third world countries to completely diminish their basic means of employment because it is unrighteous or violates rights. This is why many economists say that sweatshops provide a better income and living to many individuals who otherwise would be unemployed; however there is an alternative method that poses a huge threat to the sweatshop industry.
People can perform a number of actions in order to ensure companies start to produce their products the correct way. The first step is for people to demand sweatshop free products where they shop or not to shop there at all. People can also by union made and second hand products, as well as purchasing fair trade products. The next step is to spread the word and encourage others to do the same until cheap labor is non existent, this wont happen over night but it will show companies that the stigma that comes with producing their products in a sweatshop can ruin business.
Although over the past decade the use of sweatshop labor by many popular companies has been brought to the light, there has been no action taken by government, nor have people taken it upon themselves to boycott these companies. The excruciating circumstances these individuals work under are hard to stomach yet people continue to turn the cheek on the issue. Stopping this ridiculous treatment won’t be easy, but it can be done if people start to take action but caring is where it must start!
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