ice ofemployment, to just and favourable conditions of work. . .Everyonehas the right to a standard of living adequate for the health andwell-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing,housing and medical care and necessary social service.” These areexcerpts from the Declaration of Human Rights.
Written over 50 yearsago, the Declaration was created to give, “inherent dignityand. . .equal and inalienable rights of all members of the humanfamily.
” The Declaration gave hope to many people across the globewho were living in tyranny and oppression, hoping for equality andfair treatment. Unfortunately for some, this document turned out tobe merely one of false hope and lies. The people I speak of are ourfellow human beings working under slave-like conditions insweatshops. To them, the aforementioned promises are just a myth,something they can only dream about. As the aforementioned articlesstate, all human beings are guaranteed fair pay and working.
Are notthose sweat shop workers human beings? Of course they are humanbeings! Sadly, they’re not treated like it. They’re forced to workand incredible number of hours, under hazardous conditions and atridiculously low wages. Don’t they deserve the rights the Declarationmentions? Of course they do! This is the exact reason that suchtreatment can’t continue. Something must be done.Although proponents of sweatshops say that consumer demandfor the lowest prices controls worker wages and conditions, they arejust fooling themselves. If they want to talk about it economically,cheap labor actually debilitates the economy by driving wages downand forcing the lack of money which can only lead to a recession. Inaddition, workers who are paid less, are in turn less motivated towork.
In addition, as economist Hazel Henderson explains:Many international manufacturers are subsidized by sweatshop wages.Once they exploit cheap workers in one area, they find even cheaperworkers someplace else, so fragile societies get disrupted. Humanrights groups need to inspect these factories, so we won’t have worldtrade built on child labor, sweatshop wages and burning down rainforests. This short-term exploitation is just not sustainable.(Henderson 1)So, taking this into account, one can see the flaws in theoppositions argument that demand for low prices controls workerwages. Not only is there a problem in the oppositions excuses, butthere are also problems with worker wages that need to be faced anddealt with.As everyone knows, we live in a capitalistic society in whicheveryone tries to get ahead and make the most profit they can.Manufacturers are no different, they too are capitalists trying tomaximize profit as best they can.
But there still must a point wherea line must be drawn. At this point, the manufacturer must realizethat workers are human beings and that their well being is worth morethan any profit. In most cases, clothing manufacturers hirecontractors to make their clothes. These contractors can range fromexpensive to cheap. Most often, the expensive ones are thosecontractors who do the job themselves, legally. The other ones arethe contractors who charge low prices because they, in turn, contractout low wage sweatshops.
Not only does this profit the manufacturer,but it also makes the contractor more appealing to othermanufacturers. So in most cases, sweatshops come about because ofcapitalistic greed. Because of this, sweatshop workers live inpoverty and can barely, if at all, make enough to provide forthemselves and their family. Although the situation is bad in theUnited States, it’s much worse in other parts around the world. In areport entitled “How Do You Survive On 31 cents-an-Hour Wages?”published by the National Labor Council, a study was conducted onwages and living expenses for workers in sweatshops in Nicaragua.They found a pay stub, “from the NICSEDA factory (which the workerstold us produces Polo Ralph Lauren) shows the hourly wages to be 2.
08Cordobas or 0.21 cents.” Furthermore, the average pay for a workerwho put in a 56 hour week was $17.31. In addition, the report statedthat the base wage for these workers was 10 cents an hour, whichtranslated into $4.80 a week, $20.
90 a month and $249.60 per year!This is outrageous. There is no way a person can live off thosewages. The report left off by informing that these Nicaraguanworkers were tired of their ridiculously low wages so in protest theywere going to try to start a union. Their demands were a raise to 88cents an hour. This translates to $2,196, 48 per year. As one cansee, these demands were not very high.
Perhaps the only way they’llget it is by, as they started doing, forming a union. Unionizationis a very important factor in workers winning some rights.Unfortunately, in some cases factory leaders just simply shut downthe unionized factories and open up new ones where the unions are nolonger in tact. In an article by the Clean Clothes Campaign, a storywas reported about a woman who wished only to be called by her firstname, Maria.
She was a single mother who worked in a sweatshop. InJanuary of this year, Maria was forced to switch contractors due tothe fact that her old factory was shut down beacause the workersstarted forming unions. Because of the union, Maria was earning$1.50 per hour, which came out to $66 for a 44 hour week.Unfortunately, to combat the unions, the owner gave the workers anultimatem: break up your union or the plant will be shut down andyou’ll have nowhere to work. Simply wanting to be treated faily, theworkers didn’t budge.
In response, the owner closed the plant andrelocated. As the report states, at her new job, which wasn’tunionized, Maria earned only $20 for a 44 hour week. This was lessthan half of what she earned at her old job, which was at thestandard wage for a single mother. Even when she tried to work 55hours of week, she still didn’t have enough to provide for her andher child (“Leader” 1). This is typical of sweatshop wages.Sweatshop workers all around the world are facing the same situationas Maria. They work as much as their bodies will allow and yet it isstill not enough to provide for their families.
While wages are oneobstacle facing the sweatshop worker, there are still several otherissues that must be addressed.One of the biggest problems facing sweatshop workers is theconditions under which they must work. Sweatshops vary in theirconditions. One thing is certain though, on a scale the bestconditions start at bad and the worst are judged as terrible.
Thereis no bright spot to the scale. But according to the definition, (aworkplace where workers are exploited in their wages or benefits andare subject to poor working conditions), the conditions are, by mostaccounts, hazardous and unsanitary. Typical conditions includesweltering heat and crowded working environments. In addition, insome cases there are not many fire escapes, water fountains,restrooms and other which are necessary to building codes.
To avoidmaking any generalizations I will give you several examples of placeswhere conditions are in desperate need of improvement. Olivia Given,a reporter of the Feminist Organization, spent the summer of 1997researching sweatshops. Given even went so far as to actually workthere as part of her research. Of the conditions she said,Our guides told us about the hours they had worked in sweatshops: 7days a week, from 7AM to 10PM each day, with a half hour for lunchand one 10 minute afternoon break. . .
Our guides said that during theweek each room would be filled to capacity. There was no airconditioning. Open windows allowed the stale air in the workrooms andnarrow halls to circulate and even let in a fresh breeze every oncein a while. . . None of the workers would speak unless spoken to.Punishments for speaking during working hours, one of our guides toldus, could range from physical punishment to firing.
. . wedistributed leaflets about workers’ rights on street corners all overthe garment district, one worker refused to take a flyer, pointingout that his boss was watching from a few feet away.
(2)Conditions such as these are terribly unfair. Not only isthe worker forced to bear through hazardous conditions,such as theheat and the intimidation of losing their job, but when Given triedto hand out leaflets informing the workers of their rights, the fearof the boss made them wary. On top of all of that, the conditionsthey work in are so bad that they can be sometimes deadly. Perhapsthe most well known case of sweat shop fatalities occurred on March26, 1911 in New York. This is the infamous Triangle Fired.
A firewas sparked in this building but conditions didn’t allow fire escapesso many workers, 141 to be exact, either burned or leaped to theirdeath. If there had been proper fire escapes then many more couldhave survived. In addition, all the doors of the building openedonly from the outside, that is, they opened inward. With thesedoors, no one was able to escape. This lapse in architecturaljudgement turned out to be a fatal one. Taking all these facts intoaccount, raises one question: What is being done to help the workers?We as individuals can give a hand and put an end to currentsweatshop working conditions.
One of the most widespread actionsbeing taken to protest sweatshops is a boycott. Many organizationssuch as NCL, Corporate Watch and The Bangor Clean Clothes Campaignare urging consumers not to buy products from clothing manufacturerssuch as Nike, Wal-Mart, Guess, and The Gap. According to a member,Dan Wisons, “These are the worst offenders. They make billions ofdollars a year at the hands of people whom they treat like dirt.(“Industry Leader” 3).” You too can join the campaign and take astep toward ending sweatshops. Another thing individuals can do isto write to companies in protest. You can send a letter or email theaforementioned companies and voice your opinion about their means oflabor.
In addition, college students are also pulling together toend sweatshops. The United Students Against Sweatshops is aninternational student movement that involves individual students fromcampuses all over America and Canada fighting for sweatshop freelabor conditions and workers’ rights. The USAS believe thatuniversity standards should be in line with its students. Thestudents demand that clothing having the school’s logo should be madein places where decent working conditions exist. In an articledescribing their cause, entitled “About us,” the USAS also goes on tosay, “Ultimately, we are using our power as students to affect thelarger industry that thrives on sweatshops (1).
” Furthermore, otherorganizations are also lending a hand to help the cause to endsweatshop conditions. One organization, UNITE, is helping workersform unions to get the fair labor conditions they deserve. Makingtheir own union, UNITE already has over 500 members who are fightingfor better wages, decent conditions and other rights. Other actionthat is being taken to combat the injustice, is at a governmentlevel. Last year Governor Gray Davis signed into law Assembly Bill633. The purpose of this bill was to crack down on sweatshop abusesin California. This bill imposed a “wage guarantee” which providedworkers minimum wage and overtime, it also, “Establishes successoremployer liability so that garment factories cannot shut down andreopen under a different name to avoid paying the wages of its formeremployees (“USA” 2).” Lastly, it allows garment workers employed bynon registered contractors to take them to court over lost wages,damages and penalties.
When one considers the injustice the sweatshop worker dealswith at the hands of corporate America, one cannot wonder how suchactions are allowed. Where is the Declaration of Human Rights? Thisdocument declares rights to all humans. But somehow sweatshopworkers are overlooked? They are human beings too.
Something mustbe done to end this parade of abuse. Some action must be taken tomend the wounds of the worker.Works Cited1. “About Us.
” United Students Against Sweatshops. 8, May 2000..
2. Green, Olivia. “Inside A Sweatshop: An Eyewitness Account.” 24March 2000,3. Henderson, Hazel. “Interview With An Economist.” KnowledgeManagement Magazine.
January 28, 2000. 25 March [email protected]
4.“How Do You Survive On 31 Cents-an-Hour Wages?” National LaborCouncil. 24 March 20005. “Phillips-Van Heusen: An Industry ‘Leader’ Unveiled.
” CleanClothes Campaign. 24 March 2000.6. “USA: California Senate Passes Anti-Sweatshop Bill, AwaitsGovornor’s Signature” Corporate Watch September 9, 1999. March 24,2000.7. “What is UNITE doing?.
E. 8 May, 2000.