In instances where sweatshop workers receive some minimal pay, it is normally not enough to cover the cost of food, let alone living. For a generation now, buying better has been one of our most potent forms of protest. No, and it takes a lot more than not shopping at Forever 21 to change this messy system. Sweatshop workers frequently work very long hours under horrid conditions and sometimes live onsite, away from loved ones.
We got tired of moving the fire extinguisher every time an inspector came, so now we just have one at each height. This is the world that No Logo built. First, we wanted them to ban all the terrible things we read about in magazines. No more child labor, choked ventilation, abusive bosses, confiscated passports. Companies should apply U. Second, we wanted them to send inspectors to see if those commitments were being met.
And most companies did these things. That was the easy part. In reality, factory audits are primarily a paperwork exercise. Inspectors typically spend one day—two, tops—at each factory, mostly in the back office, checking time sheets for shift lengths, birth certificates for child labor, pay stubs for wages and overtime. Then the factories updated their fraud to get around the inspections. Auditors tell me of arriving at factories where the owners play a song over the loudspeakers as a signal to shuffle the child laborers out the back.
Nike was doing two kinds of audits, one mostly based on paperwork and the other incorporating the impressions of its staff after visiting factories. Partly in response to this dynamic, a lot of the big brands switched tactics, moving from wrist-slapping to worker-training. In , Nike set up a model factory in Sri Lanka and sent managers there from all over the world. Since any change in operations can make suppliers less productive at first, the company signed long-term agreements with factories, pledging to stick with them as they learned how to meet deadlines using better methods and safer equipment rather than longer shifts.
Between 8 and 10 percent of Mexican workers quit every year. In China, it was that high per month: They were training employees only to send them to other firms. Nike is Vietnam's biggest employer. In , 12 workers in a Nike factory were hospitalized after their manager made them run around in circles for not wearing the right shoes. The incident sparked worldwide protests.
Twenty-five years after the movement began, some large suppliers have formalized workforces, provide better health and safety practices and pay above the minimum wage.
The biggest names, after all, have the greatest incentive and the resources to defend their reputations. Chikako Oka, a lecturer at Royal Holloway University, found that reputation-conscious companies had 35 percent fewer working violations in their Cambodian factories than did generic brands. Which leads us to the first flaw with our existing model of anti-sweatshop advocacy. In the last 25 years, as the big brands were getting somewhat better at monitoring their supply chains, the entire global apparatus of manufacturing shifted underneath them.
Inside, nearly 1, garment workers were on deadline, scrambling to complete an order. When the bells started ringing, they asked if they could leave.
Their managers told them to go back to their machines. Five minutes later, the floor filled with black smoke; screams could be heard from below. The building had no sprinklers or fire escapes. Workers tried to flee down an internal staircase, but the exits were locked. Those on the lower floors were trapped by boxes of yarn and clothes that had already been completed. The fire eventually engulfed the building, killing at least people and injuring hundreds more.
Some broke their backs and legs jumping from the windows. Most of the workers inside the Tazreen garment factory were making clothing for Western brands: Dickies, Wal-Mart, Disney, all their logos showed up on labels pulled from the rubble. It was an example of how doing so has become impossible.
Inside the Tazreen garment factory after the fire. We buy more clothes now, move through trends faster. If a shirt is selling well, Wal-Mart orders its suppliers to make more. This flexibility means that factories have to compete on the number of clothing lines they can produce and how quickly they can switch from one to another. Chinese manufacturers that once made four products at a time now make Locke profiles a Honduran supplier that used to have around two months to prepare orders for Western brands—buy fabric, cut T-shirt shapes out of it, sew them together, send them to stores.
Now they get one week. And so, rather than manage a giant, respirating network of factories themselves, most of them have outsourced this coordination to megasuppliers: What is new, though, is how big the megasuppliers have become and how much of the sector they control. Yue Yuen, the Foxconn of footwear, makes one-fifth of all the shoes in the world. And so clothing companies have no ability or incentive to fix what they find. It's like finding out the results of a restaurant health inspection after you've already eaten your meal.
If brands discover what factories charge, they might work with them directly and keep the margin for themselves. Gale Raj-Reichert, a researcher at the University of Manchester who studies electronics supply chains, met a manufacturer in Malaysia who had no idea which company he was producing for.
He got his orders and delivered his goods exclusively through middlemen. After the Tazreen fire, NGO campaigns focused on how Wal-Mart was responsible for 60 percent of the clothing being produced there.
But Wal-Mart never actually placed an order with Tazreen. In fact, over a year before the fire, Wal-Mart inspected the factory and discovered that it was unsafe. By the time of the fire, it had banned its suppliers from using it.
Wal-Mart hired a megasupplier called Success Apparel to fill an order for shorts. Success hired another company, Simco, to carry out the work. Two other sub- or sub-sub-sub- contractors also placed Wal-Mart orders at Tazreen, also without telling the company.
It was the same with many of the other brands whose labels were found in Tazreen: Boycott the companies that use megasuppliers, maybe. Instead, companies that in-source production just become their own megasuppliers.
Subcontractors can still deceive auditors or farm out orders without telling Wal-Mart. And besides, going after the megasuppliers just moves the tired name-and-shame routine one layer down. As it grows, it is finding reasons to defend its public reputation—it is still the only company that has directly paid compensation to the victims of Tazreen. Now they—and we—are losing that power. The really atrocious violations, the ones most likely to proliferate, are in places where we have no influence at all.
For every tailor working in a factory, there are several employed in homes, workshops or backyards. Around 80 percent of the workers are informal — mostly migrants, some of them trafficked, hired and fired as orders are commissioned and completed, divvied out by brokers, paid a few cents for each piece of clothing they deliver.
The children get paid half as much as the adults. During her fieldwork, she found kids sitting on apartment floors, sewing and cutting, often under the supervision of their parents. Vignettes like these are usually invoked to condemn us for our own complicity in these wages, these workshops. India produces twice as much clothing for its own consumers as it does for us. Fifty-six percent of the clothing produced in China is for the Chinese market. Both of those numbers are only going to grow.
Garment exports from Bangladesh to other poor countries have grown by as much as 50 percent per year. It's difficult to know under what conditions your shirt was made, especially when it comes from halfway around the world. Of course, it's important to point out that while many sweatshops are neither owned nor operated by the big companies, it shouldn't excuse them from turning a blind eye to labour or human rights violations or acting accordingly.
As clients of such factories, these companies and we consumers have the greater power ultimately to pressure for safer and fairer working conditions: To help you make a more informed and ethical choice for a more equitable planet, here are seven fashion brands suspected of using sweatshops and unethical labor practices that need to work harder to clean up their act. Based in Sweden, this international clothing giant employs 68, people globally in 1, stores spread over 29 countries.
First, its New York City megastore was exposed for cutting up unsold merchandise -- like warm coats -- and dumping them in unmarked bags -- all in the middle of a frigid winter. The fire exits had been blocked and the fire extinguishing equipment non-functioning. With preppy, casual clothing targeted mainly at teens and young adults, this American fashion retailer has made headlines in recent years with its discriminatory hiring procedures, reports CBS News , its culturally-insensitive and controversial t-shirts accused of being sexist -- in addition to its less-than-humane labour practices.
Migrant workers were apparently misled to come to the U. A decade later, the water is still murky: With scores of stores worldwide, U. In the same year, The Telegraph details how a raid on a New Delhi factory found children as young as eight sewing clothes destined for Gap stores. As mentioned above, in , a Senate subcommittee hearing revealed that the Gap was contracting work out to Chinese and Korean-owned factories on the U. This loophole allowed the Gap to cut labour costs drastically while still producing clothes that are technically "Made in USA.
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Are your clothes made in sweatshops? If you’re wearing anything from Nike, adidas, Puma, Fila or even some of our well-loved Australian brands like Bonds or Just Jeans, then it’s highly likely your clothes were made in places that most people would describe as sweatshops.. Sign our petition and demand a living wage. What is a sweatshop? A sweatshop is a manufacturing facility where workers. Mar 22, · BANGKOK, Thailand — No one expects to find paradise inside a Cambodian sweatshop. But a new Human Rights Watch report reveals that conditions at the poor nation’s garment factories aren’t. Lists of Brands That Use Sweatshops by Anne Kinsey - Updated June 28, Sweatshops are part of the human labor trafficking problem, wherein people are compelled to work for little or no wages through the use of force, fraud or coercion.