Sweatshops Essay

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A sweatshop is a work place, often a factory, in which employees work long hours at low wages under pitiable conditions.  Despite the fact that sweatshops in effect disappeared after World War II as a result of increased government regulations and the rise of unions, they have resurfaced, and are gradually increasing in number all over the world. This is due, in large part, to

com/globalization-and-diversity-chapter-11/”>economic globalization.  Multinational corporations have been moving production facilities out of democratic, industrial nations into poor, developing countries so as to take advantage of cheap labor and to evade scrutiny from governments and human rights organizations. MNC’s are anxious with the production of goods for world markets at lowest possible costs so as to take advantage of profit.  Regrettably, the abuse of workers is universally a consequence of this global “development”.  Surprisingly, sweatshops are not limited to poor and developing nations.

  The Department of Labor points toward that 50% of garment factories in the U.S. abuse two or more basic labor laws, establishing them as sweatshops.  Sweatshops exist wherever there is an opportunity to take advantage of workers who lack the knowledge and resources to stand up for themselves. Usual sweatshop employees, ninety percent of whom are women, are young and uneducated.

  Many of them are recent or undocumented immigrants who are ignorant of their legal rights.  Women all over the world are subject to horrible working conditions and untold injustices since corporations, many of which are U.S.-owned, can get away with it.

Working Conditions in SweatshopsSweatshops violate women’s human rights all over the world.  Common abuses include low wages that fail to meet basic costs of living, inferior and unsafe working and living conditions, long hours of overtime for which employees are not rewarded, and sexual harassment.  Over and above these, women are often forced into indentured servitude.  Lured by recruiters who guarantee wonderful opportunities in foreign lands, women often pay thousands of dollars in recruitment and contract “fees”, tying themselves to contractual obligations that can last for years.  As their wages are often only $.

10 to $.20 per hour, the women may receive no wages for years as they try to pay off these debts.  If the women try to return home without fulfilling their contractual obligations, they are often blacklisted, fined, or arrested. Many women are not paid even without such debt. Sweatshops often fail to pay their employees on time, if in any way.

  The workers, who are often ignorant of their rights, have no choice but to continue to work for the reason that sweatshop managers threaten and punish them for defiance.Many of these factories, in addition to the women’s living quarters, are full, filthy, and rat-infested. They are located behind barbed wire fences that are monitored by armed guards.  Not only are the women not allowed to come and go freely, but also they are forbidden to have visitors.  Thus, they are not given the opportunity to express their grievances to anyone who may be in a position to help them.

  Moreover, the women are always under the threat of physical punishment.  The women are verbally abused, spat on, and beaten.  They are not allowed to take breaks or go to the bathroom during their shifts, and are fined if they do so.  “In some sweatshops, women were forced to reveal to factory doctors that they were menstruating so as to claim their legal right to menstrual-leave.

” (Morey, 2001).  Female sweatshop employees are forced to bear many instances of harassment.  Furthermore, managers often make false promises for better jobs in return for favors.  In a Samoan apparel plant, the factory owner usually entered the women’s’ barracks to watch them shower and dress (Greenhouse, 2001).   A 20/20 investigation in Saipan sweatshops discovered that employees were forced to have abortions in order to keep their jobs (20/20 Special Investigation, 2000).

   These women are often faced with little if any choices. They are barred from unionizing, and face the loss of their job, physical abuse, or deportation if they try to better their situation.Sweatshops are not restricted to factories.  Agricultural workers are cause to undergo poor working conditions, low wages, and detrimental working environments.  Women make up a large portion of field workers.

They are exposed to toxic pesticides and tough working conditions that lead to a number of health problems (Co-op America Site, 2001).  Like factory sweatshop workers, they are not given adequate healthcare, if any, and are barred from unionizing.In Central and South America there are a number of sweatshops, which violate workers’ rights, particularly those of immigrants.  Many Central American countries lack basic labor protections like anti-discrimination laws or the right to organize, and workers regularly face exploitation, abuse and hazardous working environments. In Guatemala and El Salvador, attacks on, and even the murder of, union members are well documented (Herbst, 2005).In June of 2000, in Buenos Aires, authorities discovered forty Bolivian girls working in slavery-like conditions in a secret textile factory.

  It was discovered that they were forced to work up to 19 hours a day, were poorly fed, and often beaten (Valente, 2000).  A Bolivian immigrant owned the sweatshop. In Tehuacan, Mexico, workers are paid so little that they are forced to send their children to work in garment factories rather than school (The Global Exchange Site, 2001).  Guatemalan coffee growers, working on Starbuck’s plantations, are paid poverty prices for their toil.

Sweatshops vis-à-vis the New Global EconomyThe recent proliferation of sweatshops is inextricably linked to globalization. The signature characteristic of the new global economy is the better mobility and flexibility given to finance capital.  Corporations now have more freedom than ever before to move to whatever countries will provide the lowest wages and the loosest regulations, lowering their costs to increase their profits.  The textile and apparel industry has taken advantage of this new dynamic like few others.If sweatshops have become a symbol for globalization’s excesses, that’s for the reason for instance that garment factories are, in reality, the shock troops of the global economy.

  One can thus visit a country that just recently opened itself up to foreign investment, and will likely to find a multitude of garment factories, even if there are very few other multinational enterprises located there. They have attracted scores of garment manufacturers but very little else in the way of foreign investment.  Low tech, strongly dependent on cheap labor, clothing manufacturing is the crest of the corporate globalization wave.Separate forces meet in a shameful mix: A footloose industry searches the world for the cheapest wages; countries eager for any kind of investment auction off their workers to the lowest bidder; government regulators purposely look the other way when abuses take place so as to keep foreign investors happy.  It’s this combination of frantic profit seeking and equally anxious investment pursuit, which has created the race-to-the-bottom that, is at the root of the sweatshop revival.

As the garment industry is so transportable retailers can shift sourcing from one country to another in a matter of a fashion season any country that raises its wages or enforces its workers’ rights risks “pricing itself out of the market.”  That risk is what keeps wages low as long as the retail corporations demand the cheapest price possible.Whenever a debate about corporate globalization and sweatshops arises, defenders of the status quo will almost always say: Sure a sweatshop is bad, however it gives people jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise. The truth is that what sweatshops provide are not employment opportunities for workers, other than exploitation opportunities for corporations.  Wages and working conditions in sweatshops are so pitiable that workers remain in poverty even while fully employed.According to the National Labor Committee, a worker in El Salvador earns about 24 cents for each NBA jersey made.

  These same jerseys then sell in the U.S. for $140 each. The 60 cents an hour the Salvadoran NBA workers earn covers only about a third of the cost of living, and even the Salvadoran government say this wage leaves a worker in “abject poverty.”  In poorer countries such as the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, the wages are even lower (National Labor Committee, 2001).

Supporters of corporate globalization claim that southern countries have a relative advantage at producing cheaper garments.  Moving factories south is more ‘efficient’ for the reason that workers are ‘willing’ to work for less.  What they’re really saying, however, is that taking advantage of the desperation of poorer workers and countries – paying workers less, making them work longer hours, and preventing unionization is more profitable for the corporations.Paul Krugman, in his article argues ‘sweatshops play an important role in improving the economic well being of workers in developing economies.  Sweatshop labor is a preferable alternative to lower-wage employment.

  Sweatshop industries offer higher wages than workers could receive elsewhere and create multiplier effects that stimulate the rest of the economy.’ (Krugman, 1997).On the other hand, rather than happily accepting sweatshop conditions, workers in countries around the world have sought to improve their situation by trying to organize unions.  Regrettably those efforts are almost always crushed.  Union organizers have been beaten, thrown in jail, blacklisted, and even killed.

   In some countries, such as Mexico, the government often cooperates with factory owners as they try to arrest organizing drives.  In a few countries with strong labor histories, such as Nicaragua, unions are tolerated, but not in the “free trade” zones where most sweatshops are located.  Of the 30,000 workers working in Nicaragua’s state-sponsored Free Trade Zone, only 3 percent are unionized.  In these manufacturing zones, workers are expected to leave their liberty at the factory gates.

By exploiting workers in sweatshops, corporations drive down working conditions for all workers and prevent countries from pursuing a real model of development that would improve opportunities for their citizens. When corporations pressure countries to keep wages low, take no notice of domestic labor laws, violate international environmental codes, arrest unions, and drive down working conditions globally, they are no longer taking advantage of poor working conditions they are creating and perpetuating them.Gourevitch argues ‘one of the most important issues in the anti-sweatshop movement has been the full public disclosure of the location of factory sights. Monitoring is not possible without this disclosure.  The effectiveness of the Fair Labor Association is limited by its willingness to allow companies to monitor themselves. The independent monitoring service provided by the Worker Rights Consortium is better able to illuminate abuses.

’ (Gourevitch, 2001).ConclusionSweatshops are not only a necessary evil of economic growth.  They do not essentially keep costs low for consumers and provide jobs where there would otherwise be none.  Sweatshops exist as a consequence of corporate greed, international trade policies that push indebted nations to take advantage of their own people, and the market’s demand for quick production, low costs, and high profits. Workers should not have to bear unsafe and unjust working conditions so that corporations and corrupt government officials can get rich. 

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