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Plight Of Sweatshop Workers Essay Research Paper

Plight Of Sweatshop Workers Essay, Research Paper

?Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of

employment, to just and favourable conditions of work. . .Everyone

has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and

well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing,

housing and medical care and necessary social service.? These are

excerpts from the Declaration of Human Rights. Written over 50 years

ago, the Declaration was created to give, ?inherent dignity

and. . .equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human

family.? The Declaration gave hope to many people across the globe

who were living in tyranny and oppression, hoping for equality and

fair treatment. Unfortunately for some, this document turned out to

be merely one of false hope and lies. The people I speak of are our

fellow human beings working under slave-like conditions in

sweatshops. To them, the aforementioned promises are just a myth,

something they can only dream about. As the aforementioned articles

state, all human beings are guaranteed fair pay and working. Are not

those sweat shop workers human beings? Of course they are human

beings! Sadly, they?re not treated like it. They?re forced to work

and incredible number of hours, under hazardous conditions and at

ridiculously low wages. Don?t they deserve the rights the Declaration

mentions? Of course they do! This is the exact reason that such

treatment can?t continue. Something must be done.

Although proponents of sweatshops say that consumer demand

for the lowest prices controls worker wages and conditions, they are

just fooling themselves. If they want to talk about it economically,

cheap labor actually debilitates the economy by driving wages down

and forcing the lack of money which can only lead to a recession. In

addition, workers who are paid less, are in turn less motivated to

work. 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 cheaper

workers someplace else, so fragile societies get disrupted. Human

rights groups need to inspect these factories, so we won’t have world

trade built on child labor, sweatshop wages and burning down rain

forests. This short-term exploitation is just not sustainable.

(Henderson 1)

So, taking this into account, one can see the flaws in the

oppositions argument that demand for low prices controls worker

wages. Not only is there a problem in the oppositions excuses, but

there are also problems with worker wages that need to be faced and

dealt with.

As everyone knows, we live in a capitalistic society in which

everyone tries to get ahead and make the most profit they can.

Manufacturers are no different, they too are capitalists trying to

maximize profit as best they can. But there still must a point where

a line must be drawn. At this point, the manufacturer must realize

that workers are human beings and that their well being is worth more

than any profit. In most cases, clothing manufacturers hire

contractors to make their clothes. These contractors can range from

expensive to cheap. Most often, the expensive ones are those

contractors who do the job themselves, legally. The other ones are

the contractors who charge low prices because they, in turn, contract

out low wage sweatshops. Not only does this profit the manufacturer,

but it also makes the contractor more appealing to other

manufacturers. So in most cases, sweatshops come about because of

capitalistic greed. Because of this, sweatshop workers live in

poverty and can barely, if at all, make enough to provide for

themselves and their family. Although the situation is bad in the

United States, it?s much worse in other parts around the world. In a

report entitled ?How Do You Survive On 31 cents-an-Hour Wages??

published by the National Labor Council, a study was conducted on

wages and living expenses for workers in sweatshops in Nicaragua.

They found a pay stub, ?from the NICSEDA factory (which the workers

told us produces Polo Ralph Lauren) shows the hourly wages to be 2.08

Cordobas or 0.21 cents.? Furthermore, the average pay for a worker

who put in a 56 hour week was $17.31. In addition, the report stated

that the base wage for these workers was 10 cents an hour, which

translated 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 those

wages. The report left off by informing that these Nicaraguan

workers were tired of their ridiculously low wages so in protest they

were going to try to start a union. Their demands were a raise to 88

cents an hour. This translates to $2,196, 48 per year. As one can

see, these demands were not very high. Perhaps the only way they?ll

get it is by, as they started doing, forming a union. Unionization

is a very important factor in workers winning some rights.

Unfortunately, in some cases factory leaders just simply shut down

the unionized factories and open up new ones where the unions are no

longer in tact. In an article by the Clean Clothes Campaign, a story

was reported about a woman who wished only to be called by her first

name, Maria. She was a single mother who worked in a sweatshop. In

January of this year, Maria was forced to switch contractors due to

the fact that her old factory was shut down beacause the workers

started 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 an

ultimatem: break up your union or the plant will be shut down and

you?ll have nowhere to work. Simply wanting to be treated faily, the

workers didn?t budge. In response, the owner closed the plant and

relocated. As the report states, at her new job, which wasn?t

unionized, Maria earned only $20 for a 44 hour week. This was less

than half of what she earned at her old job, which was at the

standard wage for a single mother. Even when she tried to work 55

hours of week, she still didn?t have enough to provide for her and

her child (?Leader? 1). This is typical of sweatshop wages.

Sweatshop workers all around the world are facing the same situation

as Maria. They work as much as their bodies will allow and yet it is

still not enough to provide for their families. While wages are one

obstacle facing the sweatshop worker, there are still several other

issues that must be addressed.

One of the biggest problems facing sweatshop workers is the

conditions under which they must work. Sweatshops vary in their

conditions. One thing is certain though, on a scale the best

conditions start at bad and the worst are judged as terrible. There

is no bright spot to the scale. But according to the definition, (a

workplace where workers are exploited in their wages or benefits and

are subject to poor working conditions), the conditions are, by most

accounts, hazardous and unsanitary. Typical conditions include

sweltering heat and crowded working environments. In addition, in

some cases there are not many fire escapes, water fountains,

restrooms and other which are necessary to building codes. To avoid

making any generalizations I will give you several examples of places

where conditions are in desperate need of improvement. Olivia Given,

a reporter of the Feminist Organization, spent the summer of 1997

researching sweatshops. Given even went so far as to actually work

there as part of her research. Of the conditions she said,

Our guides told us about the hours they had worked in sweatshops: 7

days a week, from 7AM to 10PM each day, with a half hour for lunch

and one 10 minute afternoon break. . .Our guides said that during the

week each room would be filled to capacity. There was no air

conditioning. Open windows allowed the stale air in the workrooms and

narrow halls to circulate and even let in a fresh breeze every once

in a while. . . None of the workers would speak unless spoken to.

Punishments for speaking during working hours, one of our guides told

us, could range from physical punishment to firing. . . we

distributed leaflets about workers’ rights on street corners all over

the garment district, one worker refused to take a flyer, pointing

out that his boss was watching from a few feet away. (2)

Conditions such as these are terribly unfair. Not only is

the worker forced to bear through hazardous conditions,such as the

heat and the intimidation of losing their job, but when Given tried

to hand out leaflets informing the workers of their rights, the fear

of the boss made them wary. On top of all of that, the conditions

they work in are so bad that they can be sometimes deadly. Perhaps

the most well known case of sweat shop fatalities occurred on March

26, 1911 in New York. This is the infamous Triangle Fired. A fire

was sparked in this building but conditions didn?t allow fire escapes

so many workers, 141 to be exact, either burned or leaped to their

death. If there had been proper fire escapes then many more could

have survived. In addition, all the doors of the building opened

only from the outside, that is, they opened inward. With these

doors, no one was able to escape. This lapse in architectural

judgement turned out to be a fatal one. Taking all these facts into

account, raises one question: What is being done to help the workers?

We as individuals can give a hand and put an end to current

sweatshop working conditions. One of the most widespread actions

being taken to protest sweatshops is a boycott. Many organizations

such as NCL, Corporate Watch and The Bangor Clean Clothes Campaign

are urging consumers not to buy products from clothing manufacturers

such as Nike, Wal-Mart, Guess, and The Gap. According to a member,

Dan Wisons, ?These are the worst offenders. They make billions of

dollars a year at the hands of people whom they treat like dirt.

(?Industry Leader? 3).? You too can join the campaign and take a

step toward ending sweatshops. Another thing individuals can do is

to write to companies in protest. You can send a letter or email the

aforementioned companies and voice your opinion about their means of

labor. In addition, college students are also pulling together to

end sweatshops. The United Students Against Sweatshops is an

international student movement that involves individual students from

campuses all over America and Canada fighting for sweatshop free

labor conditions and workers’ rights. The USAS believe that

university standards should be in line with its students. The

students demand that clothing having the school?s logo should be made

in places where decent working conditions exist. In an article

describing their cause, entitled ?About us,? the USAS also goes on to

say, ?Ultimately, we are using our power as students to affect the

larger industry that thrives on sweatshops (1).? Furthermore, other

organizations are also lending a hand to help the cause to end

sweatshop conditions. One organization, UNITE, is helping workers

form unions to get the fair labor conditions they deserve. Making

their own union, UNITE already has over 500 members who are fighting

for better wages, decent conditions and other rights. Other action

that is being taken to combat the injustice, is at a government

level. Last year Governor Gray Davis signed into law Assembly Bill

633. The purpose of this bill was to crack down on sweatshop abuses

in California. This bill imposed a ?wage guarantee? which provided

workers minimum wage and overtime, it also, ?Establishes successor

employer liability so that garment factories cannot shut down and

reopen under a different name to avoid paying the wages of its former

employees (?USA? 2).? Lastly, it allows garment workers employed by

non registered contractors to take them to court over lost wages,

damages and penalties.

When one considers the injustice the sweatshop worker deals

with at the hands of corporate America, one cannot wonder how such

actions are allowed. Where is the Declaration of Human Rights? This

document declares rights to all humans. But somehow sweatshop

workers are overlooked? They are human beings too. Something must

be done to end this parade of abuse. Some action must be taken to

mend the wounds of the worker.

Works Cited

1. ?About Us.? United Students Against Sweatshops. 8, May 2000.


2. Green, Olivia. ?Inside A Sweatshop: An Eyewitness Account.? 24

March 2000,

3. Henderson, Hazel. ?Interview With An Economist.? Knowledge

Management Magazine. January 28, 2000. 25 March 2000.


4.?How Do You Survive On 31 Cents-an-Hour Wages?? National Labor

Council. 24 March 2000

5. ?Phillips-Van Heusen: An Industry ?Leader? Unveiled.? Clean

Clothes Campaign. 24 March 2000 .

6. ?USA: California Senate Passes Anti-Sweatshop Bill, Awaits

Govornor?s Signature? Corporate Watch September 9, 1999. March 24,

2000 .

7. ?What is UNITE doing?.? U.N.I.T.E. 8 May, 2000