Waterlily Essay, Research Paper
For many people, such as those in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, working in sweatshops is a common way of life. A sweatshop is a work place that has been given this slang name because of the work conditions inside the factory itself. Conditions are rumored to be hard, often involving long working hours and barley lit, small workstations. Often, sweatshops will entail utilizing women and young children to accomplish a majority of the work. Working in such places is not a choice for most, but is the only way to provide for their family, even if it means working up to sixty five hours a week.
Nike is just one of the many large corporations which are involved in using employees in sweatshops to fulfill their work needs. Nike owns sixteen Indonesian plants and employs more than 500,000 workers in Asia alone. Indonesian workers are paid close to $2.20 per day. Most of the workers, actually about 90% of them, are women. Many of them are either forced to work overtime or feel compelled to work extra hours in order to feed and house their families (Levy 1).
In an article entitled, “A Living Wage to End Sweatshops,” Charles Kernaghan states that Disney pays workers in China thirteen cents an hour. “Nobody can survive on this wage,” insists Kernaghan. Is their any end in sight to the 1.3 billion people in the world that live in starvation? Fluent only in their native Creole, the Haitian workers are unable to even read the labels on the garments which they are sewing. They have no idea for whom they are making clothing, nor do they know anything about the size of the corporations they are working for, their sales, or even their profits. In fact, less than half of the workers know about the company’s code of conduct which bans the use of forced or child labor, requires the payment of the minimum wage, and regulates hours, overtime, health, safety, and environmental matters. One example of this cruel treatment would be that the workers in Haiti are paid just six cents for every $19.99 Disney 101Dalmations outfit they sew, which means that their wages amount to just three-tenths of one percent of the sales. In fewer words, then, these workers are in the global economy without the knowledge or tools to defend themselves (Kernaghan 1-3).
Another question to consider is, “Does mistreatment go on in these sweatshops?” Verena Dobnik, an Associated Press writer, reported earlier this year that a manager at a Nike plant in Vietnam was convicted of beating workers with a shoe. Another Nike subcontractor was cited for making fifty-six Vietnamese female employees run laps as punishment for wearing non-regulation shoes. Twelve of them fell from exhaustion and had to be taken to a hospital (Dobnik 1).
A contradiction of this information can be found in “Shoe and Tell” by Andrew Young. In his report, Young contends that he found no evidence of widespread or systematic mistreatment of workers. Some Nike workers even receive some medical benefits and free meals. Young observed that the factories did not resemble sweatshops at all. In fact, “they were clean, organized, adequately ventilated, and well lit” (Young 1). If you visit Nike’s web site you will view photographs of modern, clean, and pleasant workplaces.
However, a third article entitled ” Nike Accused of Abusing Women in Vietnam,” stated that Vietnamese women worked for twenty cents an hour to make almost one million Nike shoes a month, suffering corporal punishment and sexual harassment. Supervisors are known to humiliate women, force them to kneel, or to stand in the hot sun, and even treating them as if they were recruits in a military boot camp. A Ho Chi Minh City factory had been suspended for abusing workers. It had been reported that during an eight-hour period, employees were allowed to go to the bathroom once and take only two drinks of water. Would you like to work there (Dobnik 1)?
Is sweatshop labor our “advanced” civilization’s contemporary form of slavery? Who are we to decide? If it is, how do those who are afflicted change the rules by which they work if they do not like them? That is a very good question. If they raise their voice to defend themselves, they are fired. Outside the factory are close to a thousand other desperately poor people ready to take any job that might become available. Aware of the terrible conditions within the factory, many consider that a job that pays close to nothing is better than no job at all (Kernaghan 2).
Yet another point to consider is “How do we help these people in need?” Well, due to an outrageous number of protests by human rights activists, Nike, Reebok, and others pledged a code of conduct. Maybe such actions are only the first steps toward ending international sweatshop abuses. However, it is good that Nike, Reebok, Liz Claiborne, Patagonia, and LL. Bean, are among some the corporations who participated in this “code of conduct” programming. To prevent the code from becoming merely a public relations device, manufacturers must agree to factory inspections carried out by truly independent groups, not just auditors hired by the companies. Second, violations must be announced publicly and quickly. This carries two beneficial effects: consumers will be reassured that the inspections are not a sham, and companies will be prodded to correct deficiencies without delay. Some critics, however, said the code would only lead to “kinder, gentler sweatshops.” Whatever the case is, under the new code are the elimination of child labor, a guarantee of pay at the minimum wage prevailing in the country of manufacture, a maximum sixty hour week, the end of abusive working conditions, and protection of workers’ right to organize. Unsettled as of yet are details of inspections and sanctions, which are critical to the success of the code. In exchange, companies will be able to emblazon merchandise with a “No Sweat” label. This will be a signal to the buyers that sweatshop labor was not used in its manufacture (Editor 1-2).
” ‘No sweat’ requires sweat equity,” written by an Examiner editorial writer, asserts that the new code will not solve all the world’s problems, nor should it be expected to do so. No realistic, economically sophisticated person should expect Nike or Reebok to pay workers far above their country’s prevailing wage, no matter how “just” that may seem to United States critics. What is more important is halting abuses such as those reported by the same U.S. critics. In the end, it comes down to this: any publicity surrounding the beating and mistreatment of workers is not good news for any corporation trying to present the “all-American” image (Editor 2).
Is it bad that these large corporations look for the cheapest place to get their work done? The multinationals want this to remain an open playing field where they roam the world in search of poverty to exploit – because ” naturally,” they explain, you will find the lowest wages where there is the greatest unemployment and misery. In countries such as Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras wages continue to decline. After eight hours of work, after deductions for transportation, meals at the plant, and other work related expenses, a worker will go home with forty-three cents in his or her pocket. The workers live in one-room shacks that lack running water, which they must purchase by the bucket for eight cents. On average, a family requires six buckets a day, which costs six cents more than they come home from work with. To prepare a basic meal of beans, rice, and bread for your family costs $2.89 – again more than your daily wage. Rent for the one room costs $5 a week. A can of powered milk that would last an infant one-week costs $3.08. Tuition for grammar school costs $7 a month. A child’s pair of shoes costs $2. If only companies such as Disney were to redirect the $181 million in stock options it gave CEO Michael Eisner in 1996 – the largest corporate grant in history – it could double the wages of all 19,000 assembly workers in Haiti for the next fourteen years. “Bottom line is this…the money is there, this is about greed (Kernaghan 3).” It is that greed, then, that will ultimately be the demise of human rights – the degradation of our race’s dignity must stop here.