Sweatshops and child labor: The price of fashion?


Tamari Ramishvili | Staff Writer

Back in December, media was flooded with stories about how the Kardashian family was endorsing and selling fashion products that were manufactured in foreign sweatshops. We were all shocked until the next news piece came out about a different celebrity, and sweatshops were once again shoved to the back of the concern list. Since I usually write about the newest fashion trend and what’s “in” and who’s doing what in the fashion world, I thought it’d only be fair to expose all aspects of the fashion industry- even the despicable practice of child labor and sweatshops. The fashion industry is one of the biggest offenders to this problem, with a long history of unfair labor practices in order for mass production at a cheaper price.

Although there seems to be a widespread belief that sweatshops are a thing of the past and they no longer exist in today’s world, nothing could be farther from the truth: evidence is being brought to attention daily which proves that sweatshops and child labor are in fact more active than ever before. The unfortunate trend of sweat shops and child labor is sweeping the US and other nations, and it’s up to us to become more aware and recognize that we can make a difference.

Sweatshops exploit their workers, most of whom are underage, by giving them extremely low wages and no benefits. They force them to work unrealistic shifts, such as 22 hours a day, seven days a week as in the case of Thai laborers that were imprisoned in El Monte, near Los Angeles last August. The Labor Department admitted that the workers earned $1.60 an hour. Also according to the Labor Department, more than half of the 22,000 garment contractors that exist in the United States, despite their policies that say otherwise, practice the abuse of human rights by paying their workers very little wage and forcing them to work in inhumane conditions.

Many big name companies and brands that we’re loyal to fall victim to these statistics. Popular brands were found guilty, such as Reebok, Nike, Victoria’s Secret, Forever21, Wal-Mart, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Guess, and Gap, to name a few. In October of 2007, Dan McDougall of The Observer, went to observe the Gap laborers in India and published an article that exposed Gap’s unethical practices and jeopardized its name.

McDougall talked with a worker, Amitosh, who was only 10 years old and had been working for a Gap contract in India. According to the UN, India has become the world capital for child labor, employing over 55 million children aged everywhere from 5 to 14. Amitosh was sold into bonded labor by his family and now works 16 hours per day, hand-sewing clothing for Gap.

“The men came looking for us in July. They had loudspeakers in the back of a car and told my parents that, if they sent me to work in the city, they won’t have to work in the farms. My father was paid a fee for me and I was brought down with 40 other children. I am working for free. The supervisor has told me because I am learning I don’t get paid. It has been like this for four months.”

The corridor in which Amitosh works with a dozen other children is smeared in filth and has a flooded toilet. Alongside of him works Jivaj who is 12 years old. Jivaj spoke to the Observer with tears streaming down his cheeks, “’Last week, we spent four days working from dawn until about one o’clock in the morning the following day. I was so tired I felt sick. If any of us cried we were hit with a rubber pipe. Some of the boys had oily cloths stuffed in our mouths as punishment.”

Amitosh and Jivaj are just two of the millions of children that are forced through similar situations, for just one company, in just India. Imagine the millions of other children in all of the other countries that are working for thousands of other companies, including the U.S.

The Department of Labor found that 90% of the sweatshops in the U.S. who employ workers violate health and safety standards, which include serious injuries that could lead to death. Today, the largest U.S. retailers are Wal-mart, Sears, and Target, which are responsible for two thirds of the U.S. Retail sales.

Here’s where we come in. As a consumer, we can do our best to get informed and spread awareness about these unfair practices. Being aware is the first step in combating the unfortunate practices of the fashion industry. If you would like to learn more about child labor and where your clothes come from, visit planetgreen.com and watch the video Blood Sweat & T-Shirts: Tracing Clothes to the Source.

Even though the industries are the ones responsible for the sweatshops and labor, we, too, play a role. We ignorantly and continuously purchase these items, and by doing so, end up supporting the practices. Today, there are too many alternatives to buying from stores which practice manufacture through child labor. We have the option to stop purchasing from them and buy our items elsewhere. We can buy from fair trade sources instead. Fair-trade clothing looks the same, has the same-if not better-quality, and treat their workers fairly.

Fashion-conscious.com is the one of the most stylish ways to ensure the rights of workers, with their items ranging from shoes to clothing to accessories. Bamboosa is a website for clothing made from bamboo. Their products include baby products as well as men’s and women’s products. Certified Jeans are jeans that are made from organic cotton in the U.S., under the US labor laws. Esperanza Threads is a company whose goal is to provide jobs with fair wages in a woman’s cooperative. And Greenlight Apparel is a social enterprise with the mission to free children from child labor and spread awareness of the child labor crisis. Search fair-trade fashion and your options are limitless!



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