Buyers Beware: Sweatshops Sweep Fashion Industry

Juliet Miller and Margaret Ross, Staff Writer

Think about your favorite Abercrombie sweater, the classic Quiksilver t-shirt , fuzzy North Face fleece, or your cutest Forever 21 dress. Where did they come from? Who labored over the precise stitches on your high-top Converse? Who fastened the buttons onto those Nordstrom jeans?

If you aren’t asking yourself these questions when you take a trip to the mall, especially if you’re buying from any of those brands, you may be wearing clothing made unethically in sweatshops.

A sweatshop is any work environment considered unacceptably difficult or dangerous. Sweatshop workers often suffer from long hours and low pay, despite laws meant to prevent that. Sweatshops are often accused of violating child labor laws, abusing and endangering employees, and neglecting to obey employment and factory laws. We can’t sit back and let these voiceless people suffer. It’s our obligation to be more conscious consumers.

Human rights, unlike sweatshops, are necessary for the development of successful international growth. Students should inform themselves about the ethical choices made by companies, in order to be more aware.

Many workers are paid as little as 50 cents per hour, and even less if they make mistakes. These underpaid employees also suffer from respiratory illnesses from inhaling toxic chemicals. In factories with hazardous equipment, few precautions are taken to ensure worker safety. Many workers have been seriously injured, even lost fingers, to unmonitored equipment.

Human-rights activists have campaigned against various large companies to give employees more rights. Though many workers look forward to new improvements at their factory, some believe it could deter foreign investors. The priority for most laborers is a stable income, and nearly all people will do whatever they need to, to provide for their families.

Many companies have been sued for manufacturing products in unethical conditions, including a major lawsuit in 2002 against nearly 60 companies, including Abercrombie & Fitch and Target. The case was settled with a payment of $20 million to the victimized employees, and then pushed under the table.
In 2011, workers at a Converse factory in Indonesia claimed that supervisors had abused employees by throwing shoes, and hitting them. Nike, the owner of Converse, admitted that this was true, but inevitable. Though these large international companies are not anywhere near offering ideal workplaces, many employees say they would be back in the slums without the job.

In order to fully understand where your products come from, download the Free2Work app, which allows users to scan a barcode and instantly view information about the brand’s human rights efforts. Students can use the information from the app to learn about a company’s specific production practices, and decide for themselves if they are willing to support a manufacturer. This is our opportunity to stop human rights abuses.
With the information from Free2Work, we should stop supporting these big name companies. These manufacturers are sending thousands of innocent and impoverished people to work in immoral conditions.

“The Free2Work Australian Fashion Report has recently graded popular international clothing brands on their ability to track suppliers through their supply chain and prevent forced labor and trafficking. For example, Forever 21 received a D-,” Not for Sale Social Impact Fellow Ana Yglesias said.
Not For Sale is a non-profit that fights modern-day slavery around the world. It creates enterprise opportunities for communities at risk of human trafficking. Not For Sale offers social services to people in these areas. This incredible non-profit also offers resources for companies looking to improve their supply chains.

“The larger and more complex the supply chain, the higher the risk of child and forced labor. Consumer electronics, for example, (cell phones, laptops, etc.) are incredibly complicated, as they have many different parts from different sources,” Yglesias said.
Although the data on these conditions is concealed, it is our duty to be cautious of human rights whenever we can. To improve your understanding, download the Free2Work app to find links to helpful information. Use this resource to help fight human rights abuses, and stop supporting sweatshops.
As buyers, we are compelled to act and prevent immoral manufacturing. Informed consumers can play a major role in hindering this inhumane system. This is our opportunity to make a difference on a crucial issue.