A sweatshop is considered an employer who violates more than one state or federal labor law that governs minimum wage and overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, worker’s compensation or industry regulation. They prevail both domestically in the U.S. and internationally. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 50% of sewing shops in the US are considered to be sweatshops. Most of the worker in sweatshops are usually young women and immigrant workers that are poor and thus have to work long hours. They earn as little as 1/2 to 1/4 of what they need to feed and shelter, including energy, clothing, education and transportation, for their families. (BusinessWeek) Some sweatshops don’t even allow workers to use the bathroom and force them to go through pregnancy tests and take birth control pills so that they don’t have to pay maternity leave costs.
The workers also have to tolerate verbal and physical abuse, since managers want them to complete their quotas each day. Women workers especially have to tolerate sexual abuse, which are common in sweatshops. Workplace injuries are also very common. These worker have to go thorough all of these just so they can earn their low wage. However, most of them don’t have any other option other than to work at these sweatshops, in these conditions. When these workers try to organize to defend their interests, their efforts are always suppressed by various forces, such as the police, managers, etc. As an example, workers in Mexico who are making jeans, have been forced to work all night shifts, and have been prevented from leaving the factory by armed security guards.
“I spend all day on my feet, working with hot vapor that usually burns my skin, and by the end of the day my arms and shoulders are in pain,” a Mexican worker told labor rights investigators. “We have to meet the quota of 1,000 pieces per day. That translates to more than a piece every minute. The quota is so high that we cannot even go to the bathroom or drink water or anything for the whole day.”
In the exhausting atmosphere of cost cutting by firms, work is given little value and thus workers are provided with little respect. Sweatshops can be viewed as production units than people who make them. (NYTimes) They suffer abuse and intimidation for their supervisors. Verbal abuse is the most common that these workers have to deal with. Workers also report that they have been harassed and persecuted by shop managers. These managers especially target those who they think aren’t working fast enough, and thus use shouting or yelling towards them. Physical abuse is also common. For example, workers at a factory in Mexico, who are making apparel for Nike have said that managers frequently hit and slap them, according to the Workers’ Rights Consortium. Most garment workers are young women who are in their teens and early twenties, who have left their homes so they can earn money to send back to their families. They have especially had to endure sexual abuse.
Nearly 75% of the retail price of a garment is profit for the retailer and manufacture. The garment industry in not the only scandalous industry for their involvement in sweatshops, but other industries include tires, auto parts, shoes, toys, computer parts, electronics, etc. Sweatshops exists in almost every country in the world, but are especially found in those where there are poor, desperate, exploitable workers. There seems to be a correlation between how poor a country is and how exploitable its people are, as they have no other option since they have to support their families. Also, to keep costs low, apparel shop owners normally pay workers based on how many units they make. The amount of money they get depends on the number of shirts, shoes, etc., they complete in their shift. (VeganPeace) Due to this, if they want to make enough money to support their families, then they have work hard and long, including longer then their shifts.
Exposure to toxic chemicals and workplace injuries also pose as a risk to apparel workers. In most of these sweatshop factories, these workers are not given masks to put over their noses and mouths, which expose them to tiny cloth fibers that could get stuck in their lungs. This is only one example of one type of industry and there are many more. In order to prevent these workers from stealing the items that they make, the factories sometimes have their doors and windows locked, creating a fire hazard.