Prevalent in developing countries sweatshops are factories where people work for small wages or for doing piecework. The goods that usually come out of a sweatshop are clothes (t-shirts), electronics, toys, shoes and other consumer goods. The word sweatshop is actually a pejorative term that connotes the condition of a factory or place where the employees are made to stay in harsh conditions. Sweatshops are commonly criticized for their use children in their sweatshops while others that forbid the practice of trade unionization. Many times employees in a sweatshop are kept in a harsh environment with inadequate ventilation and are sometimes physically and mentally abused, and subjected to long hours with unsafe conditions.
Where and why are there sweatshops?
To do this, they hire, recruit and pay garment workers to cut, sew and package the clothing at very low wages. In addition to low pay many manufacturers do not pay legal wages (if they even exist in some countries) or comply with safety laws, and thus they ‘sweat’ the profit out of their workers! Large retailers such as Walmart or even down the supply chain for clothing companies such as Nike contract their work out to manufacturers at the lowest bid and in turn insist that they are not directly connected with the employment of these people and not responsible for the wages and working condition of sweatshops because it is the manufacturers responsibility.
Stringent laws, high wage levels, and competitive markets in USA and other developed countries has influenced many companies in the garment industry to moved overseas or slightly below the border (in Mexico) for the manufacture of t-shirts and clothing in sweatshops. Sweatshops are prevalent throughout Central America, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Many countries in these areas do not have labor laws, health codes, or environmental restrictions (or they aren’t enforced) that maintain the safety of its workers. There have been many cases of children working in sweatshops to help their family obtain basic necessities. Because the children start working at such a young age and for very long hours they have little to no opportunities to get a formal education. The lack of environmental regulations also creates a much less expensive situation for clothing manufacturers. The result is expensive for the environment. Unfortunately a $2 t-shirt does not factor in the damages to families, communities, and their surrounding environment.
Alternatives to Sweatshop T-Shirts and Clothing
Fortunately there are alternatives to sweatshop t-shirts and clothing. Over the past few years growing concerns about the effects of sweatshops on local communities and the environment have pushed certain retailers, clothing and t-shirt manufacturers (with the help of consumers!) to produce products follow principles that are far less destructive than the sweatshop model. Many of these sweatshop-free products are currently marketed as Fair Trade or socially responsible products. While these socially responsible and Fair Trade t-shirts and clothing items aren’t completely mainstream but they can easily be purchased online through a variety of merchants. With Fair Trade, many of the manufacturers not only try to be more socially responsible but they also have been increasing the number of t-shirts made from organic cotton. Organic t-shirts made from socially responsible companies are the best option because its take into account not only people and communities but the surrounding environment. For your next t-shirt make sure to ask the retailer if it was made by a socially responsible company and hopefully made from organic cotton.
For years we have been hearing about how much of the clothing that we wear in the Western World is produced in sweat shops around the world in poor countries, where primarily women and children work for next to nothing in horrible conditions. For many people this issue has become a preoccupation in their lives. They have set about striving to shut down sweatshops and create fair working conditions for these workers, and to rally for children’s rights in order to make sure children are not used for such purposes.
The individual who is concerned with the how their T-shirts and other clothing are made can find out more information by doing some research. It is easy enough to decide how to shop ethically if you know that basically all clothing that comes from certain countries is made in sweatshops. By boycotting clothing made under unethical conditions you are refusing to support the owners of such factories in their continued abuse of the available labor in their area.
There are also a variety of companies that specialize in sweatshop free apparel and can be found be doing a simple Internet search. There are also specific brands that have been created which focus on fair trade or things that have been made with a living wage. Many organic lines are made under fair trade conditions.
Another way to ensure that the T-shirts and clothing you buy are made in an environment that treats their employees ethically is by buying only American and Canadian products. The clothing industry in these two countries are free of sweatshop conditions and prove to be good ethical choices for the things you wear. Therefore you can rest assured that you are shopping ethically when you see Made in the USA or Made in Canada.
If you are looking to build a brand new wardrobe of T-shirts that are all made in places that pay their employees a living wage and do not use child labor, a great place to start is with custom-made T-shirts. It is particularly easy to find organic cotton tees to have printed that are made under ethical conditions. When you have selected the tee you want in the style and color you desire you can have it customized to your taste. The choices of things to put on a T-shirt are endless.
You can educate others about shopping ethically by putting a one-liner on your T-shirt like one of the ones below.
• Where was your shirt made?
• Fair trade only
• Kids need fair trade
• A living wage is a family value
• Did a child make your shirt?
You can also put a symbol, a photo or a drawing on a T-shirt that speaks about fair trade. You can even put a paragraph of information if you want. It is the perfect way to spread awareness of the need for more people to buy with a social conscious.
Fair trade is one of the big causes of the decade, with everyone concerned about how trade is causing poverty in some nations. The prices that are paid in some countries for goods are far lower than they should be, thanks to workers in developing countries being paid too little. This creates an unfair environment where workers are not paid enough to live on, and wealthier people pay little for the things they need.
Fair trade also has to do with the environmental damage that can be caused in these cases. The production of some items is not only promoting a low standard of living for some workers, but it creates a bad physical environment in those countries. Promoting fair trade often takes both of these factors into account. Proponents of the practice want workers all over the world to have access to good wages, a clean environment and a decent standard of living. There is a fear that fair trade would make food prices rise and cause problems in the developed world. The practice may cause the prices of some items to rise, but what those higher prices buy is a better world for everyone.
Many of the biggest names in rock n’ roll promote fair trade on their clothing, including Chris Martin and Bono. Their t-shirt style has led to many others who feel this way representing that sentiment on their own t-shirts. Now you can personalize your own feelings about the fair trade issue. Fair trade t-shirts can simply say “Fair Trade” on the front, or they can have a slogan about the issue. Some t-shirts have a few sentences about how fair trade will benefit the world. Others have graphics that show how trade is hurting some countries. Flags of the affected countries are also a great way to show exactly who is benefiting and who is hurting from the current trade arrangements.
Fair trade shirts don’t have to be that serious, though. Some people choose to use humor to drive home their political message. Some fair trade shirts have funny pictures that they tie into the issue. Some use rhymes or other means of conveying the message softly.
Along with the words used, there are a number of ways to make people remember the message. Some people use a large, colorful picture of Africa or of Asia, both of which have been hit hard by unfair trade practices. These memorable shirts speak to people about the people who are deeply affected by the situation. To make the issue even more personal, it is possible to use a picture of a sweatshop, a specific environmental disaster area or another picture that shows the personal impact of the lack of fair trade. These put a real face on the issue and make it hard to ignore.
Another way to promote the issue is to promote products that have been fair trade certified. This certification is a way to help people find items that are not having a negative impact on the people who make them. That certification is perfect for a t-shirt, and it may educate a lot of people about socially responsible buying.