When many of us think of sweatshops, we envision places far, far away accompanied with horrible images of underage children and fragile women locked in huge, dreary factories with no windows, sitting at sewing machines for an ungodly amount of time. But what if we told you that these places aren’t so far away and right here in the United States?
The garment industry is one of the largest manufacturing employers in Los Angeles, employing more than 45,000 workers. Most of these workers are Latina immigrant mothers whose constant struggle to access and pay for child care leaves them hanging by a thread. – excerpt from www.garmentworkercenter.org
The definition of the word sweatshop is “a factory or workshop, especially in the clothing industry, where manual workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under poor conditions.” Places in California, New York and Texas have all been accused of running sweatshops, all so that American consumers can pride themselves in a tag that reads “Made in the U.S.A.” That tag, to the American consumer, means fair pay, health benefits and great working conditions. But often times, that’s not the case at all.
Sweatshops have been around as early as the 19th century and they quickly became prevalent in the 60s and 70s with the influx of illegal aliens entering the U.S. This influx made it easy for factories to underpay and overwork their immigrant employees because they knew those people could not and would not complain about the working conditions they had to encounter on a daily basis. Many workers faced and still face below par working conditions such as nose and eye issues from irritation caused by the chemicals they are forced to inhale. They are also often have no clean drinking water at work, lack breaks during the work day, deal with rodents in the workspace and the worst of all – endure physical and verbal abuse by their employers. According to the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, the average minimum wage in America as of 2016 is $7.00 USD, while the average sweatshop worker is making $1.90 USD. How does a billion dollar industry get away with allowing their workers to suffer in these conditions with bare minimum pay?
In recent years, it has become more evident to the U.S. consumer that something in the American clothing industry is just not right. In 2012, the fashion house Alexander Wang was hit with a $50 million dollar lawsuit by Wenyu Lu. Lu recalled working more than a day with no stops and overtime compensation was non-existent in a factory with no ventilation. After making his concerns known, he was fired. He and some of his co-workers filed for workers’ compensation. At the time of the lawsuit, it shook the fashion world to its core. The thought of a sweatshop in the heart of New York was unimaginable for people, especially the consumers who purchased Wang’s trends. An Alexander Wang t-shirt can run you into the hundreds of dollars, but to know the person who made that same shirt is living well below the poverty line and is underpaid and overworked is a sad case of affairs.
In 2014, some of our other favorite brands were accused of employing sweatshops to pump out our must-have fashions. These retailers included H&M, NIKE, Walmart, The Gap, La Senza, Victoria’s Secret, Disney, Sears, Joe Fresh and Marks and Spencer. Most, if not all, of these are very well known. It makes you think… every time we hold a new piece of merchandise in our hand, who were the hands that made it and how are they treated? Was the person who made this underage? What were their working conditions like?
So before you walk into your favorite store again and purchase an item, do your research. Educate yourself before you hand them your hard-earned money and see if they are fit to even shop with. Of course, you want to look amazing, but not at the expense of such suffering of others.
Written By: Crystal Stoute of HerNameisCrystal.com