Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A sweatshop is a factory, where people work for a very small wage, producing a variety of products such as clothes, toys, shoes, and other consumer goods. The term connotes a factory in which the workers are kept in a harsh environment with inadequate ventilation, and workers may sometimes be abused physically, mentally, or sexually, subjected to long hours, harsh or unsafe conditions, and the like. Sweatshops often fail to pay a living wage. Some companies have been found of using children in their subcontracting sweatshops. Some countries where sweatshops are found forbid the practice of trade unionization, making it difficult for employees to protest their treatment. Opponents of the anti-sweatshop mentality say that these "sweatshops" are actually an improvement over alternative avenues of employment available which may be more dangerous and laborious such as agriculture.
Corporations usually work through a process of subcontracting, meaning they don't own the sweatshops themselves but employ smaller organizations who own the sweatshops and produce the required goods. Some sweatshops are owned by the brand-name multinational corporation (e.g. Reebok), but most are either locally owned or owned by middle-level corporations that are often rooted in least developed countries like Bangladesh or Honduras.
In the current world manufacturing economy, many of these factories are located in the developing world-- particularly Asia, Latin America. However, sweatshops are not a new phenomenon. The United States and Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries saw sweatshops that offered low-skilled workers and new immigrants the opportunity to work. Labor organizing and new laws and regulations eventually forced employers to increase workplace safety and bring up wages. Some sweatshops persist in manufacturing enclaves in the United States and other developed countries -- for example, the garment manufacturing sector in New York and Los Angeles.
Sweatshop labour is a focus of the anti-globalization movement, which has accused many companies (such as the Walt Disney Company, The Gap, and Nike) of using sweatshops. The movement charges that the process of neoliberal globalization has made it difficult to stem corporate abuses of sweatshop workers. Furthermore, they argue that lower-wage production in other countries is responsible for a loss of jobs in first-world countries and that there tends to be a race to the bottom as multinationals leap from one low-wage country to another in a quest for the cheapest production costs.
Labor unions, such as the AFL-CIO, have helped support the anti-sweatshop movement both out of a genuine concern for the welfare of people in the developing world and out of self-interest. Since the labor costs of products produced overseas are often cheaper relative to products produced by American or European workers, unions worry about the cheaper products that potentially put their members out of work through plant closings and, carried to an extreme, the destruction of a domestic industry. For example, the American labor union UNITEHERE , which represents garment workers, has only approximately 3,000 garment workers remaining in its base.
Those who defend the practice of moving production to low-wage facilities overseas point to a lower standard of living as an explanation for the low wages, and argue that their operations benefit the community by providing needed jobs. They assert that it would be impossible to pay significantly higher wages without reducing profitability, thereby reducing incentive to exporting jobs to the third world. The defenders often like to point out, that the choice isn't between high-paid and low-paid work, but between low-paid work or unemployment. In response to voluntary efforts to raise wages in sweatshops such as the Fair Olympics movement, some people maintain that what some may consider to be sweatshops are actually a preferable mode than other alternatives available such as agriculture or prosititution. Thus, they say, buying products made in sweatshops is benefitting those in the world who need the money the most, and the boycotting these products creates unemployment. Some hold that even products manufactured as a result of child labor should not be boycotted. According to a UNICEF study an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 Nepalese children turned to prostitution after the U.S. banned that country's carpet exports in the 1990s. Also, after the Child Labor Deterence Act was introduced in the US as estimated 50,000 children were dimissed from their garment industry jobs in Bangladesh, leaving many to resort to jobs such as "stone-crushing, street hustling, and prostitution," --"all of them more hazardous and exploitatitive than garment production" according to the UNICEF study. 
Some companies have bowed to public pressure to reduce their dependence on sweatshop labour and have reduced or ended this practice in their operations. They often publicize the fact that their products are not made with sweatshop labour; a number of organizations publish lists of companies that pay their workers a living wage.
- SA8000 - Social Accountability Certification Scheme for Manufacturing Industry
- child labor
- Corporate abuse
- fair trade
- free trade
- Dependency theory
- http://www.nlcnet.org/, National Labor Committee
- http://www.sweatshops.org/, an anti-sweatshops information site
- http://www.sweatshopwatch.org/, another informational site
- http://www.aworldconnected.org/, resources and information on sweatshops
- http://papers.nber.org/papers/w9669, National Bureau for Economic Research paper: The Effects of Multinational Production on Wages and Working Conditions in Developing Countries
- http://home.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski/Sweatshops_essay_web.pdf, .pdf on the ethics of sweatshops
- http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/20000924mag-sweatshops.html New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
- http://www.fairolympics.org/ An initiative for "fairer" sports goods
- http://www.nosweatapparel.com/index.html, Sweatshop-free, union-made apparel
- "Foreign owned businesses in Vietnam aren't sweatshops" Article cites study that seems to contradict negative images of foreign-owned businesses in 3rd world
- Third World Workers Need Western Jobs - Article claiming that the sweathshop image is a myth
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