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The consumer goods we buy in our day to day lives have a lot of work and a big story to tell behind their making, but the story may not be so pleasing. Sweatshops commit an abundance of crimes that most of us are unaware of. There are five violence behind the sweatshops.
The restaurant, apparel, and meat-processing industries are believed to have the most serious and widespread problems with multiple violations. Forty of the 53 federal regional officials surveyed said that violations are a serious problem in their areas in at least one of these three industries. In the past 10 years, they believe the severity of violations in the restaurant, apparel, and meat- processing industries have either remained about the same or become more severe. Hispanics and Asians are the ethnic groups thought to be most heavily represented in establishments where multiple violations are a problem in these three industries, having the largest percentages of workers in sweatshops in those industries, according to those we surveyed.
Directors of state labor departments were asked whether various indus about Chronic Labor Law tries had a serious problem with establishments that regularly violated Violators (1) mainly wage/child labor laws, (2) mainly safety/health laws, or (3) both types of laws. Officials in 35 states cited some industry as having serious problems. Twenty-eight cited industries with mainly wage/hour or mainly safety/health problems, and seven identified industries where multiple labor law violations were a problem. As figure 13 shows, four of the seven state officials cited the restaurant industry, two cited the meat-processing industry, and one cited the apparel manufacturing industry.
152 million children are in child labor today, 48% are between the ages 5-11, 28% are between 12-14, 24% are between 15-17. 70.9% of these children are working in agriculture, 11.9% in industry, and 17.2% in services.
In November 1998, the AIP unveiled plans to create a Fair Labor Association to oversee implementation and monitoring of the code. UNITE, and the other union member, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility rejected the FLA as too weak and left the organization. These groups complained that the code failed to require payment of a living wage; had weak language with respect to union rights in nondemocratic countries; and had a weak monitoring and verification mechanism.
Workers in sweatshops are usually young women and immigrant workers that are desperately poor and work long, long hours, sometimes up to 20 hours a day and their wages still do not total a workable wage to feed and clothe their families. The workers are often denied bathroom breaks and forced to undergo pregnancy tests and take birth control, so the companies do not have to pay maternity leave costs. The workers often suffer verbal and physical abuse and struggle to complete high quotas each day.
Many Americans enjoy having the luxury of buying their clothes from popular brandname stores for bargain prices. Yet countless American consumers are unaware that low-price fashion comes with a high cost. Factory workers across the globe operate for hours each day under unsuitable conditions, producing garments that are later sold in the U.S. Possible solutions to improve garment factory conditions, such as the shutting down of factories or the organization of unions for workers, are controversial because many argue that solutions like these will not truly benefit workers. However, if there are rules and standards set for garment imports, then industries will have no other choice but to improve conditions for their employees. Given the low wages, unsafe labor conditions, and the social impact of child labor in the garment industry of developing countries, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) must establish a practical and fair set of regulations by which garments can be imported into the United States.
Having a background awareness of the issue of poor garment factory conditions in the greater historical context of labor generally is crucial to an understanding of the specific issues we are grappling with today. The concept of a ‘sweatshop’ has existed in developing countries as well as in the United States for over 150 years. The term is used to describe a working environment in which “conditions are harsh, hours are long, and pay is low”. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as a factory that violates 2 or more labor laws. From the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire to the 2013 Bangladeshi Rana Plaza factory collapse, major historical accidents have occurred due to substandard working conditions. There have been anti-sweatshop movements made, but the problem still widely exists today. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, for example, spurred action to improve standards, and labor unions such as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union pushed for labor reform laws. Nevertheless, little is being done to build upon these gains, and today, “too many employers are failing to obey the labor and workplace safety laws that were enacted in the years following the Triangle Shirtwaist fire”. In addition, many U.S. garment manufacturers have shipped the production of garments to developing countries where the labor is cheaper. The inadequate conditions of garment factories spur too many major accidents and problems, and action to improve these surroundings is essential.
Low-wages and unsafe conditions are some of the most dominant issues in the garment industry, and the wellbeing of factory employees is affected across a wide range. Workers do not get paid a living wage, are prevented from forming unions, and can be fined for making such small mistakes as “forgetting to turn the lights off,” or “showing up to work late”. In Bangladesh, there are “5,000 or more factories attracted there by low wages and a large supply of available labor”. A 2013 report stated that Haiti’s minimum wage was supposed to increase in January, but that “it did not affect Haiti’s 30,000 assembly factory workers” and recent studies “found rampant wage theft at almost two dozen of the factories that stitch clothing for companies like Gap and Walmart”. Furthermore, the truths of the conditions in factories are also often hidden when inspections occur. An inspection of workers’ wellbeing at the Rosita Knitwear factory in northwestern Bangladesh received a high grade, but 10 months afterwards, workers stormed through the factory, “accusing management of reneging on promised raises, bonuses and overtime pay,” and some claimed that they had been “sexually harassed or beaten by guards”. The employees’ complaints remain silent in the inspections, and poor conditions continue. These are just a few of the ongoing difficulties garment factory workers face.
Low pay and long hours also have a negative impact on working mothers, and child labor is one of the results of economically struggling families. Often families cannot afford to provide a proper education for their children, and even if they can, children frequently must drop out of school, and then they will have to work. Child labor is one of the biggest problems with factories in the garment industry. According to the United Nations, India, for example, “has become the world capital for child labor, employing over 55 million children aged everywhere from 5 to 14”. According to a 2006 report by the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, children working at the Harvest Rich factory in Bangladesh reported “being routinely slapped and beaten, sometimes falling down from exhaustion, forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, even some all-night, 19-to-20-hour shifts”. These severe social impacts of child labor must cease in an improvement of garment industry conditions.
There are multiple solutions that could be attempted to improve the conditions of garment industry factories, but they must truly benefit the workers. If factories around the world were to be suddenly shut down, for example, millions would abruptly be without work, and the economy of countries receiving imports from these factories would be hurt. A frequently suggested solution is to have workers organize unions, but there is no guarantee that with the formation of unions, overall worker conditions would improve. It would also be extremely difficult to try and enforce the allowance of unions in developing countries, as many factories hide the fact that they are restricting workers ‘rights. A New York Times examination reveals how although inspection systems are “intended to protect workers and ensure manufacturing quality,” they are “riddled with flaws.”
Another solution proposed is for companies themselves to band together with each other to stand up against unsafe factory labor conditions. However, this is proving to be less impactful, due to the facts that inspection systems are flawed and demand for low-priced goods remains high. The resolve is weakened when the story is not in the media spotlight. Perhaps the best possible solution is to have strict and organized regulations placed on garments in the United States that determine whether the source treats its employees fairly.
Part of the job of the Federal Trade Commission is to “prevent business practices that are…deceptive or unfair to consumers” and to “protect consumers by stopping unfair, deceptive or fraudulent practices in the marketplace”. Thus, it is appropriate to task the Federal Trade Commission with setting the regulations for garment imports. These regulations should establish a set of ground rules by which factories must operate, if the goods they make are to be imported into the U.S. Some of these ground rules might include a maximum 12-hour work day, a fair and living wage which would have to be determined by any given country’s economy, the right to take at least one break per day, adequate ventilation, an emergency evacuation plan, and enough lighting. If any garment imports do not meet these standards, then they will not be allowed into the U.S. Garment industries often tend to engage in a “race to the bottom” policy in which they “cut back on regulation and enforcement of decent working conditions in order to lower labor costs”. With regulations set in place, public awareness will be raised about these policies and pressure will be placed on garment industries to improve conditions.
Without a solution to the continuing issue of unsafe labor in garment factories, there will be many repercussions. Laborers employed in mass garment industry factories in developing countries will continue to be deprived of substantial wages to provide for themselves and their families. Workers will face daily risks and unsafe conditions in factories, and there will most likely continue to be numerous incidents involving workplace fires and collapses. Many children will still be forced to quit school in order to go to work, where their chances of getting a better, more educational job in the future will often be corrupted. Countless consumers will also continue to buy into the poor conditions of so many workplaces, often unknowingly or even because they must, seeing as “98% of clothes sold in the U.S. are made overseas, according to the Apparel and Footwear Association”.
Some people who are aware of the problems in garment factories make the argument that sweatshops are beneficial to workers because they help alleviate poverty and boost economic development. There is a certain notion that low-wage work is better than no work at all, and “although conditions are horrendous, they provide a means for many of the country’s least-skilled people to earn livings”. However, this is not the case, as sweatshop workers are “trapped in a cycle of exploitation that rarely improves their economic situation” and often “countries’ minimum wages are insufficient to climb out of poverty,” so no economic progress can ever be made. Furthermore, garment industry employees must spend nearly all their paychecks on food for their families in order to survive. Other critics of solutions to improve garment factory conditions worry about the price of clothing going up, and they make the claim that changes in American garment regulations will threaten many retailers. There is a possibility that a set of regulations could harm retailers in the U.S., but the improvement of both garment factory conditions and the lives of workers in developing countries is a top priority.
The FTC must establish a set of rules that determine which garments can be imported into the United States because of low wages, unsafe labor conditions, and the social impact of child labor in the garment industry of developing countries. For too long, the U.S. has ignored the existence of garment-producing factories with employees working under unacceptable conditions. Due to many factors, including mass marketing, Americans are usually either unaware of where their clothing is coming from, or they simply do not care where it comes from, and with the continuing support and purchase into unsafe labor factories, no changes will ever be made. It is time to focus on the sources of American imports and work to achieve real and meaningful improvements in the garment industry.
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