What is a Sweatshop?

Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 2010. Garment factory in Dhaka Bangladesh in the Mohakhali area.  Dhaka counts more than 4000 factories producing for export only. This factory produced garments for the dutch company Hans Textiel. Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010.
Garment factory in Dhaka Bangladesh in the Mohakhali area.
Dhaka counts more than 4000 factories producing for export only.
Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

The term ‘sweatshop’ is commonly used nowadays to describe any place with poor working conditions. The word can conjure up images of hot, dark, damp factories in developing nations but factories with poor working conditions can come in many different forms and could be right on your doorstep. Although there is no one definition, a factory is generally termed a ‘sweatshop’ if it contravenes a minimum of two labour laws set out by the International Labour Organization. These laws pertain to wages and benefits, child labour and working hours. A sweatshops can be a workplace where employees are subjected to exploitation, discrimination, poor working conditions or abuse. There are sweatshops all over the world, in every country.

Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 2010. Garment factory exterior in the Mohakhali area. Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010. Garment factory exterior in the Mohakhali area.
Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

In 1998 the International Labour Organization adopted then Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Works outlining four essential principles that many of us take for granted in the workplace:

  • Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
  • Elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour
  • Effective abolition of child labour
  • Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation

Because there is no one universal definition of a sweatshop and each country adheres to their own labour laws, it is hard to get a global perspective on how bad the sweatshop problem is. Many of the factories with the worst conditions accept work as sub-contractors and therefore might not be inspected by the company whose items are being manufactured there. Although all big companies have quality control teams and should know exactly where, how and by whom their items are being manufactured, in many cases, the company can claim that it didn’t know their items had been sub-contracted. The factory they have contracted to do the work may be farming the work out to a cheaper factory so that they can increase their mark-up. Big companies are often looking for cheaper, faster options and will move their manufacturing to a new factory, or even country in order to achieve this.

There are all kind of products made in sweatshops but some of the biggest problem items produced or grown under ‘sweatshop’ conditions are shoes, clothing, rugs, toys and crop items such as coffee, cotton and bananas.

Garment Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 2010 Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

Garment Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010
Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

In order to avoid buying sweatshop produced items, consumers need to shop wisely. Companies should be disclosing all the information about where their items are made, who is making them, where and how but until this happens, the choice lies with the consumer. Look for items which are certified by independent associations such as Fair Wear, Fair Trade and GOTS, who have social compliance criteria as part of their organic textile certification programme.

Adhere to the principle of buy less and pay slightly more. It’s a no-brainer that cheap clothes are poorly made out of the worst quality materials by someone who may not have basic rights at work. At the end of the day, paying £1 more for your t-shirt could mean that workers employed in the factories where that t-shirt is made are adults earning a living wage and treated as you would wish to be treated at work.

Garment Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 2010 Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

Garment Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010
Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

For more information check out Clean Clothes Campaign.

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2 thoughts on “What is a Sweatshop?

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  2. Pingback: Global Journey of Clothing | pebbles beauvoir

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