Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

What You Can Do to Fight Sweatshops
December 6 , 2007

Sewing HandsIt’s the holiday season.  Do you know what corporate abuses you might be supporting with the hard-earned money you spend on gifts? 

Did you know …

  • If you purchase Barbie dolls produced at the Xin Yi Plastics Factory in China, you could be paying a 233-percent mark-up on toys made by workers toiling 14 ½ -hour days for roughly 53 cents an hour.
  • If you purchase Speedo swim wear and sporting goods from Toys-R-Us, you could be funding grueling production quotas, worker abuse, shifts longer than 23 hours, squalid living conditions, and wages below the legal minimum.
  • If you purchase Victoria’s Secret lingerie, you could be supporting guest-worker-staffed factories in Jordan where workers are “allowed just 3.3 minutes to sew each $14 Victoria's Secret women's bikini, for which they are paid four cents.”
  • And even if you search out a religiously themed gift for the holidays, you could end up with crosses and other religious icons made in Chinese factory by a 15-year-old making 26 ½ cents an hour, less than half China’s legal minimum wage of 55 cents.

According to recent reports by the anti-sweatshop action group the National Labor Committee (NLC) these child labor and sweatshop conditions are all too common.

Unfortunately, the NLC’s discoveries aren’t alone.

According to reports in two different British newspapers in October, the Gap was found to be sourcing from sweatshop-style factories in India.  The London Guardian reported how a worker at a Gap supplier factory died after being refused permission to leave work due to illness, while another lost her baby after being denied immediate leave when she went into labor.  Further, the London Observer reported on a New Dehli sweatshop manufacturing Gap products where children as young as 10 were used to make GapKids clothes for Christmas sales.

Nobody wants to shop for sweatshop-produced gifts, and proprietors of stores where the above products were sold understandably gave anguished interviews to journalists once the stories broke, often promising to follow up on the allegations of abuse.

After the abuse has happened, it’s too late.  

That’s why Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act, introduced this year in both the House and the Senate, would for the first time make the importation and sale of sweatshop goods a crime.   Under this legislation, companies would no longer be protected from prosecution for the crimes of their supplier factories, and would be compelled take a more critical look at labor conditions of their supply chain – before the abuse happens.

But until such legislation becomes the law of the land, consumers have the power right now to seek out companies that are already monitoring their supply chain, and reward them by voting with your dollars. 

Here’s what you can do for the holidays, and in all of  2008 to prevent your hard-earned dollars from supporting sweatshops and child labor:

1.  When you shop, demand sweatshop-free products.  Ask questions like:  Does your company know how the workers who made this product were treated?  Does your company have a code of conduct that forbids all kinds of sweatshop abuses and conditions in all of your supplier factories? How do you enforce these rules? If a company can afford to monitor its supply chain to control the quality of their products, it can afford to monitor for proper treatment of workers.

2.  Seek out companies that share your commitment to sweat-free purchasing.   Look for the union label when you shop, to find clothing made by workers who are able to exercise their collective rights.  Look for seals of approval, such as the Fair Trade Federation’s label on  fair-wage products from artisan communities overseas, or the Co-op America Seal of Approval, used by companies at www.greenpages.org that have made a commitment to socially and environmentally responsible business practices.

3.   Write to your congressional representatives.  Ask them to support the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Compensation Act, to add the threat of legal repurcussions to your promise of consumer reward, giving companies even more reasons to do the right thing and scrutinize their supply chain for sweatshop abuses. 

Acting together, conscious consumers, responsible businesses, and forward-thinking legislators have the power to make our supply chains sweatshop-free. 

--Andrew Korfhage

MEDIA INQUIRIES

Please contact Todd Larsen by email
or by phone at 202-872-5307.


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