Who doesn’t love a good bargain? But did you know that that bag you got for cheap or the dress you got for $10 could be the reason why a factory worker somewhere sleeps hungry? The desire for the consumer to save money and the manufacturer’s greed to make huge profits has led to the creation of the modern sweatshop.
Sweatshops produce most of our everyday products such as clothing, toys, shoes, and furniture – including many designer brands. The US Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as a factory that violates two or more labor laws. Generally, sweatshops are characterized by low pay, long hours, and unhealthy working conditions.
The biggest issue with the modern sweatshop is that many consumers are not aware that they currently exist or just how bad sweatshop labor is. Let’s take a look at sweatshop facts to explain better just how bad the conditions are.
Sweatshop Facts & Stats
Sweatshops should really not exist in this day and age. But how do we eradicate them if we don’t even know that they exist?
To reduce this ignorance, let’s take a look at a few sweatshop facts to help you understand how bad the situation is and to give you the power to do something about it.
1. The history of sweatshops
The first organized sweatshops appeared in England during the Industrial Revolution. During this period (1830 to 1850) garments were being produced under brutal conditions to keep up with demand. This process was referred to as the Sweat System. ‘Sweaters’ were companies hired to establish the areas where clothing would be produced.
2. Biggest promoters of sweatshops
Products that commonly come from sweatshops are garments, cotton, bricks, cocoa, and coffee.
3. Sweatshops are the biggest promoters of child labor
There are an estimated 250 million kids working in sweatshops worldwide. In developing countries, an estimated 168 million children aged between 5 to 14 years are forced to work in apparel factories.
4. Sweatshops are killing kids by the millions
22 million children die annually due to the poor conditions within sweatshops. Most apparel factories have unguarded machinery, exposed electrical wiring, very little ventilation, no temperature control, insufficient lighting, and unsanitary bathrooms.
5. Women make up the largest number of sweatshop workers
85% of workers in sweatshops are young women aged 15-25 years old. Some employers force women to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid having to give them maternity leave or provide them with appropriate health benefits.
6. Extremely low wages for sweatshop workers
According to sweatshop stats, sweatshop laborers only make on average an income of 200$ a year. This is equivalent to 3 shifts at a minimum-paying job in North America.
7. A laborer needs to work 70 hours to earn an average income
An apparel worker in a sweatshop has to work 70 hours per week in order to earn the equivalent of the average income for their country.
8. Poor wages are common worldwide
Only 4 out of the top 10 nations that have the highest number of suspected sweatshops have an hourly wage that is more than $1 per hour. Bangladesh has the lowest hourly rate in the world at just US$0.13. The average sweatshop worker’s hourly wage in Vietnam is $0.26 and $0.64 per hour in China. Costa Rica has the highest average hourly wages for sweatshop workers at $2.38 per hour.
9. Pay-related violation is high in the US
Research shows that more than 2/3 of US workers experience at least one pay-related violation every week. Assuming a full-time, full-year work schedule, workers in the US lose an average of $2,634 annually due to violations.
10. Sweatshops workers earn just 10 cents for a shirt that sells $60
A shirt that sells for $60 in the U.S. can cost less than 10 cents in labor. In 1999, the average American family of four spent $1,831 on fashion apparel. From that $1,831 only $55 went to pay the wages of workers who created the apparel.
11. Doubling sweatshop workers’ wages would barely affect product costs
According to sweatshop statistics, if the salary of sweatshop workers was to be doubled, the consumer cost of an item would increase by 1.8%, only. Ironically, consumers would be willing to pay 15% more to make sure a product did not come from a sweatshop.
12. The majority of garment factories in the U.S are breaking labor laws
Sweatshop facts indicate that in 2000, more than 11,000 sweatshops in the U.S. violated the minimum wage and overtime laws. 16,000 sweatshops had broken health and safety laws. In the same year, 98% of Los Angeles garment factories violated workplace health and safety standards.
13. Extremely long working hours
Sweatshop laborers can be forced to work continuously for 48 hours straight without any breaks, including bathroom and lunch breaks. Only sleep breaks are allowed.
14. Sweatshops perpetuate poverty instead of alleviating it
Sweatshop wages are so little that people who are forced to work in them must spend the majority of their paycheck on food for their families to survive. The workers remain so poor that they have no choice but to keep going back to the sweatshops.
15. Cotton farmers work in deplorable working conditions too
Other than the sweatshop workers, cotton farmers also work under very poor conditions to satisfy the demand of consumers for cheap clothing. They work in highly hazardous conditions to produce cotton for the sweatshops.
What Are Sweatshops?
Sweatshops are defined as small manufacturing establishments employing workers under unfair and unsanitary working conditions. In the U.S., the Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as a factory that violates 2 or more labor laws.
Why Are Sweatshops Bad?
Sweatshops are bad because they often promote child labor, offer unfair wages, have poor working conditions, unreasonable working hours, and offer no benefits for workers. Sweatshops cramp workers in small factories in order to maximize production.
What Countries Have Sweatshops?
Sweatshop facts show that these factories are all over the world but mostly found in Central America, South America, Asia, China, India, and some parts of Europe as well. Other popular countries with sweatshops include Bangladesh, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Indonesia, among many others.
The more fashion we consume the more sweatshops grow. As consumers, we have the power to make fashion brands man up and start paying attention to the needs of all their workers, including those in overseas factories.
If you and I take a stand to only purchase goods that have been created in conditions that are favorable to workers, we can put the sweatshops out of the business for good! Interested in supporting ethical fashion brands? Check out our review of the best ethical clothing brands.