Most of us know that much of the things we consume, especially clothes, are created in sweat hops overseas. The United States imports products from places like China, Taiwan and India, where sweatshop labor is not only legal, it’s how many people earn a living. According to waronwant.org, 482 million Chinese people live on less than $2 a day. A total of 85% of China’s poor live in rural areas and extreme poverty forces many of them to leave the countryside in search of employment in urban areas.
This means finding factory jobs where they do not receive state benefits or protections, are forced to work forced overtime, denied social security rights, and made to labor under severe health risks and live with a lack of employment contracts. In India, clothing workers are physically and verbally abused, threatened, and their pay forces them to live in poverty. Factories in Pakistan and Bangladesh have even collapsed and killed thousands of workers as they tried to earn their meager wages.
As terrible as the conditions in these sweatshops are and how low the pay can be, the removal of sweatshops from developing countries could have an even more negative affect than having them. For example, according to the New York Times, using this kind of labor causes major growth in areas surrounding factories. Dongguan, a city in southern China, has experienced an explosion of wealth after sweatshops were first built and people began working in them. China, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India comprise what is sometimes called the “Sweatshop Belt,” and they make up a quarter of the global economy.
Jobs in sweatshops are taken by the unskilled workers that would likely not have any other options to work and make money, and would likely die due to poverty. Not only that, but since the cost of living in many of these Asian countries is so astronomically low, the wages that look tiny to us here in the West can transform the lives of factory workers. If companies receive pressure from consumers to improve conditions in factories or if countries improve their labor laws, factories are likely to move and these workers lose their jobs.
So, yes, sweatshop labor is awful and these people deserve to be treated much better than they are. But to remove factories like this altogether, an entire part of the world could lose the one thing that makes their economies stable. If that’s going to be taken away, we need to offer them something else to fall back on.
By Lindsey Allen