About Sweatshop-free Organic Products
Would you work for $0.30 a day under near chain-gang conditions, lacking benefits and protection, as factory worker in China or India? No? Me, neither. And I wouldn't want someone else to do it either.
It's as simple as that - our decisions matter, even in places far away. If we buy a cheap, sweatshop-made product (ironically, they are not even always cheap, but sold as luxury brands in the West!), we signal to the producer that it's OK to produce that way, and provide a powerful incentive to continue doing it. That's what is wrong here, even if the workers in fact may lack better alternatives.
What is a sweatshop?
The presence of some or all of the following makes a workplace a sweatshop:
- Excessive working hours
- Low pay
- Poor benefits, if any at all
- Despicable working conditions (dangerous, crowded, unhealthy, poorly ventilated)
- Violation of Workplace Safety Regulations and Labor Laws
- Child labor
Sweatshops, especially in the garment industry, have been heavily criticized by diverse groups from abolishionists, then trade-unions, to the modern-day anti-globalization movement. And the debate continues as sweatshops endure, although they have largely shifted out of the Western world (but not entirely) to less-developed countries.
The debate is complicated by the difficulty of defining sweatshop-conditions in the absolute. Often sweatshops are attacked by groups in wealthy countries; but what constitutes poor working conditions in the eyes of their supporters (sporting 2 cars per household; 38-hour workweeks, retirement at 65 to a good pension, access to affordable medicat care) may not look so harsh when compared to the local norm in the LDC. In fact, studies found that after big sweatshop child-labor garment factories were shut down in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal, the children went instead into prostitution, crime, begging, and starvation. In fact, the average sweatshop-wage in Honduras was still twice the average wage in that country; and at least adult workers often (but not always) voluntarily and knowingly seek employment in sweatshop factories for lack of better alternatives available to them. Some even argue that sweatshops are a necessary step for a country to build wealth and develop the means to provide education, health care, infrastructure, safety to its citizens - just like England and the US, for example, had to in the age of industrialization.
While academics, lobby groups, journalists and politicians will certainly go on debating the issue for a long time, there is something each one of us can do at this very moment. Just like human rights were defined in the absolute, so can sweatshops. A sweatshop may be hard to define, but it is not at all hard to recognize it when you see it. While we operate in Canada, US, and European countries under labor laws, workplace regulations, safety- and health standards, and social benefit structures that are respected and enforced, workers in China, India, Mexico, and other less prominent sweatshop countries lack all of those and work for wages that barely feed them at the end of the day.
In addition, countries that show such disrespect for their workers' rights usually also have no respect for environmental concerns, sustainability, and intellectual property rights, and last not least they tend to be very corrupt. Clearly these are not places where we want our organic clothes to come from; the argument that sweatshops benefit the workers and host country holds little merit for us, because it is unethical to profit from their plight and lack of choice, and because requiring higher standards will force them sooner to upgrade and really protect their workers and the environment.
From our beginnings in 1999, we have taken a clear stand against sweatshops, even though production in Europe and North America is so much more costly. It is our way of sharing the value added in our PureClothes products in fair ways with everyone involved - the farmer growing the fiber; the workers turning the raw fiber into the wonderful fabrics we love so much to feel on our skin; and the sewers that create out of those strong and natural fabrics our many 100% organic products. We are grateful to them all, for their contributions to the final product that have the honor of proudly presenting to you at PureClothes.com