A sweatshop is a workplace characterized by substandard wages, few or no benefits, hazardous working conditions, hostile or arbitrary discipline, long hours and little if any government protection.
Sweatshops are associated with developing nations but they also exist in modern societies. Sweatshop workers are often trapped in a cycle of poverty and exploitation, since they cannot improve their lives without significant savings, and most do not have education or other resources for social mobility.
Sweatshop workers include men, women and often children with little education, and some of them actually work in conditions of modern slavery. Sweatshop labor sometimes comes from human trafficking or deception. Workers are lured to sweatshops under the pretense of higher pay and a better life, and they are kept at work by force, debt or other pressure. These are more likely in cases where the workforce is drawn from children or the uneducated rural poor.
Some Facts About Sweatshops
Fierce competition for cheaper labor costs, as well as the liberalization of trade barriers, have brought apparel production to countries where workers have little bargaining power and where authoritarian governments often suppress worker organizing.
During the past decade retailing has experienced a series of major mergers, which has led to a considerable consolidation of their buying power, especially among discounters. The purchasing power of the largest retailers vastly increases their ability to put pressure on their suppliers to lower costs and increase delivery speed.
Wages do not Equal Productivity
Wages for sweatshop workers in developing countries often do not correlate to their productivity. According to surveys by Kurt Salmon Associates, Inc. “in Mexico apparel workers are 70% as productive as their U.S. counterparts, yet they earn just 10% as much per hour,” In countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan and Vietnam apparel exporters take advantage of extremely low labor costs at 33 cents, 37 cents and 38 cents per hour, respectively. The monthly minimum wage at apparel plants (which, like many Cambodian businesses, typically pay workers in U.S. dollars) was $45 in 2000, and nine years later it was $56. During that same period, inflation reduced the buying power of a dollar by 37 percent.
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