What Are Sweatshops?

A sweatshop is a factory where workers have to endure poor working conditions, long working hours, low wages, and other violations of labor rights. Sweatshops are workplaces where workers are employed for low wages in unhealthy and oppressive conditions. The term “sweatshop” was coined in the 1850s to refer to a factory or workshop where workers were badly treated, for example, by low wages and long hours in poor conditions.

A sweatshop is a factory in which employees are subject to poor working conditions, physical and verbal abuse, are paid low wages, and work long and exhausting hours in a sweatshop. A sweatshop includes poverty-level wages, excessive working hours, and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. Some sweatshops are cramping workers in small factories to maximize production. Sweatshops are bad because they promote child labor, offer unfair wages, poor working conditions, unreasonable working hours, and do not benefit workers.

A sweatshop is defined as a small manufacturing plant that employs workers in unfair and unhygienic working conditions. It is a workplace run by unscrupulous employers who pay workers low wages for long working hours in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Sweatshops are known to manufacture garments in unsafe working conditions where workers toil for pennies.

Many garment factory workers don’t like to describe their jobs as sweatshops because they think it makes them sound like victims. Anti-sweatshop advocates go so far as to say that compliance with the law in many countries is too weak to attract sweatshop factories that pay a living wage, have safe working conditions, enforce reasonable working hours, grant sick and maternity leave, allow workers to organize, and avoid being labeled a sweatshop. For example, some unions oppose sweatshops because they are concerned about the welfare of sweaty workers; they want their own members protected from low-wage jobs and competition, even if it means end jobs that work for the poor in other countries.

The federal government defines a sweatshop as a place in which an employer violates more than one federal or state labor law that regulates minimum wage, overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, employee compensation, or business registration. The US Department of Labor defines a “sweatshop” as a manufacturing facility that violates two or more labor laws, such as wages, benefits, hours, and child labor. While we think sweatshops in terms of working conditions are bad (or very bad) to everyone, the official definition of the Department of Labor (DOL) is much stricter.

Although labor laws, minimum wage laws, and safety laws in developing countries such as the UK and the US have improved working conditions for textile workers, sweatshops have not disappeared. Sweatshops are known for their poor working conditions – factories are overcrowded, workers are poorly paid and children as young as 14 are forced to work. While the number of sweatshops has declined as unions organized and negotiated for better wages and conditions, state regulations have become tighter since 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act required a minimum wage and paid overtime for work of more than forty hours a week.

When asked about working conditions in sweatshops, some advocates reply that, while wages and working conditions may appear worse than developed-country standards, they are actually an improvement for people in developing countries.

Governments in many developing countries claim that sweatshops provide the best wages and working conditions for workers in developing countries who would otherwise be condemned to prostitution, begging or subsistence farming. At least most sweatshops in other countries pay their workers at or below poverty levels, provide jobs for women and cease entire production, it is argued. While some companies have taken steps to improve working conditions in their factories, recent reports have shown that their textile workers do not receive a living wage.

Clothing workers around the world face poor living conditions due to sweatshops. While monitoring organizations and businesses benefit from much more than the end result, the concerns of anti-sweatshop activists lie in the lack of transparency of consumer findings and the inability of inspectors to keep track of factory conditions. We are not alone in recognizing the importance of information, and movements like Fashion Revolution are working to draw attention to poor working conditions in sweatshops through Twitter campaigns like #whomadeyourclothes, #imadeyourClothes, and events like #Fashion Revolution Week. Anti-sweatshop laws allow workers employed in sweatshops to claim wages from factory owners. Sweatshop workers work long hours for low wages, and laws requiring overtime, minimum wage, and child labor are frequently violated.

An economic way of thinking is to see sweatshops as a trade-off from the perspective of workers and employers, and for what is gained when they conclude an employment contract, no matter how low wages may seem to outside observers. The wages sweatshop workers earn are relatively low compared to the US, with a large percentage of people in these countries earning less than 1 to 2 dollars a day.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, sweatshop workers used to bring their work home. Working conditions and wages were very poor in the sweatshops and when new jobs were created in the factories people left the hard life on the farm to work in the factories because the economy was agricultural and had evolved with industrialization to a manufacturing economy. Sweatshop workers in Bangladesh say there were many abusive conditions for workers when they worked in factories.

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