Trying to End Sweatshop Abuses

Thursday, November 20, 2003


Written by Monique Loveless (cannon contributor)

On Tuesday November 18, 2003 the Students Against Sweatshops of Guelph and the Human Rights Discussion Group organized a talk on sweatshops that was given by Ian Thomson, researcher for the Maquila Solidarity Network. The Maquila Solidarity Network was formed in 1994 and works to promote solidarity among countries (such as Mexico, Africa and Latin America) that have sweatshops and to gain ‘living wages’ and better working conditions. ‘Living wages’ means making enough money in order to support one’s family. Most workers live in very poor conditions because they cannot afford water, electricity or a sanitary home because they do not make ‘living wages’.

Ian Thompson started the lecture by saying: “Human rights look good on paper, but are hard to access for most of the world”. The traditional ways of improving conditions in a workplace are workers organizing (union) or National Labour Laws, however these methods are not accessible to many of the sweatshop workers. Many of the workers cannot form unions because they will be fired or they are not aware of their rights. As a result, other forms of generating change are needed, like contacting a group like Maquila Solidarity Network. Some companies do not even know the conditions in which their clothes are manufactured. And many companies do not see the conditions to be their responsibility because they do not view the workers as their employees. However, since the companies are the people who set the demands for the goods Maquila Network views them to be responsible.

Boycott is not the answer.

Many people assume that in order to change or stop the inhumane conditions in sweatshops that they should boycott the company and products that are made in this fashion. One of the points raised by Ian Thomson was to use as boycotting a last resort. The reason for not boycotting is because it will cause the workers more harm. As a result of the boycotting the workers will loose their jobs completely, instead of having an income though it consists of very low wages. The slogan for one Nicaragua union sums up what the workers are fighting for “employment yes, but with dignity”.

Some of the other tactics that he suggested to try before resorting to the extreme measure of boycotting was to raise awareness. Demand to know where products are made and the conditions of the factories. Demand to know what the company is doing to help improve the conditions of the factories that they employ. One way is to write a letter to the companies that use sweatshops, there is a sample letter on the Maquila Solidarity Network’s website (which is located at the end of this article).

This issue is viewed as a primarily women’s issue, with many feminist organizations leading the fight, because of the abuse suffered and women are subjected to forced pregnancy tests. If a woman is found to be pregnant she is fired because the factory owners do not want to have to pay maternity leave, and as a result she is in a bind because no other factory will hire her. Women are taken into the factories at a very young age and many only have a primary education. They are taken in at this tender age because they are not aware of labour laws and are ‘easy to push around’. However, once the woman turns thirty the factory owners push them out because of pregnancy or they have become aware of their rights and push for change. Surprisingly, the child labour is only a big problem for certain countries and sectors, which is used by the media to gain sympathy for the issue. In order to stop child labour it is important to eliminate the abuse of their parents and adult relatives, thereby stopping the cycle of long hours, low pay and forced overtime. The goal is to improve the conditions in which these workers are forced to live with and make sure they are receiving a living wage.

For more information on sweatshops visit the Maquila Solidarity Network website .
Or if you want to get involved, contact Students Against Sweatshops (they are always looking for volunteers).

| More


Back to Top

No comments

Share your thoughts

Bookstore First Year