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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Guest Commentary: UH students must help stop sweatshops

Even in the U.S., sweatshops still exist. However, they have garnered little media attention despite the fact that a multitude of clothing and other manufactured goods come from sweatshops. You are in the position to positively influence workers with simple, everyday consumer decisions.

Sweatshops are manufacturing facilities that have abject working conditions for their workers: abysmal wages, long hours (12- to14-hour days, six to seven days a week) and few to no worker rights.

Adidas, Hanes and Wal-Mart, among others, have recently been charged with using sweatshop labor in China. Carmencita Abad, a former sweatshop worker in Saipan, told The Galveston County Daily News that women displaying symptoms of pregnancy were not permitted to renew their yearly contracts. Many of the toxins workers handle are linked to miscarriages, yet workers are frequently prohibited from associating in order to prevent the formation of unions.

So why do sweatshops exist? There are many reasons. A lack of corporate accountability, profit placed before workers’ rights, implementation of coercion and fear tactics to prevent unions from forming, poor enforcement of laws and unethical bosses. Transnational corporations play a prominent role in the profligate treatment of workers, utilizing coercion and exerting financial influence upon governments in order to increase profit margins. Because of the subcontracting chain, retailers are far removed from responsibilities regarding the working conditions of the manufacturing workers.

Transnational corporations have every incentive to move to a country where there are less rigid laws governing workers and the environment. Once a transnational corporation leaves a region, it creates a "sinkhole," leaving many more people unemployed and in worse condition than before the corporation arrived. Local externalities, such as pollution and deforestation, pile up and workers have become dependent on transnational corporations for their funds. Slash and burn tactics persist. Transnational corporations have incentives to keep populations uneducated and impoverished, since this means cheaper labor.

The competition to attract transnational corporations among developing countries causes them to relax laws regarding workers and the environment, which will provide short-term economic boosts, at the expense of sustainability and the welfare of the country’s citizens. Many transnational corporations are opposed to workers’ unions, since these would further restrict what the corporation can do. Many union organizers are threatened, tortured or even murdered. Coca-Cola is notorious for its treatment and labor abuses of workers in Colombian bottling plants.

Since transnational corporations are attracted to "high-profit areas," which are areas with low or no minimum wage and weak environmental laws, they not only maximized profits, but also cause more harm to the earth. There will be more pollution, more deforestation and more exploitation of humans unless there is some exogenous normative superstructure regulating transnational corporations. Moore’s Law, which has predicted the exponential growth of technology, translates into the exponential growth of power transnational corporations lord over workers, consumers, governments and the world.

So what can you do? It may appear bleak, but there are simple steps you can take as a consumer. There are many ethical brands, such as No Sweat Apparel and Justice Clothing. By simply purchasing ethical brands, you ensure that the workers receive a living wage. The difference in cost is negligible. Thus, by purchasing ethical brands, you direct your economic influence to humane treatment.

Besides the immediate effects of supporting living wages for workers, you also participate in a long-term effect upon our market. As more and more money is directed to ethical brands, other companies will take notice. This will influence them to switch to ethical practices. Eventually, retailers will want to stock ethical brands to attract consumers.

Another step is to help UH become affiliated with the Designated Suppliers’ Program. The DSP is a procurement process proposed by United Students Against Sweatshops and the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization that investigates working conditions in factories around the globe. The DSP is a system for protecting the rights of workers and applies only to the university logo apparel production of licensee companies. The DSP applies only to those production facilities where products are sewn or assembled.

The Student Government Association Senate ratified UH Students Against Sweatshops’ bill to sign on with the DSP and to affiliate with the WRC. The next step is for UH President Renu Khator to agree. You should contact her and urge her to do so.

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