Sweatshop labor an unfortunate necessity in Third World

In The Daily Cougar’s Thursday edition I found an interesting picture of a sad lonely child on top of the silhouette and flag of my country – Honduras.

At first I didn’t know what the picture meant. After speaking with the Opinion editor, I learned it ran in response to Honduran sweatshops.

Honduras was the first country in Central America to start the maquila (textile company) revolution. By 1996 the maquila industry generated $250 million and gave work to 75,000 people, 75 percent of which were women. It was the third-largest income source after exporting coffee and bananas.

Six maquilas closed in 2008, leaving more than 15,000 workers unemployed. There are still 114,000 people working in maquilas who represent 26 percent of Honduras’s Gross Domestic Product.

So, why is Honduras criticized and not Mexico? Honduras needs more foreign investments, not maquilas shutting down. It is a Third World Country that is in need of more employment opportunities, especially for women, who are losing their jobs because maquilas are closing down.

The women of Honduras need jobs, and closing down maquila production will only help increase hunger and poverty.

Mexico is a bigger country; it has more people, many maquilas and more probabilities of being criticized for having sweatshops, yet Honduras gets the criticism.

Honduras has introduced maquilas because textile companies take advantage of the cheap labor, proximity to the U.S. and wonderful tax incentives the government provides.

The maquilas are located in Export Processing Zones (EPZ) where Honduras offers a relatively good price on land. These have proven to be very beneficial to foreign investors.

EPZ benefits include total exemption from the import duties for raw materials, equipment and office supplies; from export taxes on all finished products; from income and excise taxes; from city and country taxes, including sales taxes; currency conversion; withdrawal of profits and capital at any time.

Another government benefit is import and export shipments, which are cleared in less than one day with minimum documentation and as a member of the Central American Free Trade Agreement manufacturers in Honduras are granted duty-free entry to the U.S.

I understand sweatshops violate people’s rights and make them work long shifts with low and improper pay. U.S. companies operating in Honduras don’t hire anyone younger than 18, and workers are kept in air-conditioned environments and given lunch breaks and bonuses for achieving goals. The factories have on-site clinics and transportation for workers.

Visiting these manufacturing facilities for many years while living in Honduras has shown me how workers are treated by these companies.

In all the years I went to these places I never saw anyone suffering while working or anyone complaining about the environment around them. Thus, it is hard to believe that some are accusing these companies of operating sweatshops when what most workers are doing there is making an honest living.’ ‘

In a developing country such as Honduras you need to work long hours under any type of conditions because jobs are scarce, and if you want to feed your family you will take advantage of any job you get.

It seems easy to criticize when one has not lived around poverty for many years. I believe it is inhumane and illogical for people who have no idea of the working conditions in Honduras to criticize and impede families from earning the money that will feed them and keep them alive.

Nobody prohibits people in the U.S. from working overtime and essentially that is what anti-sweatshop groups are trying to do in Honduras.

‘In fact, some experts say Western campaigns against low-wage factories overseas mostly benefit the American labor movement and do more harm than good in poor countries by draining off scarce jobs and choking off investment,’ the New York Times’ Stephanie Strom’ reported in 1996.

Alan Delon is a communication senior and may be reached at [email protected].

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