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There’s an obvious difference between slavery and getting paid to work. However, when long hours every day are rewarded with payment that barely provides for survival, how can that not be interpreted as slavery? As a country we pulled together over 100 years ago to abolish slavery and move our way towards a more civil country with respect to basic human rights. If the exploitation does not take place within the 50 United States, is it less of an issue? The words “sweat shop” have been tossed around, but some people are not even clear what they mean.
Fancy packages and expensive price tags on the things we buy in America make it difficult to picture a center geared towards mass production run by millions of men, women and children who work in extremely abusive conditions. In 1996, 50 percent of the United States’ clothing factories were sweat shops and 75 percent of them were violating health laws, safety, and basic human rights.
President Clinton had this to say of the issue: “Our nation has always stood for human dignity and the fundamental rights of working people.
We believe everyone should work, but no one should have to put their lives or health in jeopardy to put food on the table for their families.” Yet the sweat shops continue. An area that has gotten much attention recently is Saipan, which is an American territory in the Pacific Ocean. Popular clothing companies that grace the pages in magazines and run commercials every five minutes have thousands of workers located there.
In fact, the factories in that area have exceeded their legal limit of foreign garment workers by more than 4,000 people. Even though the workers make $3.05 each hour, minimum wage, they suffer as illegal indentured servants who do not get paid overtime and work in horrible conditions. Most of the workers are women.
They work 12 hours a day and seven days a week in crowded factories, and then retire to crowded barracks to sleep. Women are forced to get abortions because having a child would affect how much they produce. One man claimed to never have seen a woman with a child in the factory areas in Saipan. If any of the workers complain, they are deported. This is all possible because Saipan is allowed to create its own immigration policy, which is an issue that even the Clinton administration says is out of hand. Sweat shops have been an ongoing controversy and something that the government seems to be unable to control properly. Ideas and possible solutions are floating around, but so far no nations have had truly significant effects. Many companies have done their best to eliminate sweat shops in third world countries and then continued to donate money to the effort, but there are still hundreds of companies who are using the same horrific policies to ensure that they produce as much as possible. After all this pain, exploitation, and breaking of rules, all that remains are the clothes whose tags read “Made in America.” It is hard to find a solution to a problem that is so widespread and, to put it bluntly, successful and beneficial.
Boycotts have been done, but how far have they gone? With the Internet at our fingertips and access to e-mail at school and work, technology seems like the perfect way to get the word out. I recently got a petition for the benefit of women in Afghanistan. Even if that petition does not serve as direct help, it got the word out there. I doubt there are many people who could look behind the scenes of a sweat shop and not be affected in some way. Education is the best tool for this problem. I, and many others, feel helpless concerning this issue because we have seen our government fail us. Sweat shops, child labor, and exploitation in third world countries are not issues that should exist. It seems silly to me that these could even be a problem in our world. But what can we do? The first step is to educate, and after that maybe the answer will be clear.
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