Being vegan is not limited to animal rights. Being vegan is about standing up all sentient beings, including humans. This is why vegans cannot buy from brands such as Nike or shop at Primark. Why? Because these places supply from sweatshops.
I’m sure you’re probably wondering what a sweatshop is exactly and what on earth it has to do with veganism. So I’m here to explain it to you. Here are some not-so-fun facts about sweatshops (all sourced of course):
UNITE, the US garment workers union, defines a ”sweatshop” as any factory that does not respect workers’ right to organise an independent union. Global Exchange and other anti-sweatshop movements would add that a sweatshop is any work place that does not pay its workers a Living Wage, that is enough money to live off and support the basic needs of their families.
Workers in sweatshops can be fined on a daily basis. In some sweatshops workers are fined for arriving late, taking too long in the toilet, forgetting to turn lights off and making mistakes. A fine can cost up to two months’ pay: if workers cannot afford to pay fines they are unable to quit their job and are effectively enslaved.
At one Mexican sweatshop, workers are expected to meet a quota of 1,000 pieces a day. That could mean creating 1,000 jeans, 1,000 shoes or 1,000 rugby balls a day, depending on the product a factory produces. For the Mexican workers to meet this quota they would need to create MORE than one piece a minute. This quota is so high that the workers are unable to have a drink or go to the toilet all day.
Over 75% of people working in clothing sweatshops are women. Many are mothers, and the long hours and little pay can often take its toll on their families. Children often see little of their parents, and in many countries can’t be sent to school due to lack of money to afford to pay fees.
In May 2011 a report on Asian sportswear supply chains highlighted how factories supplying multinational sports and garment brands are routinely breaking labour rights laws. Some factories denied workers the legal minimum wage, while others linked the payment of basic wages to unachievable production targets which workers struggled desperately to meet.
More than 300 garment workers were sacked in Cambodia after taking a stand to demand their right to a living wage. According to a recent Cambodian living wage study, garment workers need £60 a month to support their families instead of the £38 the factory was paying them.
In February 1997, 200 Vietnamese sweatshop workers fell ill and were hospitalised by over exposure to acetane, a chemical solvent used in production of McDonalds Happy Meal toys. Despite such incidents the factory reportedly refused to improve its ventilation system for its workers.
Workers at the Yongshen toy factory in China share filthy, overcrowded dormitories infested with bed bugs. Twenty-four workers share each room, sleeping in narrow triple-level metal beds. Twenty-four workers must share a toilet and in the sweltering summer heat must work drenched in their own sweat. The Yongshen factory produces toys for Hasbro and for RC2 the makers of popular Bratz dolls.
Of the total retail cost of a garment, less than 1% is shared between the people who made it in many sweatshops.
It is not uncommon for people who try to fight for better conditions in sweatshops to be persecuted. Trade union leader Anwar Ansari, producing clothes for M&S in India, claims he was kidnapped and brutally beaten on August 25th 2010.
"I am exhausted to death now…. None of us have time to go to toilet or drink water. The supervisors are pressuring and nagging us all the time. We are tired and dirty. We work without stop and we are still reproached by the supervisors.” - Worker making New Balance shoes, in China for the Beijing Olympics.
Many footballs are hand stitched in sweatshops by children who are under paid and over worked. On the World day against Child Labour in 2006 some of these children were given the opportunity to play with these footballs for the first time, as they were taken from the factories they worked in and enrolled in schools set up by the UN.
In 2005 the building of the Spectrum/Shahriyar Sweater factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing 64 workers and injuring 80. These deaths were entirely preventable. The building collapsed as a result of factory owners violating building codes and health and safety regulations.
Foxconn, a major firm responsible for the assembly of Apple products was forced to investigate conditions at one of its Chinese factories following a string of 17 employee suicides.
Trade Unions play a vital role in ensuring workers across the world can achieve a Living wage and decent working conditions. Unions give workers the confidence to say things together that they would be too scared to say on their own. But many factories find ways to prevent their employees forming trade unions.
Workers producing basic teeshirts for Asda In Bangladesh are earning just a quarter of the amount they need to properly feed, clothe and educate their families. ActionAid’s report, Asda: Poverty Guaranteed, says Asda could easily turn this around by paying workers an extra 2p on each £4 t-shirt it buys.
A survey of 10 factories in Bangladesh found that no factory had a regular working week of less than 60 hours, more than half exceeded this and four of the factories were found to have average working weeks of over 80 hours. In the UK a basic working week is 48 hours.
Many sweatshops are monitored by inspectors who are paid by the clothing industry. Often they will call ahead of inspection giving factory owners time to tidy the work floor, get rid of child workers and coach employees about what to say.
Many female factory workers cannot risk becoming pregnant for fear of being fired. Some supervisors treat female workers so severely that they must return to work sooner than two weeks after giving birth or lose their jobs.
On the 25th of February 2010, 21 workers were killed and 50 injured after a fire at a sweater factory in Bangladesh. The fire caused by an electric short circuit quickly spread through the factory fuelled by the inflammable materials stored there. Workers could not escape through the fire exits which were locked and stairways were blocked with materials.
One factory in Leicester was discovered by a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary to be paying workers £2.50 an hour – less half the minimum wage. Many of the employees were in the UK on student visas, working illegally, and had no way of challenging their exploitative conditions.
Violence in sweatshops is sadly a common occurrence. A recent report carried out by the National Labour Committee found that employees at sweatshops producing lingerie for the Victoria’s Secret brand, could be slapped or beaten by supervisors for making minor errors or falling behind on their production goals.
Sometimes simply closing a sweatshop down is not the answer as it forces the workers to seek alternative employment. After US Senator Tom Harkin’s Child Labour Deterrence Act was introduced in the 1990s, an estimated 50,000 children were dismissed from their garment industry jobs in Asia, leaving many to resort to jobs such as stone-crushing, street hustling, and prostitution.
At one British Sweatshop an undercover reporter discovered there was no central heating in some parts of the building and employees were forced to work in freezing cold conditions throughout the winter. The same reporter found herself trapped in the female toilet after boxes stacked in front of the door fell and blocked her exit.
Distressed denim is often created by a process called sand-blasting. Workers fire sand under high pressure at jeans, and this sand breaks down into fine silica sand particles, which workers inhale and this often causes the fatal lung disease Silicosis. In Turkey alone, 47 former sandblasting operators are known to have died as a direct result of sandblasting related Silicosis.
Thousands of people across the world are employed as home workers, producing goods for the UK high street from home. Whilst home working can be a positive choice for some, home workers are often the most exploited workers in the industry. They have precarious employment status, a lack of legal protection and are isolated from fellow workers which makes it difficult for them to become involved in trade unions.
A Social Audit is an inspection of working conditions in factories. A typical audit will involve:
1. a document review: wage sheets, time sheets and personal records are examined.
2. Site Inspection: this is a tour of the factory to check for any health and safety problems and observe the workers.
3. Interviews: managers, supervisors and workers are all interviewed. The best audits also consult the workers trade unions and local labour rights groups.
There are many different sweatshops across the world producing a wide variety products. Some of the worst industries are shoes, clothing, rugs, toys, chocolate, bananas and coffee.
Factory workers in El Salvador, Spain producing products for labels including Adidas, Reebok, Puma and Gap recently won major improvements to their workplace following the release of a negative report on conditions at the factory. Previously sealed doors and windows were opened to improve ventilation and fans have been installed. Workers are now provided with detailed pay stubbs in Spanish detailing the hours they are paid for and noting pay rates and any deductions to pay.
In November 2005 The International Labour Rights Fund filed a lawsuit in the U.S. that charged Coca Cola and its bottling facility in Turkey with torture of Union activists and their families. The International Labour Rights Fund alleged that employees were beaten with clubs, tear gassed, and then jailed in an effort to force the employees to abandon union efforts.
See more here.
Also check out sweatshop free shopping!