Imagine you are walking through Toys R Us. Everywhere you turn are mounds and mounds of toys. Your child, in the midst of all the toys is happily playing with each one that comes into sight. But then you remember the news from the previous night, children, the same age as your precious child, were the ones that made the soccer ball your son was playing with. Locked in a world that doesn't care, children from the age of five to fourteen are currently working in horrid warehouses, we call sweatshops.
Many of these conditions have developed because of families who are in need of money. In the societies that need child labor, children work because they have to, not because they want to. Within underdeveloped nations, children work because they need the labor of everyone. Both parents usually work two jobs a day, and both who also work at sweatshops. Although the parents are working, the cost of living is too high for these people. Most of the jobs in third world countries pay between six cents an hour to about twenty-eight cents an hour (Martinez, 1995). Some of these families, on a good week, can make thirteen dollars a week. With the pay so low, many families are are forced also to send their children to work. Children between the ages of five to fourteen are locked into factories forced to work. The conditions that a child must survive through daily includehot stuffy warehouses, eight to twelve hours of work with no break, and no clean water. The types of work that a child is forced to suffer through are for items we use everyday, such as articles of clothing, soccer balls, shoes, and even toys. Many top brand names and companies are also taking advantage of child labor.
Countries around the world allow sweatshops to exist because of the economic state they are in. The various items that children make are usually big money-makers for their country. This helps the country to gain more wealth, which is badly needed in some areas.The conditions that children must work in are terrible. Many of the factories are enclosed in a tight area with no ventilation for fresh air to come in. All the windows and doors are securely locked until night arrives when the children are sent home. The factories and warehouses are infested with rodents, insects, and disease. The supervisors yell at the children to work faster and harder. These inhumane conditions are what a child must go through daily to earn three dollars a day. In certain areas of the world which are devastatingly hot, children work barefoot. There are cases where they walk around hypodermic needles left on the ground. Many countries such as Burma, Pakistan, Haiti, Morocco, Guatemala, Honduras, China, South Korea, and the list goes on, provide no benefits for the child; instead, they offer long hours of hard work and minuscule amounts of money.
Many top names of the industry allow this to go in because of the profit they gain in the end. A top name such as Disney will license their toy to brand name toy company, and together design a toy. The next step is to choose a cheap producer from the various countries. A designated salary is made, for example two dollars a day, to assemble all the parts of the toy. After the toys are made, they are shipped to factories so top buying agents, such as retail stores can purchase them. The toys are then shipped to the United States by boat and enter a major port. After clearing through customs, the toys are moved to retail stores around the country. The retail price is set at the stores which can range from eight dollars to twenty dollars and the toys are put on the market (Martinez, 1996). The wages paid to the workers only makes up a marginal fraction of what the company makes. Pakistan, for example, is the world leader when it comes to producing soccer balls. Three Pakistani companies together make over thirty-six million soccer balls a year, sixty percent of the world's total (Richburg,1996). The conditions of the shops in which the balls are produced are horrendous. Children sit at a sewing machines for hours stitching together soccer balls. Eventually they sell these soccer balls to Adidas, Nike, Puma, and Reebok for the Western world. Chances are great that a child made the soccer ball sitting in your garage. The heat in these buildings is unimaginable. However, the children sit there and work because their family needs the money so desperately. These youths are missing their childhood, and are left working for hours on one ball and getting paid twenty-six cents.
Kathie Lee Gifford was shocked when the National Labor Committee annouced that adolescent girls make the clothes bearing her name. After discovering that twelve to fourteen year olds made her clothing line, she has made it a crusade to stop sweatshops. These youths were gorced to work over twelve hour shifts making some measly, thirty-one cents an hour. She then went over to Honduras to make sure these allegations were true and discovered they were. After looking at the stature of the building and the conditions, Gifford convinced Wal-Mart to withdraw from their contract. She did not, however, want to stop there, so she went to talk to Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich. It was he who told her to join the Department of Labor to help put an end to sweatshops and their conditions, not only in the U.S. but abroad as well. Since that meeting, Gifford has also talked to President Bill Clinton. She met with the media to beg celebrities and industry leaders to come together and "do the right thing." There are many preventive measures that we the public can do to help eliminate sweatshops. There is no solid way to know if a child made the product, but there are practical things you can do. First and foremost, always look to where the product was made. All toys, clothing, and sports equipment have the location of where the item was made. Then ask the store managers if they know their product's origin. "Exercise discretion" on countries you are certain use child labor. There are many countries to look out for, such as Burma, Haiti, El Salvador, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. We could have a consumer boycott of these countries but sometimes a boycott is not always the best option; we can not allow thousands of people jobless in their country. Instead it is more effective to question where the products were made and explaining your concern. Do not always assume that U.S.A. made labels are made under ideal conditions, because many high quality jeans such as Levi's and Guess are not. Union labels are also not always as much security as thought to be. Some union-made labels are much more expensive. If you are on the Internet, check the homepage of the U.S. Labor Department, and see if they list your manufacturer or retailer. If they are listed, then most likely they are following regulations. Finally, ask the manufacturers directly with either a letter or by phonecall about their codes of conduct in their factories. A response will come from those who do not condone sweatshops, if no response is given, this might reveal something.
Child Labor exists across the world today. It appears within industrialized nations and in underdeveloped countries. Children between the ages of five and thirteen are forced to work in factories that are infected with rodents and animals. The conditions are very unsafe and tragic. The salary for a child is low, almost always ten to twenty dollars a week. We, the public can help stop this cruelty to children. By working together as one, we can eventually stop sweatshops in the world. Everyone must do his or her part to do the "right thing." We can give each child what he or she deserves a childhood.
Greenhouse, Steven. "Union Says Big Stores are Using Sweatshops." New York Times 7 December 1996: A:26
Hazlett, Thomas. "Kathie Lee and Me." Reason Dec. 1996: 74-75
Kennel, Paul. "The Sweatshop Dilemma." Christian Science Monitor 21 August 1996: 20
Martinez-Mont, Lucy. "Sweatshops are Better Than No Shops." Wall Street Journal 25 June 1996: A14
Richburg, Keith. "U.S. Industry overseas: Sweatshop or Job Source." Washington Post 28 July 1996: A:1
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.