Sweat Free Houston

Working to make the City of Houston sweatshop free.

What is a sweatshop?

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“There are more people living in forced labor today than when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” FBI Special Agent Tom Simon, September 3, 2010 

Sweatshops are much more real and more prevalent than most people think. They impose inhumane conditions on their workers without offering any real benefits or protection. From a view fixated on profit maximization, they offer ideal conditions for business owners and supervisors. In the absence of laws prohibiting sweatshops and protecting working people’s rights, they would come out of the shadows and spread to other sectors of society and across borders like a contagious infection. To pass and enforce laws prohibiting sweatshops, society needs aware and active citizens. We defend the human rights of workers in other countries as well as protect our rights here in America by demanding an end to the practice of sweatshops.

Sweatshop definitions

There are many ways to define a sweatshop. The U.S. history encyclopedia says: “Sweatshop refers to both a workplace and a labor system. Sweated work is undesirable, unhealthy, and undemocratic. Sweated labor is characterized by harsh conditions, long hours, very low wages, job insecurtity and often takes place in illegal and temporary workplaces. Sweatshops are often small, temporary garment “shops.” Historically, however, sweated workers have often toiled in their own homes, in a system called homework and frequently involving child labor.

Until the late twentieth century, it was assumed that the federal minimum wage and maximum hours legislation of 1938, part of larger New Deal social and economic reforms, had curtailed sweatshops in the United States. Unfortunately, America rediscovered its sweatshops. In August 1995, federal agencies raided a compound of several apartments in El Monte, California. These residences functioned as a large-scale sweatshop. There, seventy-two illegal Thai immigrants lived and worked in inhumane conditions, sewing sixteen hours a day on garments for several nationally prominent retailers. Discoveries of additional sweatshops led reformers, unionists, and student activists to revive the antisweatshop movement through organizations such as the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE, now UNITE HERE and United Students Against Sweatshops).

The U.S. Department of Labor’s definition is that a sweatshop is any factory that violates more than one of the fundamental US labor laws, which include paying a minimum wage and keeping a time card, paying overtime, and paying on time.

Gender and sweatshops: “Today, the overwhelming majority of garment workers in the U.S. are immigrant women. They typically toil 60 – 80 hours a week in front of their machines, often without minimum wage or overtime pay. In fact, the Department of Labor estimates that more than half of the country’s 22,000 sewing shops violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Many of these workers labor in dangerous conditions including blocked fire exits, unsanitary bathrooms, and poor ventilation. Government surveys reveal that 75% of U.S. garment shops violate safety and health laws. In other words 75% of the apparel factories in the U.S. are sweatshops. In addition, workers commonly face verbal and physical abuse and are intimidated from speaking out, fearing job loss or deportation.” Information from Sweatshop Watch.

Sweatshops and globalization: Sweatshops can be viewed as a product of the global economy. Fueled by an abundant supply of labor in the global market, capital mobility, and free trade, garment industry giants move from country to country seeking the lowest labor costs and the highest profit, exploiting workers the world over.


Written by timjo62

April 12, 2010 at 1:36 pm

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