85% of sweatshop workers all over the globe are young women, aged between 15 and 25. The t-shirt, jeans and jumper you’re wearing right now were probably made by a young female. Sweatshops threaten the lives of so many women and strips them of their equal rights. Young girls are trafficked into sweatshops and have their basic human rights taken from them. Sweatshops have become a feminist issue.
What is a Sweatshop?
A sweatshop is a factory in which clothes are mass produced for western chains, usually in poor conditions with minimum wage. The conditions of these sweatshops violate several laws from child labour to health and safety.
In the US, the Department of Labor suggests that over 50% of their sewing shops are sweatshops. This is appalling. And what’s worse is that every day, factories are passing the inspections and slipping under the radar of the Department of Labor.
And of course, it’s not just our clothes that come from sweatshops. Everything we know and love from coffee, cocoa and even bricks are made in these questionable places. Surely by 2020, governments will have found ways to abolish sweatshops for good? Unfortunately not. Just like a ticking time bomb, the factories could blow at any given moment, yet the laws still choose to turn a blind eye until it’s too late.
Where do our clothes come from?
First of all, look at the label on any garment you have and you’ll see, it’s not from the UK. That is, of course, apart from the odd exception. Because it is so easy to be sucked into the high street stores with their glossy window displays, we don’t think about the damage they’re causing.
“Oh, I can’t possibly make much of a difference.” But, you can. Secondly, imagine if everyone stopped buying from the large brands who own these sweatshops. Each purchase we make is perpetrating the situation and allowing these sweatshops to continue.
Some sweatshop workers earn as little as 1 US cent an hour for well over 100 hours a week work in despicable conditions. This means factory workers are earning little over £1 a week. Imagine trying to live on such a small wage!
An average t-shirt in Primark costs £6. If the salary of the workers went up to 2 US cents an hour, the price of our beloved t-shirt would only increase by 1.8%. It’s a small price to pay to double the amount a worker gets paid. How much more would you be willing to pay for that t-shirt if you knew the workers were treated fairly?
The horror of sweatshops past
As the US began to industrialize in the 19th century, the concept of sweatshops was born. Many families would take the work into their own home, and the lack of laws and government regulations made it possible for manufacturers to load obscene amounts of work onto their workers for little pay or care for their health and safety. In the 20th century, sweatshops in the US began to close as new laws and regulations came about, although, many still operate illegally today.
In the UK, however, the term “sweater” was used to describe someone who employed people for monotonous work at very low wages, from as early as 1850. Sweatshops were often hidden among slums in the big cities, consequently not being found out by the law. Even today, sweatshops still exist, even in the UK! Factories in Leicester have been called out for paying the women who work there as little as £1 an hour. How is this still happening in a first world country, with strict laws and regulations?
Feminism and how women can help
In the summer of 2018, Heather Findlay and Fritha Vincent had an idea to launch the She Rocks Secret Sari collection. This was a collaboration between female led rock and metal bands and Secret Projects.
Secret Projects is a business that trains women in India to sew purposeful products. One of the products these women produce is a fold-away festival dress called the Secret Sari dress. The Secret Projects business employs women in West Bengal who have previously been trafficked. Therefore, it is a safe environment where they earn £20 a month.
Their goal was quite clear. They wanted to drive a Prevention Through Production Programme that would combine the female empowerment of the She Rocks movement with reaching out to women in dire conditions in the far East. Findlay and Vincent contacted as many female rock artists as they could and asked them to be photographed wearing a Secret Sari dress. This was a way of encouraging women to stand together, for each other.
The campaign was launched on International Women’s Day in 2019. Every woman involved changed her profile picture on social media to her Secret Sari dress photo. This created a network of musicians and fans alike, all campaigning towards the same cause; the prevention of human trafficking through production.
It’s time for change
The biggest victims of sweatshops and human trafficking are female, hence, thousands of women put themselves in danger to provide us with items we consider to be a necessity. Are they really necessary when someone’s life is at risk?
As consumers, we can help by buying fair trade and cutting down on our fast-fashion purchases. While you decide whether to spend £30 in Topshop, you should think about the risks a woman similar to you took to make them. Because, let’s face it, you don’t really need another pair of jeans.
So now we know who makes our clothes, don’t you think it’s time for a change?