American shoppers may not know it, but most of the name-brand products they purchase, from clothing to carpets to sport equipment is made under deplorable circumstances. Like images straight out of a Charles Dickens novel: children toiling at age four in hazardous worksites alongside adults struggling for subsistence level wages is happening as I write this. The bulk of the child labor abuse in garment sweatshops takes place in Third World countries. “Around the world, there are at least 73 million child laborers ages 10-14, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. The ILO puts the figure for working children of all ages at up to 200 million, noting that 25 percent of all the children in Africa are working. In Asia, the figure is 18 percent, in Latin America, 7 percent” (Clark 733).
Should the U.S. crackdown on companies doing businesses with overseas sweatshops? The dangers of child labor are not always apparent to the employers and parents who encourage it. Children are less biologically mature and less physically strong, which makes them more vulnerable to injury and illnesses. If there are chemical contaminants in the workplace, children are exposed to more of them. Their bodies have more trouble breaking down chemical toxins and excreting them. They are also more likely to trip or get caught in machinery. Finally, children may be said to ‘have a longer shelf-life,’ which means that after exposure to dangerous substances such as benzine or asbestos, they have more years ahead of them in which to develop diseases.
Experts say the child labor problem has worsened in recent years with the connection of the U.S. retail industry into a few huge corporations. These giants seek competitive advantages by “outsourcing,” or subcontracting, to low-paying suppliers around the world. In 1987 the 20 biggest U.S. apparel companies deemed for 33 percent of domestic sales, according to the Census Bureau. By 1992, the share of the 20 largest had increased to 41 percent of sales. Wal- Mart, K Mart, and J.C. Penny, to name a few, have emerged as global empires that farm out thousands of manufacturing contracts (Clark 721).
So far what has been done to crackdown on businesses done with overseas sweatshop practices is the recognition of chairman of the Commerce subcommittee, Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. He sponsored legislation that would allow U.S. firms to sue competitors whom they believe are selling imported products made in such factories(Voa). A solution that came to my mind when thinking of how I would remove or even lessen the amount of companies doing businesses with overseas sweatshops would be suing competitors that are buying from these overseas sweatshops. To do that it would have to initially begin with the citizens of the United States of America. We, the citizens would have to vote on a law such as giving U.S. firms to sue these competitors supporting these sweatshops by investing their dollars in them. Just like how the food industry has a represented U.S. federal executive department called the USDA, the clothing industry should have one that has a branch that enforces laws on child labor.
In terms of taking consideration, companies can take a tour of the facilities and determine just how their products are being produced. As a former employee of Ross, I can say that most retails stores if not all have something called a “secret shopper.” A secret shopper is a person employed by a manufacturer or retailer to pose as a shopper to assess the quality of customer service and to regulate if all rules are being followed. Head of U.S. businesses doing business with overseas sweatshops, should hire individuals to be a secret sweatshops worker to regulate annually or yearly. Another alternative would be to not just automatically pick the vendor with the lowest cost, but to ensure that the quality of product that they are getting from these producers. The most expensive, would be to follow the Buy American Act (BAA). “The Buy American Act requires the United States government to prefer U.S.-made products in its purchases” (Luckey). While various government agencies and government contractors follow this act, other business can and should do the same. This will not only help ensure that sweatshop labor is not evolved but will also help stimulate the American economy and could in fact help them drive up their sales. Child labor should be made offense under law and strict actions should be taken against those who motivate it and indulge in spreading this crime. Children should be enjoying their childhood and attending school. By them doing that, it secures the future of the nation whose citizens they would be one day.
Summary and Rebuttal of Opposing Views
Approximately one-half of all the apparel purchased in the United States last year, over $190 billion worth, was composed of imports made offshore. In Central America and the Caribbean alone, there are 500,000 mostly young women producing apparel exclusively for sale in the United States. Honduras has 65,000 to 70,000 maquiladora workers or assembly workers who manufacture apparel and other labor-intensive goods, mostly for the U.S. It is estimated that about 13 percent of those workers are between 12 and 15 years of age. There are minors in El Salvador working. There are minors in Guatemala working. There are also children working in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and many other third world countries. So, the Wal-Marts and the K Marts and the Nikes and the mass industries, they trot the world looking for the lowest wages, whether that’s in Honduras at 31 cents an hour or Nicaragua, 24 cents an hour. Whether that’s El Salvador at 56 cents an hour. Whether that’s Sri Lanka at 18 cents an hour, or Vietnam at 11 cents an hour or China at 11 cents. They have these Third World countries competing against each other. Who will accept the lowest wages? Who will have the lowest wages, the most miserable working conditions? If retailers and manufacturers begin to pay a living wage in these countries, sweatshops would be a thing of the past, and so would child labor, because they could hire their parents, and the kids could go back to school where they belong. It’s nonsense to think that companies must hire children(Clark 736). While clothing from the Northern Marianas made up only about 1 percent of the $29 billion in clothing imported into the United States last year, it accounts for as much as 20 percent of the clothing sold by some of the largest American companies. Several big manufacturers doing business here are silent when asked about labor practices or about the volume of clothing they import. Spokesmen for Arrow, The Gap, and Montgomery Ward either did not return phone calls or said they had no comment on labor conditions in the islands(Shennon).
But the event also highlighted the challenges facing companies trying to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. Cheaper energy and rising labor costs in China have helped stabilize manufacturing employment in the U.S. According to Joseph White and Sue Horton on business rider, there are still roughly 5 million fewer Americans working in factories today than in 1990(Carey). To decrease the unemployment rate, it would only make sense to open a bunch of factories here in the United States. Opening the factories will produce more jobs. The pay would not even have to be high, it could just be a minimum wage. Instead of competitors risking getting sued by doing business overseas they would prefer to take the less risky way by doing here in the United States. It shouldn’t because some families need the money. I think that the kids should get paid more but the idea of child labor should continue. These kids will help improve the families pension and learn how to get through tough situations. So, I think that overall with a little bit of changes that child labor is okay.
Sk Nazma who’s a former textile worker in Bangladesh, along with the labor rights group, Bangladesh Workers’ Solidarity Center has been investigating the labor practices of a company called Harvest Rich in that country, where clothing is sewn for Walmart, Haynes, and J.C. Penney. When she began the research in June, she discovered that hundreds of children, some as young as 11 years old, were illegally working at Harvest Rich, sometimes for up to 20 hours a day. “Before clothing shipments had to leave for the United States, there are often mandatory 19 to 20-hour shifts from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.,” she said. “The workers would sleep on the factory floor for a few hours before getting up for their next shift in the morning. If they did anything wrong, they were beaten every day”(Voa).
Child labor should be banned worldwide because it is inhuman to force a child to work when children of their age play and enjoy their lives. It deprives the child of their childhood. Child labor is modern slavery. Children have the right to breathe in clean air and live life like the rest of the children do. These children who work in industries and in places where there is no hygiene die because of diseases. They are not given proper medical treatment. Child labor stunts the development of the children. All of us believe that children are the future of the nation and if we waste their talents like this then there will be a dark future.
“Now a growing movement of U.S. and international officials, union and business leaders, human rights activists and celebrities has mobilized to challenge these deep-rooted practices” (Clark 723). “In his final two State of the Union messages, President Clinton directed attention to the exploitation of child labor overseas. In universities across the country, students have passionately rallied around this issue. During 1999-2000, students on 175 American campuses organized against international sweatshops in the biggest and fastest growing social movement among young adults in 40 years. Elementary school classes have petitioned Disney and Nike to keep child workers out of their factories” (Moskowitz).
The U.S. should crack down on companies doing businesses with overseas sweatshops. By giving U.S. firms permission to sue companies that support these sweatshops who practice unethical practices by investing their dollars in them. The exploitation of child labor remains a major problem in many developing countries… There are children abused and deprived of basic needs while in labor. These affect the physical and psychological state of the child. Imagine if it were a child that you love that had to be slaving to only receive less than a dollar for labor. Even put yourself in their place. By cracking down on businesses done with overseas sweatshops it would create more employment opportunities.