Your purchases matter. As first world consumers living in a globalized economy, our choices can have a dynamic impact on people living many many miles away. Much of the “brand name”clothing that is prevalent in the big box stores in the USA is manufactured in developing third world countries. Due to ever increasing, price based competition, it is produced at the lowest possible cost so that it can then be resold by the large retailers passing on the savings to the ultimate consumers and making a profit themselves.
Unfortunately many of these products are laden with high human costs. In an effort to continually cut their expenses in these countries where enforcement is at a minimum or nonexistent, companies regularly violate labor laws and ignore what would be basic human rights in their own industrialized countries to increase output. The result is often a “sweatshop”. This word conjures up images of exploited women and children toiling day and night, sleeping, eating, and working in the same area for barely enough money to live on. Sadly, this is not far from the reality these people live in. Dangerous conditions, extreme temperatures, abuse from employers, exposure to harmful materials, a 50-60 hour work week where overtime pay is ignored, child labor, withheld wages with the pretext being poor performance, intimidation, and illegal firings, these conditions are the rule rather than the exception in these factories. Rural to urban relocation is also encouraged by this system of bare bones mass production. As a larger portion of the populace emigrates from the countryside they often leave their traditions and local customs behind.
Sweatshops are just one way manufacturers shirk ethical and humanitarian considerations to exploit workers in the name of a better bottom line. Often called “the hidden workforce”, homeworkers or outworkers are laborers undertaking paid work at home for another person or business . They are very common in the textile and clothing industry and are predominantly women. Unfortunately, they comprise a large but amorphous group and without any collective power the are very often taken advantage of. Studies show that most are paid below minimum wage, their work is sporadic, and due to their form of employment they are denied access to basic employee rights and protections.
Although globalization may be imperative, cheaper prices do not have to mean sub-standard or exploitative working conditions and a non-living wage. As citizens of the world we must step up to this challenge by speaking our minds with our purchases. The key is consumer awareness and action. By putting pressure on manufacturers, holding them accountable, and most importantly, purchasing ethically sourced products, together, we can slowly remake the status quo.
At Andes Gifts we are committed to taking on this challenge and fomenting social change by providing conscious consumers with an alternative. Read the “Our Approach” section of this website to learn more.