Consumer Responsibility for Sweatshops

Written by david banks
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Consumer Responsibility for Sweatshops
Sweatshop awareness (Sewing Maching and Scissors image by DJ from Fotolia.com)

Sweatshops have been around for decades and the blame for their existence has been passed around just as long. Who is responsible for the low wages and bad working conditions in sweatshops? Where do you point the finger of blame when considering sweatshops? Tracing the long thread of product development from corporate offices down to garment factories, it is hard to point the finger at any one in particular. One place to start is where the line ends, the consumer.

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History

Sweatshops have had a long history with big name companies and large corporations. We know they are bad, but we seldom know where they are or what they do. Some sweatshops are found in metropolitan cities and thriving areas; however, most are found in developing countries. Labor is cheaper in developing areas, and thus outsourcing a company's product becomes cheaper than producing it in-house.This cheapness is possible because a sweatshop, as it is defined, is a factory that violates fundamental labour laws such as working wages, hours and conditions. In many cases, these developing countries do not even have sufficient laws to prohibit such exploitation, which leads to one of the many crimes of the sweatshop, child labour. Labor is cheap because workers are under paid, work long hours without overtime pay and work in environments that are not maintained in a fashion that is suitable to a workplace.

Chain of Production

Sweatshops mark the origin of a product while consumers mark its destination. But between these two poles, a product passes through innumerable hands. The chain of production includes workers, factory owners, corporations, officials in charge of labour standards, and consumers. The blame can be placed on any entity participating in the chain of development; however, since there would be no product to purchase if there were no buyers to buy, let's start with the consumer.

The Consumer

There are many things a consumer can do, and to great effect, when trying to end the reign of the sweatshop age. The consumer has a lot of power. They can decide what they would like to consume and, theoretically, if there were a collective consumer conscience, decide what a company could produce. In this sense, if a consumer would only purchase sweat-free products, then companies would only provide sweat-free products. However, this collective consumer conscience does not exist and therefore alternative methods of taking responsibility must be practised.

Sweat-Free Products

The first step in taking responsibility as a consumer, is to request sweat-free products wherever you shop. Most stores have comment cards where you can express your desire, but having a face-to-face conversation with a manager can create awareness of your initiative much faster.

Fair Trade Federation

Along with requesting sweat-free products, you can purchase products that have already been produced under fair and sweat-free conditions. Companies that produce such products are a part of the FTF, Fair Trade Federation. A list of all these companies can be found in the National Green Pages. By buying from companies of the FTF, you are providing funds to fair trade companies, while removing potential funds from companies that utilise sweatshops.

Ask Questions

The insurgence against sweatshops and other unfair business practices is relatively new. Thus, a lot of companies may not even be aware that their products are being produced in sweatshops. Asking questions at the venues where you shop will help educate you as well as store owners. Inquire about your store's code of conduct that protects its workers or if a manger is aware of the wages and working conditions of the makers of his products.

Education

It seems that the use of sweatshops is an inevitability in the 21st century; however, awareness is gradually pervading the market. A major step toward a sweat-free world is education. The sooner a child, or person of any age, is introduced to the who, what and how of consuming, the sooner there will be a generation of smart shoppers, and hopefully a sweat-free world. The National Green Pages are a great source to consult with your friends and family when trying to become conscious consumers and educating the ones you know about the responsibility of being a consumer.

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