Global Sweatshop Protests
Global Sweatshop Protests
Global Sweatshop Protests
The ideas of better working conditions and a living wage are ones more haunting the world. Increased cases of labor law violations by employers particularly in the sweatshops have led to recent popular protests across the globe. Unionists argue that employers undermine the need of their workers to work in better conditions and pay wages that can sustain standard needs. Through the UN labor regulations, it is the duty of employers to set standardized working conditions that safeguard workers while at work. The employers are required to ensure security and work safety measures to protect workers from injuries, and guarantee them amicable working schedule as well as access to psychological and physical support. However, this practice has often been the opposite of many companies across the globe. The firms only focus on the maximum utilization of labor and profit. They overwork their employees for selfish gains thus labeled “sweatshops.” Thus, this study looks at the working condition and wages of employees at the sweatshops and set arguments for and against their purpose for recent protests.
Global Protest Situation
The sweatshop protests have been directed at the UN and regional bodies since most host nations take no action on the perpetrators. The protestors give the perspective of nongovernmental organizations’ watchdog duty on employers who undermine workers’ rights. They set the focus on human/labor rights and employers’ practices that alter labor relations. With similar conduct, the world experiences a cohort of consistent violations in low wages and poor working conditions of workers (Ambrogio, 2014). Majority of the perpetrators are international companies that seek cheap labor in the third world countries. Therefore, the sweatshop protests have a pattern of labor relations void across Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.
The 2019 Bangladesh workers’ protest is the latest sweatshop protests. Many factories in the country have closed down following mass demonstrations, boycotts, and criticism from international bodies. The protests have affected the garment industry on demands of better working conditions and wages for workers. Unfortunately, the affected companies make some of the nigh-brands sold to the rich in developed nations, thus the inclusion of international unionists and labor alternativists in the protests. The brand sellers include H&M, Primark, Walmart, Aldi, and Tesco, among others (Presse, 2019). The situation is slowly moving out of hand because the affected employers and the police have resorted to using force, leading to the death of protestors (Figure 1). According to Bangladesh garment union leader, Aminul Islam, they are not ready to let go of the strike until employers respond to their demands. With over 4500 textile firms and over $30 billion in goods shipped out of Bangladesh annually, the industry only pays a standard wage of $95 per month (Presse, 2019). Thus, the wage paid cannot sustain workers’ basic needs thereby falling below what is UN “living wage level.”
Figure 1: Bangladesh Garment Workers Clash with Police during a Demonstration in January (Presse, 2019).
Nike Company suffered huge reputation damage in 2017 over sweatshops labor criticism. A group of US-based students directed international strike involving foreign bodies against the company’s accusation of sweatshop and child labor. Championed in Boston, Washington, Bangalore, San Pedro Sula, and other global cities, the unionists accused the firm of using its global stations to undermine labor relations and laws (Bain, 2017). The protest was strategic in Nike’s operations having had almost $4 billion investment in university-logo products. Therefore, by having university students lead the global strike, the organizers wanted the company to respond quickest to the sweatshops claim in Bangalore, Honduras and other international stations (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Nike Company’s International Employees Demonstrating for Poor Pay (Bain, 2017).
Cambodia also faced a demonstration by dissatisfied employees demanding better working conditions and wage rise. The 2014 protest accused garment workers of underpaying employees in the reservation of higher profitability. The workers demanded a pay rise from US$100 to US$160 per month (Mezzadri, 2014). The peaceful turned violent demonstration saw workers clash with police, which caused the death of four people. The criticism increased when the Cambodian government instead of negotiation, banned demonstrations. The action showed intimidation and use of authority wrongly on deserving employees. The situation exemplified continued sweatshop violation of workers across the world.
Sweatshop protests have also been witnessed in South Africa, India, and Italy. The respective unions argue for better pay and improved working conditions. Their employers are hell-bent on pays without consideration of the growing economic concerns for higher wages. In Italy, companies are accused of earning wages equal to sweatshop pays yet making leading brands. The situation applies to China and India (Bain, 2018). The condition shows employers’ lack of commitment to reward their workers contributively for their expertise and skills. Thus, there is an absolute reason for the protests in support for better working conditions and wages for the employees worldwide thereby calling for the closure of sweatshops.
The persistence of sweatshop protests in Asia, African, Latin American and parts of Europe explains the weak employment relations in the industry. The affected nations have experienced evolving labor relations categorized by social dialogue and voluntary employment relations. However, the implementation of these labor relations to exempt sweatshops has not been easy. The global industrial sweatshop reactions have also not been short of illegal intimidations and suppressions under blunt violation of the labor laws and international unionists. The persistence of poor working conditions and low wages only show high labor atrocities (Ambrogio, 2014). Through global trade unions, nations like Bangladesh and India have made blunt pledges, giving reasons for their workers to resort to strike. The demonstrations are, hence justified in law since their grievances are delayed justices.
The ethics behind sweatshops warrants protests, even to the future. The situation sets an impeccable ethical implication and moral grounding on the wellbeing of the workers of the firms. The employees are exploited economically and psychologically. The circumstance contradicts the belief that employees of the sweatshops are voluntary affiliates of the atrocities. Since the majority of the firms are located in struggling or developing nations, they have the least labor alternatives. The workers are, therefore, forced by circumstance to take any wage offer they are given. Moreover, the employers also seem to agree on the payable wage of their workers. For instance, the over 4500 garments firms in Bangladesh offer a standard wage, which shows there is some extent of collaboration between the employers. The outcome portrays the industry as intentionally practicing labor disloyalty. The sweatshops have set prudence of unethical attitude on how they handle their employees. International labor ethics places sweatshops at the end of their possible employee treatments. Thus, the firms should not use their employees like production tools (Whittle, 2017). At least, they should be granted some level of ethical consideration on the basis of humanitarian grounds. Therefore, by staging demonstrations, the workers and unionists are in the right position to champion for better working conditions of sweatshop employees on humanitarian and ethical grounds.
Workers, wage disparity and offer choices also give a substantial reason for staging the sweatshop protests. Developed nations like the US have set wage regulations that operate on certain standards with a minimum wage option. In the same manner, the affected governments should be in opposition to set minimum wages with respect to various socio-economic structures of the economy. As such, minimum wage between the nations must not be the same but at least there should be consideration of the living wage level. A living wage describes a payable pay that can support basic life of employees without a strain. In certain instances, the UN, EU, and other labor watchdog bodies have proposed living wages for regions (Ambrogio, 2014). However, the authorities in the host countries have continuously denied creating institutional or legislative wage levels. The set wage levels would act as minimum wages thereby guiding the sweatshop firms in creating employees’ wages. For instance, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and India have no legislative minimum wage set by the government. The respective governments have let employees at the mercy of their employers. Each firm sets its own wage and pays as per their desire. The decision monopoly on labor relation by the sweatshops cannot be solved by mere talks. The international protests as often witnessed have at least put pressure of some firms to act appropriately. Thus, the unionists and the employees have made the right choice to stage the sweatshop protests.
Sweatshop protest also highlights irresponsive government policies and bribery as the cause of workers’ sufferings. The world is often taken by surprise on the level of atrocities undertaken in these countries without any government interventions. As a matter of fact, the governments show weak labor relations that cannot hold sweatshops responsible for their actions. Lack of protective laws to safeguard the interest of workers contributes to reasons for supporting the protests. As governments legally put in office by local citizens, it should be their responsibility to ensure their workers’ rights are observed. As such, foreign investors and sweatshops should be held responsible by the host government for the mistreatments of their citizens (Whittle, 2017). However, alarms and championing for employee rights are raised by foreign organizations. For instance, the EU proposed actions against Bangladesh sweatshops for abuse of employee rights while the host government refuted the claims. Such instance supports the accusation that government officials are often bribed by the sweatshops to support their atrocities. The inconsistencies in regulations leave sweatshops workers with no option rather than protests. Therefore, the workers are in the right position to undertake protests to attract the intervention of international bodies.
There are also hidden realities on ace of sweatshops that the world is not shown. There is contradictory information with regard to ownership of the sweatshops. Majority of the companies accused of practicing sweatshops have larger share originating from the west developed nations. The owners are the most influential people who do businesses in the developing nations to avoid high taxes and cost of productions. The developing nations have cheaper raw materials and labor which remain attractive to the exploiters. Thus, criticizing sweatshops in Asia, Africa, Latin American and parts of Europe by the same western investors do not warrant any riot (Ambrogio, 2014). The action portrays double speaking while at the same time secretly investing in the same abusive firms. As such, investors must take sole responsibility rather than the companies and their host countries. Their current actions are a mere shift of blames, making sweatshops a situational rather than a structural problem that is caused by violation of labor laws. On this regard, the firms’ ownership is the problem, not sweatshops.
There is an argument that modern-day sweatshops campaigns are mere trade wars sponsored by competitive companies and regions to demonize the development of other regions. For instance, there is a popular social justice argument that Asia and China are accused of sweatshops by the west to discredit them from the competitive global market (Whittle, 2017). The concern of sweatshop is raised to create sanctions to unduly favor companies from the west. The accusation creates an indifferent approach to sweatshops with the advent of sponsored anti-sweatshop campaigns. Therefore, this argument credits sweatshop protest as trade war rather than real labor problem.
The international campaign against sweatshop has also failed to understand the labor structure in the accused firms and regions. For instance, labor structure in Latin America, China, India, France, and Asia is mainly characterized by unskilled labor. Majority of the available workforce is unskilled hence less productive than labor in the US and parts of Europe (Ambrogio, 2014). Their unskillfulness and lack of experience can only attract low pay. Majority of these workers also only perform routine duties thereby denying the companies an opportunity to mechanize their production through technology. Thus, the companies are technically forced to rely on larger unskilled manpower because the local workers have no capacity to manage technology. Perceptually, it would then be fit for the companies to pay its workers as per their skills and input, thus the reason for attracting low wages and poor working conditions.
In addition, the economic performance of the regions contributes to the poor working condition of the workers. Majority of the affected nations’ developments are characterized by numerous calamities including unstable political structures. The economic structure of the countries is itself unresponsive to individual firm adjustments. Moreover, a larger share of their productions is exported to developed nations. For instance, Europe imports 60% of Asian garments (Ambrogio, 2014). The return on investment goes to foreign investors, and the host nations are left with no purchasing power in their markets. Thus, there is no standard rise in wage and working conditions that can match western standards. The situations make sweatshops a necessary evil hence purposing their existence. Therefore, the alternative arguments in this case oppose the existence of sweatshop protests since rioting appears a misinformed analogy.
Several international organizations and labor watchdogs have raised concerns and beginning to take actions on the conduct of sweatshop owners. Organizations such as UN, US, and EU among other watchdog organizations believe that sweatshops are unfit and recommendable for closure if their owners are not willing to take appropriate action in improving the working conditions of their employees. EU proposes the inclusion of its human rights and labor laws in corporations and trade agreements. Since 2008, the EU has put in place sustainable labor measures with the aim of making employers’ adhere to labor and environmental standards as defined by its ILO conventions (Ambrogio, 2014). The EU convention discourages against sweatshops with threatens of sanctions to countries that practice it on its workers. The union has set regulations with its partner countries to respect human and labor rights and ensure decent working condition for its workers. These among other corporate responsibility measures show the gratitude of concern on sweatshops. The union’s push and criticism supports opposition to sweatshops thereby confirming the right of affected workers’ to demonstrate and picket.
The local governments that host the sweatshops are in the best position to tackle the sweatshop nightmare. However, their irresponsive and normalization of labor crimes deter them from taking any actions. The international organizations and unionists remain most fit institutions to champion and support mitigation of sweatshops. In addition, reasons like economic downfalls, impartial regulations and trade wars do not warrant practicing sweatshops on innocent workers. The employees deserve a living wage that can support their basic needs, which too is not achieved by the sweatshops. Therefore, there is no substantial reason to deny sweatshop workers the rights to echo their voice for international help. The study, therefore, affirms that the sweatshop protests are in good faith and purposed to solve low wage and poor working conditions of workers.
The diversification of employment relations can be experienced through increasing labor strikes across the world. The number of strikes registered in the last five years by sweatshop workers depicts job dissatisfaction that continues to eat the labor market. Like other professions, the sweatshop workers are entitled to better remuneration and work safety. The situation is not only practiced in the sweatshop garment industry but also secretly practiced in other nation’s industries. However, the choice of sweatshop was guided by the large labor effect and undeniable accusations across the world. The study also shows the hidden investor interest in the industry that seems to influence the occurrence of such unethical labor practice. Therefore, skilled or not skilled, the sweatshop workers deserve better treatment at work and a living wage as purported by the protests
Source: Presse, A. F., (2019). Bangladesh Strikes: Thousands of Garment Workers Clash with Police over Poor Pay. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/14/bangladesh-strikes-thousands-of- garment-workers-clash-with-police-over-poor-pay
Bain, M. (2017). Nike is Facing a New Wave of anti-sweatshop protests. Quartz Publication. Online Article. Retrieved from https://qz.com/1042298/nike-is-facing-a-new-wave-of- anti-sweatshop-protests/
Mezzadri, A. (2014). Cambodian Sweatshops Protests Reveal the Blood on our Clothes. The Conversation. Development Studies, University of London. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/cambodian-sweatshop-protests-reveal-the-blood-on-our- clothes-2181
Bain, M. (2018). Italian Workers are earning near Sweatshop wages to make Luxury clothes in their homes. Quartz Publications. Online Article. Retrieved from https://qz.com/1397139/italian-workers-are-earning-near-sweatshop-wages-to-make- luxury-clothes-in-their-homes/
Ambrogio, E. D. (2014). Workers’ conditions in the textile and clothing sector: just an Asian affair? Issues at stake after the Rana Plaza tragedy. European Parliamentary Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact =8&ved=2ahUKEwjiyM23rNzhAhWluXEKHTCFC0EQFjAAegQIAhAC&url=http%3 A%2F%2Fwww.europarl.europa.eu%2FEPRS%2F140841REV1-Workers-conditions-in- the-textile-and-clothing-sector-just-an-Asian-affair- FINAL.pdf&usg=AOvVaw25fYdDugDmXHhiH4dL_KBg
Whittle, A. (2017). The Government’s Influence on Sweatshops in Developing Countries. Siegel Institute Ethics Research Scholars, 1(1), 2. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=siers