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Funding Sweatshops Globally

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Funding Sweatshops Globally - by Stephen Lendman

In July 2008, SweatFree Communities (SFC) released a report titled, "Subsidizing Sweatshops: How Our Tax Dollars Fund the Race to the Bottom, and What Cities and States Can Do" in which it studied 12 factories in nine countries that produce employee uniforms for nine major companies.

Widespread human and labor rights violations were revealed, including child labor; illegal below-poverty wages; few or no benefits; forced or unpaid overtime; hazardous working conditions; verbal, physical, and sexual abuses; forced pregnancy testing to be hired and while employed; excessive long working hours causing physical ailments, stress, and harm; denial of free expression, association, and collective bargaining rights; and elaborate schemes to commit fraud and deceive corporate auditors.

In April 2009, Subsidizing Sweatshops II followed to provide more evidence of a global problem. It tracked developments in four factories from the first report and four new ones in five countries on three continents producing uniforms for nine major firms in China, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and America.

Two cases relied on investigations by independent factory monitors. Three others used personal worker interviews conducted by "credible local unions and non-governmental organizations with expertise in labor rights." Three more are based on SFC-conducted interviews.

In all cases, the global economic crisis materially increased worker hardships leaving them more vulnerable, in jeopardy, and unable to secure their rights. Most often, the following violations were found:

-- children as young as 14 forced to work the same long hours as adults and under the same onerous conditions;

-- wages so low, they only cover one-fourth to one-half of essential needs;

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-- workers in at least two factories not paid overtime;

-- because of excessive production quotas, workers forced to skip breaks, not go to the bathroom, and work sick through grueling 12-hour or longer days;

-- unhealthy work environments in stifling heat and thick fabric dust detrimental to health;

-- numerous sewing machine accidents causing wounds and loss of fingers; and

-- instances of severe repression against union supporters and organizers, including harassment, intimidation, firing, and blacklisting from further employment elsewhere.

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The report's findings "are corroborated by scores of academic research and industry investigations." Human and labor rights violations are the norm, not the exception. Monitoring alone won't change them, but perhaps public disclosure can help.

The Honduran Alamode Factory

Employing about 500 workers, it makes public employee uniforms and other apparel for Lion Apparel, Cintas Corporation, and Fechheimer Brothers Company. In 2008, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) reported some of the worst working conditions in the region, but months later corrective measures had been taken, thanks to exposing the situation to public scrutiny.

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