Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

STOP SWEATSHOPS!

Posted by strattof on October 26, 2013

SWEATSHOP noun: a difficult or dangerous work environment where employees work long hours for low pay, and employers have no regard for the laws, including worker safety, child labour, and minimum wage laws. ●The term sweat shop was coined in England during the Industrial Revolution when people, including children, worked for starvation wages in hazardous, unhealthy situations. ●In today’s globalized economy, most of the sweatshops are located in poor countries.

OUTSOURCE verb: to transfer production to an outside supplier in order to cut costs and avoid regulations. ●Labour organizations call it the “race to the bottom.” ●In today’s globalized economy, it means moving production from wealthy western nations to poor countries.

GARMENT INDUSTRY noun: companies engaged in the manufacture and selling of clothing. ●Once a cornerstone of Canadian industry, the manufacturing of clothing is now outsourced to Asian countries where mainly women workers toil in sweatshops in order to meet the western demand for cheap apparel.

ATTACK ON WORKERS

Outsourcing is an attack on workers in both rich and poor countries.

  • Canada lost over 75,000 jobs between 2001 and 2010 due to outsourcing in the garment industry. 
  • Bangladesh, because it is cheapest, has become the country of choice for the western garment industry to outsource the manufacture of apparel. About 4 million Bangladesh workers, mostly poor women, toil in factories making clothes for such brands as Gap, Sears, Walmart, Target, Lululemon and Loblaws. Workers are paid about 28 cents an hour, work 12-15 hours a day, 6 days a week, and live in tiny overcrowded hovels in abject misery. They also work in extremely dangerous conditions. 

BANGLADESH FACTORY TRAGEDIES

In the past year, over 1000 people, mostly young women, have died in Bangladesh in a series of factory tragedies:

FACTORY FIRE, November 24 2012 – Tazreen Fashions Ltd, Dhaka, Bangladesh: 112 killed, stranded in the factory building with escape exits locked and windows barred. At least 200 injured.

FACTORY COLLAPSE, April 26 2013 – Rana Plaza commercial building, Savar, Bangladesh: 1,100 workers, including children, killed. 2,500 injured and/or maimed. Hundreds still missing.

FACTORY FIRE, October 8 2013 – Aswad Composite Mills, Gazipur, Bangladesh: 10 killed; 50 injured.

WHAT CORPORATIONS HAVE DONE

  • In response to international pressure from labour, as well as from groups working against sweatshops, 100 mainly European corporations have signed onto the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
  • Only 1 Canadian company signed on: Loblaws.
  • Instead, other corporations, led by Walmart and the Gap, came up with their own initiative: Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

Both the Accord and the Alliance are agreements that commit corporations to assessment of worker safety. However, the Accord is legally binding and the Alliance is not.

Neither agreement commits companies to pay fair wages to workers or to compensate injured workers.

THE QUESTION OF RESPONSIBILITY

Western corporations operating in Bangladesh do not invest in factories. Rather they deal with subcontractors, offering them a narrow margin of profit and thus forcing them to run the factories in barbaric conditions.

Subcontracting makes it easy for western corporations not to take responsibility, allowing them to pass culpability on to the small factory owners and to distance themselves from the blood and sweat of Bangladesh workers, while continuing to enjoy the benefits of cheap labour.

It is easy to cast blame for the Bangladesh factory tragedies. But who will take responsibility?

Western corporations and politicians certainly need to be held accountable. But what about western consumers? What is our responsibility?

WHAT YOU AND I CAN DO

Workers are dying in Bangladesh so we can have cheap clothing. Garment workers earn approximately $38 a month, an amount many of us would not think twice about spending on a single piece of clothing.

Take a stand against sweatshop abuses and help make corporations accountable for their actions:

  • Become an ethical shopper. Do not purchase “Made in Bangladesh” goods from companies that have not signed the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Ask Regina retailers why their company has not signed the Accord
  • Look for alternatives such as “Made in Canada” or “union made” companies. Or buy second-hand clothing.
  • Tell our MPs we do not want goods made in sweatshops imported into Canada.
  • Learn more about sweatshops and anti-sweatshop campaigns: Google “sweatshops in Canada”; Google “Maquila Solidarity Network links” or go to: http://en.maquilasolidarity.org/resources/links
  • Learn about the history of the labour movement in North America. Read about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York that, in 1911, killed 146 workers. The conditions in the factory were very similar to those in Bangladesh factories today. The 1911 fire led to labour standards and laws, including the right to organize. The New York garment workers did not die in vain. Nor should the Bangladesh factory workers.
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2 Responses to “STOP SWEATSHOPS!”

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  2. Jim said

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