Ideally, the origin of sweatshops date back to the mid-1800s when immigrants were in desperate need of work. To such extent, sweatshops were established in tenement buildings with deplorable conditions where the immigrants worked to earn living. According to studies, sweatshops have negative as well as positive effects on workers and consumers. Whereas sweatshops are associated with some merits and demerits, conditions faced by residents in developed countries such as the US have encouraged the existence of sweatshops in developing countries. Therefore, the argument revolves around the effects of sweatshops in developing countries on workers and consumers.
Negative Effects of Sweatshops
According to studies, the majority of sweatshop workers in developing countries are women and children. Moreover, the underage are the most affected group in such shops. In many cases, children working in sweatshops are forced to work in a similar capacity as adults. Working hours could begin from six a.m. until midnight with no shifts. The long working hours interfere with their school life thereby preventing them from attending school. According to a United Nations Agency (ILO), the number of children at jobs has been on the rise due to child labor in developing countries. While it has been a norm, especially for children in developing countries to help around at home, the tradition has been modernized into forcing children to earn a living as a way of helping out their families. Such facts arise because factories in developing nations find child labor cheaper as compared with the adults. Nevertheless, it is a burden for the children who suffer mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially.
A child working fifteen hours a day misses school, socializing and rest time. Such actions affect their young brains in various ways, which could lead to illnesses. Aside from the cheap labor that they offer, children are preferred because they have small bodies, which enable them to fit through machines. The practice could be dangerous. For instance, children face greater risk or serious injuries. An example of a country that employs children in their sweatshops is Bangladesh. Its garment industry is booming thanks to the underage children who work there, only earning $5 to $8 cents an hour, which amounts to between $12 and $20 a month. According to Dateline NBC, the children complain of being locked in until they met their daily targets, with some pleading to the crew for help.
Child laborers are not the only ones who suffer the consequences of working in sweatshops. These factories deal with various kinds of materials and chemicals, some of which are dangerous to human beings, particularly to the women who appear weak naturally (Veksler np). Laborers work in confined spaces, with poor aeration making them susceptible to suffocation and heat strokes. The people living around these factories are also prone to pollution from the waste products, which if not properly disposed of, could affect their health. Sweatshops exploit and expose workers to serious dangers. In many cases, the countries bar them from joining unions that might champion for their rights, therefore exploit them in many ways.
Positive Effects of Sweatshops
Powell explains, that because sweatshops are better than the available alternatives, any reforms aimed at improving the lives of workers in sweatshops, must not jeopardize the jobs that they already have. Developing countries do not have similar options as countries considered economic giants. While developed countries have digitalized their processes, third world countries rely on human labor. As a result, these countries will have different minimum wages. For instance, while a laborer in the United States might be paid a minimum of $15 a day, one in Pakistan could get $3. Compared to other forms of employment, sweatshops have appalling working conditions and very low pay. However, in developing countries, other employment options are hard to come by owing to the high population rate competing for the few professions.
The most common assumption for people living in developed countries is that since they have better options, people in third world countries have the same options and can choose not to work in sweatshops. However, for laborers, working in sweatshops is the better alternative as there are worse options. For instance, in 1993, Senator Harkin proposed banning imports from countries that employed children in their sweatshops. As a precautionary measure, a factory in Bangladesh laid off 50,000 children. Since most of the child workers were girls, they turned to their second best alternative, which was prostitution. Through this, it is evident that between the two options, working in sweatshops is much better since it offers an opportunity to earn a decent living.
The United States forms the largest consumer base for sweatshop products. Most Americans do not understand that the cheap labor, which goes into making the products they buy, has an impact on the final price (Robert et al. 530). Consumers are able to buy items at a cheaper price because the factories do not spend on overtime costs or health benefits. Observably, the US has many anti-sweatshop movements with each one claiming their proposals could help third world workers (Golodner 495). However, many of such proposals would bar the Americans from buying any product made in sweatshops unless it is proven that the labor regulations such as minimum wage and health benefits were never violated.
Arguably, by boycott buying sweatshop products, developed countries could be doing more harm than good because factories in developing countries would have to terminate many laborers owing to reduced demand. These workers would be unable to afford basic needs and some would resort to other social crimes. Notably, sweatshops offer means for regional development in any area. When companies open sweatshops, they bring technology and capital in the locality. Advanced technology and increased capital encourage work productivity, which leads to higher wages. Through these, sweatshops bring about a positive impact.
As seen, sweatshops offer employment opportunities to people living in third world countries. Whereas sweatshops might be dangerous, other alternatives have either more risk or fewer wages. Developed countries such as the United States offer the largest consumer base for sweatshops. Despite residing in developed countries, some citizens still live below the poverty line and can therefore benefit from the cheap products. The cheap labor enables sweatshop companies to offer commodities to consumers at affordable rates. On the other hand, use of child labor in sweatshops bars children from attending school, thereby denying them opportunities of having brighter futures. The poor working conditions in sweatshops cause physical, psychological, social, and emotional harm to the laborers. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that there are positive and negative effects on sweatshop workers and consumers.