Sweatshops Definition presented by Apparel Search
Human Rights  Apparel Manufacturing

We hope you are not searching the word "sweatshops" so that you can find one to produce your clothes or shoes.  Hopefully, you are researching sweatshops in order to know which type of factories to avoid.

In summary, a sweatshop is a pejorative term for a workplace that has very poor, socially unacceptable working conditions. The phrase sweatshop was coined in 1850, meaning a factory or workshop where workers are treated unfairly.

Historically, a sweatshop was a clothing factory or workshop, where workers were employed at very low wages and worked long hours typically under poor conditions.  The conditions often led to health risks.

How did the sweatshop get its name?

One would think that "sweat" shop was names after hot working conditions.  However, their is more to the story.  The concept of a sweatshop originated between 1830 and 1850 as a specific type of workshop in which a certain type of middleman, the sweater, directed others in garment making (the process of producing clothing) under arduous conditions. The terms sweater for the middleman and sweat system for the process of subcontracting piecework were used in early critiques like Charles Kingsley's Cheap Clothes and Nasty, written in 1850, which described conditions in London, England. The workplaces created for the sweating system (a system of subcontracting in the tailoring trade) were called sweatshops.  The contract facilities might contain only a few workers or several hundred.

The work in sweatshops may be difficult, dangerous, climatically challenged or underpaid. Workers in sweatshops may work long hours with low pay, regardless of laws mandating overtime pay or a minimum wage.  The issue of child labor has also been associated with sweatshops.  In this type of factory, child labor laws may also be violated.

Sweatshops conditions resemble prison labor in many cases, especially from a commonly found Western perspective.

Can we put an end to sweatshops?

Some of the earliest sweatshop critics were found in the 19th century abolitionist movement that had originally coalesced in opposition to chattel slavery, and many abolitionists saw similarities between slavery and sweatshop work. As slavery was successively outlawed in industrial countries between 1794 (in France) and 1865 (in the United States), some abolitionists sought to broaden the anti-slavery consensus to include other forms of harsh labor, including sweatshops. As it happened, the first significant law to address sweatshops (the Factory Act of 1833) was passed in the United Kingdom several years after the slave trade (1807) and ownership of slaves (1833) were made illegal.

Here are a few of the many examples of governments trying to help:

Unfortunately, it is likely that sweatshops have not been entirely eradicated.  There have been strides toward improvement over the decades, but the situation has never been fully cured.  Due to relaxed labor laws, high population and low minimum wage in some countries, it has been challenging to eliminate 100%.  Fortunately, in the United States, the majority of large retailers understand that sweatshops are "bad".  They work with brand owners, wholesalers & manufacturers to avoid purchasing product from clothing factories that don't follow proper international standards.

Many apparel & footwear companies relay on third party factory inspections. 

Yes, sweatshops have existed in the past and most likely exist today.  Although the term began in regard to the fashion industry, it is relevant to "all" industries.  The clothing, footwear, and textile industry are often under a microscope, but all businesses need to keep a watchful eye on their factories.

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