Sweatshops violate human rights; American companies at fault

Illustration by Aaron Logan

Within recent international events, there has been significant coverage about the conditions of factories in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and southern Asia. Some of these factories, known as sweatshops, are owned by large, big-name brands from the United States which use a middle-man of sorts who owns and operates the factories. These sweatshops commit major human rights violations as well as disobey written laws of the nations they operate in and the written contracts between the workers and the factory owners.

Many people in the U.S. think that human rights violations in sweatshops are just something that happened in the past and no longer affect the U.S. population. Actually, it does directly affect this country. Big-name brands like Nike, Russell’s and Adidas are some of the largest offenders of human rights violations throughout these sweatshops.

One example of these violations is locking people within the buildings and not allowing them to leave. Recently, there has been much international attention focused on factory fires in Indonesia and Pakistan that have killed literally hundreds of people. According to September 2012 New York Times article by Declan Walsh, “Fire ravaged a textile factory complex in the commercial hub of Karachi early Wednesday, killing almost 300 workers trapped behind locked doors and raising questions about the woeful lack of regulation in a vital sector of Pakistan’s faltering economy.”

This was just one fire, but it killed 300 people. More recently, according to an April 24 ABC News article by Matt Mosk, “An eight-story building that housed four garment factories in the capital city of Bangladesh collapsed overnight, killing at least 87 workers, and adding to a rising death toll in a country where well-known American retailers pay dirt-poor wages to make clothing in factories with few of the basic safeguards that are standard in most of the developed world.”

The building that collapsed in Bangladesh killed 87 people just a few days ago. This is still happening in the here and the now. But these are just two examples. Two. According to a different article from ABC News also by Matthew Mosk on Jan. 27, “More than 700 workers have died in factory fires in the past five years. Two months ago, a ferocious blaze at a factory making clothes for major U.S. retailers killed an estimated 112 workers there.”

None of these people were able to leave these buildings. They were locked in. Workers in the Pakistani Factory were alerted that the fire was in the building, but all of the exists in the building were locked off. In the instance of the Bangladesh fire, all of the exits were locked and workers were told to go back to work, even when the fire was just one floor below. These factory owners work their employees literally to death. They will make these workers work 24 hour shifts without breaks. Factory owners don’t pay for the supposed paid days of leave.

Something that strikes me time and time again is the lack of knowledge that this is still happening right here and right now in 2013. The reason our clothing is so cheap is because people in Bangladesh and Pakistan and India and Indonesia are being paid maybe 60 cents a day to make garments for people in developed countries like the U.S.

These are direct human rights violations. There are multiple articles within the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights that state this. Article 1 – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Article 5 – “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 23 – (2) “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work,” and (4) “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his/her interests.” Article 24 – “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” All of these are being violated in these sweatshops.

Time and time again, articles are released about the infractions happening in these factories, yet they are still happening. Change needs to come from within the domestic borders of the nations purchasing these garments. Change needs to come from an individual level. At the end of the day, people need to be aware that these heinous acts are still happening, even right now as you are reading this article.

Jakki Thompson is a sophomore in journalism and mass communications and American ethnic studies. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.