Sweatshops are part of the human labor trafficking problem, wherein people are compelled to work for little or no wages through the use of force, fraud or coercion. With 45.8 million people enslaved worldwide through various forms of human trafficking, avoiding brands and products that are produced through shady practices can seem overwhelming and nearly impossible. Awareness and planning help you to spend your dollars as ethically as possible, perhaps even making a positive impact on the problem of human trafficking.
Sweatshops and Human Trafficking
Human trafficking comes in many forms, but labor trafficking occurs when force, fraud or coercion are used to get someone to perform work. Contrary to common perception, moving across state or country lines is not part of the definition of human trafficking. Physical violence, threats and false promises are frequently used to keep workers compliant.
In instances where sweatshop workers receive some minimal pay, it is normally not enough to cover the cost of food, let alone living. These workers are often docked pay for not meeting unrealistic quotas, taking time to tend to physical needs or to cover an alleged debt to their employer. Sweatshop workers frequently work very long hours under horrid conditions and sometimes live onsite, away from loved ones. While people of all ages work in sweatshops, it is not unusual for very young children to be forced to work long hours, often under excruciating and unhealthy conditions.
Avoid Unethically Produced Products
Labor trafficking in sweatshops is only possible because of demand for products at increasingly lower prices. Brands compete against one another to keep costs down to secure the most consumers, and sweatshops are part of how they do that. Internet search engines are full of partial lists of companies and brands that are particularly harsh offenders when it comes to human labor trafficking, yet the lists are constantly changing – and compiling a complete list is impossible because of the vastness of the problem. Some of the least ethically produced products include coffee, chocolate, clothing, toys, electronics and produce, among others.
Lists of brands that are guilty of using unfair labor practices change often, and thankfully sometimes companies do change their practices over time. That said, in the past, large companies like Nike, Gap, Apple, HP, Dell and others have been in the news for concerns over sweatshops or other labor trafficking practices.
As of 2018, Nike is still being criticized about their labor practices, Gap workers in Asian factories are claiming physical and sexual abuse and Apple's iPhone factory workers are confined to a company town with long hours and low pay. For many of the world's most profitable companies, human rights remains a PR problem, not a moral one.
Choose Ethical Alternatives
As a consumer, your dollar is powerful and where you spend it affects not only you, but also everyone involved in the production of the goods you are purchasing. To avoid supporting sweatshops and other forms of human trafficking, you can choose to buy mainly ethical or fair trade brands instead.
End Slavery Now maintains a list of slave-free companies, as well as ideas on where to purchase goods produced by human trafficking survivors to support their recovery. Fair Trade America also maintains an ethical buying guide, which lists companies that are officially Fairtrade certified. While many companies are smaller than the big brands, you will also recognize names like Ben and Jerry's and Nature's Path, which are easily available in most grocery stores nationwide.