Globalization is a phenomenon that dominates our world today, especially in the clothing industry. Large fashion companies, such as Forever 21 and Shein, localize in a number of countries around the world and produce low-cost, “trendy” clothing for consumers. While consumers happily purchase these clothes, those who produce the clothes– women and children– suffer the consequences.
Globally, women are forced to work in sweatshops. These are working factories that have “poor working conditions, unfair wages, unreasonable hours, child labor, and a lack of benefits for workers” . The reasons for this unfair reality are economics, cheap labor, and fast fashion. Fast fashion is defined as “a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing” . In order to keep up with the demands of the market and produce as many items as possible, fast fashion companies must employ as many workers as possible. Because so many items need to be produced, these companies employ cheap laborers, primarily women, and children. Women and children have a history of being underpaid, making them economical for large corporations to hire. Gender stereotypes also make women and young girls “ideal” to hire; they are seen as “passive and flexible” by large corporations , meaning that they are obedient, easy-going workers.
While working in these sweatshops, women, and girls are forced to endure horrific conditions that negatively impact their physical health. One example of these conditions is described in a Bangladeshi factory, where “dust is thick in the air, bathrooms are left unmaintained, rats can be seen scurrying across some factory floors…” . These conditions make it hard for workers to simply live; 60% of women in a study conducted by the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health noted that “dust accumulation and excessive heat from poor ventilation made it difficult to work and even breathe” . Female workers have also reported that overall, “their work has led to back and joint pain, continuous headache, eye pain, and difficulty in breathing associated with inhaling fabric dust” . These negative effects were motivated by poor lighting, constant sitting without a backrest, and loud, painful noises in the factories .
In addition, “some employers force [women] to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or providing appropriate health benefits” . Women’s health is impacted greatly by this cycle of abuse and forced birth control use.
These conditions, which physically and emotionally impact female workers in sweatshops, have a concerning effect on the mental health of the workers. A study conducted among female factory workers in Fiji found that “the major psychological problems are stress and depression… [which] are caused by 'intensification of work' to meet daily targets, strict factory rules and regulations, poor pay, poor working conditions, in-human abuse, and fear of job loss” . Additionally, the stress and anxiety developed in sweatshop manufacturing factories “leads to depression, violence, and suicide” .
The women and girls that we depend on for our clothes are experiencing unjust and unacceptable conditions in the workplace. As a society, it is imperative that we do our part to help alleviate these conditions.
A nation’s government can play an essential role in improving the working conditions in sweatshops for women. More specifically, “the government needs to work with factory owners, international organizations, trade agencies, and donors to develop a good monitoring system to analyze and address the key factors of occupational health problems in order to address the health and safety issues identified” .
Many governments in developing countries currently do not enforce safety regulations in sweatshops; political leaders know about the injustice in sweatshops, but they tend to look in the other direction because of the overall positive impact that sweatshops have on the national and global economy .
As a society, we can advocate for governmental change through lobbying and by bringing attention to it over social media. We can also use these methods to encourage national governments to cooperate with other nations and set an international standard for the requirements of labor. Finally, we can boycott some of the biggest names in fast fashion, such as Shein and Forever 21. Let’s stand up against the unacceptable working conditions in sweatshops around the world and remember the forgotten girls of globalization.
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