Sweatshop is a derogatory term for workshops or manufacturers, usually in a developing country, exploiting people for doing low-wage work. To lower unit labor costs, multinational corporations often outsource their jobs with moderate training needs using mainly manual workers working in sweatshops.
The working conditions prevailing in such establishments are often described as follows:
- no collective agreements
- long working hours
- ignoring workplace security
Sweatshops are found predominantly in developing and emerging markets (in Latin America under the name of maquiladora). In India, many young girls and women work in sweatshops (e.g., Sumangali factories) because they need to generate the socially anchored dowry.
The first sweatshops emerged at the beginning of the industrial revolution in England in the period from 1830s to 1850s. The previous medieval craft premises, the workshops where the apprentices were working, began to lose its importance. In particular, in the field of textile production, where the early arose large factory systems had a high demand for labor for the simplest jobs. The subcontractor was called a sweater in such system. Sweaters worked by sub-contracting, where the pay was determined according to the number of goods produced. Subcontractor could hire another subcontractor for less pay, when the salary paid for the actual work was ultimately negligible. With the development of the “sweating system,” the phenomenon became more and more abusive during these decades. The sweater hired middleman subcontractors, which in turn had subcontractors, which in turn had subcontractors, which retained increasingly more money from the original contract.
Occupational safety was non-existent. Injured or ill workers were replaced soon by others. The term was used by such system critics as Charles Kingsley, when it became a target for criticism at an early stage (pauperism literature) and has led to an extensive list of protections until the emergence of late capitalism.
At this point, the term changed to identify those businesses that disregard the established safety regulations. The aspirations of emerging countries, which in turn experienced the phenomena of sweatshops, led to a resurgence of the term – the “sweatshop-free” concept became the marketing argument of what is respected in the context of business ethics on decent working conditions in supplier factories.
Although sweatshops are associated with the developing countries, they could be anywhere in the in the world. Sweatshops have been found in all countries, including the United States and many European countries. Sweatshops are often associated with primitive technology, and they can produce all kinds of products, such as toys, shoes, clothes, furniture, and electronics.
However, economists Paul Krugman and Johan Norberg are the sweatshops apologists as they believe that sweatshops provide a livelihood for people who would not otherwise have no means of support.
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