Adidas, Puma, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger, Platinum Sportswear, Kids "R" Us, Eddie Bauer, Colgate and Nike. These are just a few of the familiar corporations that are exploiting the poor through the use of sweatshops. Many companies use "sweatshop" labor because it's inexpensive, therefore increasing the margins that they are able to earn on each item sold. Often health and safety measures for employees are overlooked.
They say, "Save the best for last," and on the list of the many companies that rely on sweatshop labor, that's Nike — the best example of the worst offenders. Nike is an 18.6 billion dollar corporation that has manufacturing operations in 52 developing countries, sells products in more than 160 countries, and spends $1.6 billion on marketing and advertising alone. However, each sweatshop worker in countries like Indonesia and Taiwan earn only about $1.25 a day. After paying for rent, water, electricity (if it's available), and transportation costs, workers are left with enough money to purchase one meal, one drink and maybe a small necessity, like a bottle of dish detergent. They live in a "workers slum" in housing that is often unbearable.
Recently, my high school — Seattle Preparatory School
— held a "Peace and Justice Assembly." We were honored to have guest speaker and activist, Jim Keady, come in to talk to us about the horrors of the Nike sweatshops. Keady has an interesting background. He was a graduate assistant coach at St. John's University when the athletic wear contract was being negotiated. He refused to wear Nike products and was forced to resign. Keady, a devout Catholic, felt that wearing "the swoosh" would violate St. John's commitment to Catholic social teaching. Now the owner and captain of "Team Sweat
," Keady tours the country to let young people know of the horrors of sweatshop labor and how excess consumerism affects those workers around the world.
Keady learned about the shocking conditions in a personal way. He and a friend lived for a short while in Tangerang, Indonesia. For one month, they attempted to live on the wages that were paid Indonesian sweatshop workers who sew Nike products. What they found were 9' x 9' cement boxes with no windows, no furniture and uneven, feces-covered floors with rats and cockroaches crawling around. Workers were also faced with torture and sexual assault daily. Keady lost 25 pounds. His friend became weak and ill. It is impossible to live in these conditions without losing your human dignity.
I was really struck by the way people are treated in the sweatshops and began to think about how I can change that. It made me think that teenagers and young consumers have enormous purchasing power. Together we can have an important impact on improving conditions for many people around the world.