It’s hard to believe that sweatshops could possibly exist today, but they do. And if you buy stuff without paying attention to where it comes from, you may unknowingly be supporting the cycle that causes them.

Manufacturers are constantly under pressure to make cheap stuff even cheaper. So they use "sweatshop" labor practices that exploit workers with long hours, unfair pay and unsafe working conditions. Sweatshops are most common in poorer countries where labor practices and health and safety violations often go unreported — and companies large and small can get away with mistreating their employees. But these factories have also popped up in the U.S., as poor immigrant workers are lured with the promise of high pay and good benefits, only to essentially become indentured servants.

The best way to ensure that your dollars don’t support sweatshops is to be careful about the types of products you buy, and where you buy them from. Look at labels and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Bottom line: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sure, a $5 T-shirt with your child's favorite character may be tempting, but can you really rest easy knowing another child was forced to make it?

Your best defense against sweatshops is to get informed. Check out the info on ending sweatshops from Green America, (formerly Co-op America,) Behind The Label and New Dream America.

Are you supporting sweatshops?
How to know if your clothing is sweatshop-free.