Socially Responsible Shopping and Action Guide


What is a sweatshop?


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Sweatshops also exist in the United States. A 2000 investigation by the Department of Labor found that two-thirds of the garment factories in Los Angeles failed to meet basic minimum wage and overtime laws—meaning that the workers in those factories were not paid fairly. And here in the U.S. workers routinely face repression and intimidation when they try to form unions, according to studies by Human Rights Watch and others. The products at the store may seem like a bargain, but they come with a very high human price for the workers that made them.

A sweatshop is any factory where workers’ basic human rights to form independent trade unions are violated, or where employees are not paid a living wage—which means enough money to support their families with dignity. Sweatshop workers face dangerous and exploitative conditions and often suffer from health and safety hazards, lack of benefits, and arbitrary discipline. Many goods manufactured in poor nations—from Alpine car stereos, to Nike shoes and clothes, to children’s toys sold at Wal-Mart—are produced in sweatshops.

    Why do sweatshops exist?

    Workers around the world suffer from abuse and poverty because giant corporations have decided to put profits before people’s dignity. With Wall Street constantly pressuring companies to increase profits, corporations claim they are forced to move factories to places with weak labor protections and low wages. This “race-to-the-bottom” is at the root of the sweatshop resurgence.


      1. Buy Fair Trade and Sweatshop-Free Products
      Look for:

      • The Fair Trade Federation logo and the Fair Trade USA certification label guarantee that producers organized into democratic cooperatives receive a fair wage for their products, such as crafts, coffee, chocolate, tea and fresh fruit. 
      • Global Exchange’s Fair Trade stores offer alternatives to sweatshop production by working with artisan and farmer cooperatives worldwide. You'll find hundreds of Fair Trade items to choose from, including crafts, jewelry, toys, books, clothing, coffee & chocolate, gift baskets and more! Shop online or at one of our stores in San Francisco and Berkeley.  
      • UNITE HERE!, UFCW and other union made labels certify that the garment was made in a unionized factory under fair labor conditions. Visit to select from a list of union-made products (including business apparel!).
      • Cooperatives are collectively owned by the workers themselves giving them control over their wages and labor conditions. One example is:
      • Some cooperative distributers are:
      • Buy used clothing from consignment or thrift stores. Donate unwanted clothing.

      2. Host Chie Abad, former sweatshop worker and powerful speaker, to speak in your community and to activate your Sweatshop Free Campaign! Contact Speakers Bureau or 415-575-5550.

      3. Demand Corporate Accountability from clothing companies and other corporations that are driving the "race to the bottom." Insist that they pay workers a living wage and support workers' right to organize!

      Join current Corporate Campaigns against

      4. Pass sweatshop-free government procurement policies in your community.

      Governments are the largest purchasers of goods and services in the world. We can use the government's buying power to help build the market for fair goods by convincing institutional buyers to commit to purchasing sweatfree products. Our tax dollars pay, for example, for police and fire department uniforms, so let's ensure they're not supporting sweatshops!

        Contact Global Exchange at 415-558-6938 or for a detailed how-to guide and more resources on passing sweatshop-free policies.

        The following organizations are working to stop sweatshop abuses:

        Global Exchange

        United Students Against Sweatshops

        Campaign for Labor Rights

        National Labor Committee


        Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras

        Related issues: