By Jamyia Sims
Admit it. We all love a good discount, but have you ever wondered how large retailers are able to provide five dollar t-shirts, fifteen dollar jeans and ten dollar sweaters? How is it financially feasible for large retailers to have sales promotions nearly every week? What about the production costs, shipping costs, advertising budgets and payroll? Short answer… sweatshop labor. Sweatshops are defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as a factory that violates 2 or more labor laws. Violations include poor working conditions, unfair wages, unreasonable hours, child labor, and lack of benefits for workers.
Historically Southeastern Asian Markets have dominated the garment industry by mass producing clothing at extremely affordable rates. They have been able to do so primarily by under-paying workers, reports reveal that in Bangladesh, garment industry workers paid are as little as $68 per month. For nearly one hundred years the United States has enacted legislation to combat sweatshops, both foreign and domestic. Section 301 of the Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits the importation of merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced or indentured labor including child labor. Such merchandise is subject to exclusion and/or seizure and may lead to criminal investigation. Although Asian Markets usually come to mind when we think of sweatshop labor, sweatshops are ever present in the United States.
The United States Department Labor reports that nearly fifty percent of all garment factories in the United States violate 2 more of more labor laws. Thus, qualifying them as sweatshops and placing them in violation of the FLSA. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) was drafted to protect worker's rights and establish equal grounds for communication between laborers and management. The act created federal minimum wages, banned child labor and set guidelines for overtime pay. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor administers and enforces the Fair Labors Standards Act. In 2019, the FLSA continues to guarantee a minimum wage of 7.25 per hour and overtime after 40 hours per week, to everyone legally employed in the United States. The FLSA also recognizes that maintaining a decent lifestyle may require more depending on the region of the country. In turn the FLSA allows state and local governments to adopt higher minimum wages to ensure workers are able to afford life essentials.
Although California incrementally raises minimum wage requirements, the L.A. Fashion District has become notorious for its use of sweatshop labor and constant wage violations. From April to July of 2016, The U.S. Department of Labor investigated 77 L.A. garment factories and found that workers were paid as little as $4 and an average of $7 an hour for 10-hour workdays, spent sewing clothes for Forever 21, Ross Dress for Less and TJ Maxx. As a result, The Wage and Hour Division of DOL, collected 11.7 million dollars in back wages owed to garment industry workers pursuant to FLSA.
So how does an employee work 10 plus hours each day, yet fail to make a minimum wage? The video below explains the process, step by step, how garment workers are being overworked and underpaid.
Fashion Law at Howard Law School
Fashion, a global $1 trillion industry, has been defined as the dialogue among the creative industries that propose innovations and consumers who decide what to adopt or reject.
But what happens when some creative innovators propose innovations that they are unable to protect?
Here at Howard Law School, our goal is to spread the message that IP protections are for EVERYONE by working to identify deficiencies in intellectual property law that make it difficult for some fashion innovators to retain their intellectual property rights.
In our class we explore the concept of inspired copying in the fashion industry and its effect on creatives of color.