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Shop 'Til Someone Else Drops?

(originally published in the winter 1998 issue of The Northern Spy)

by Michael Arnowitt

     Many products bought by Central Vermonters for holiday gifts this season are produced under sweatshop labor conditions. Large corporations such as Wal-Mart, Disney, Nike, and others contract with plants in Indonesia, Honduras, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and similar countries.

     At these plants, locked metal gates, armed guards, and razor wire are common. Some expensive Liz Claiborne jackets are made by Salvadoran women working seven days a week, up to 15 hours a day, for 60 cents an hour. For every $198 Liz Claiborne jacket, a woman worker is paid only 84 cents.

     Plants are often hot and grossly overcrowded, bathroom visits are monitored, and supervisors, as in the Nazi labor camps, yell at and physically beat the workers to make them sew faster. You shop, someone else drops.

     The footwear industry is also a big offender; similar exploitative working conditions have been exposed in the manufacture of sneakers for Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. Teenage girls and young women are the favorite work-slaves for the clothing and sporting goods industries. Some plants in Bangladesh use workers as young as 9 years old. In China, when a woman turns 25, she is fired at these sorts of plants as she is now considered too old.

     Wal-Mart claims to have a "Buy American" policy, but the small print reads "...whenever pricing is comparable to goods made offshore." In reality, Wal-Mart has more foreign-made products than the industry average, with 700 to 1000 factories in China alone.

     During a local trip to Onion River Sports in Montpelier, a customer complained about their selling the Nike brand. The response from the store clerk -- all the big sneaker companies are bad, so why pick on Nike? The moral bankruptcy of this position is obvious.

     Local efforts to end sweatshop conditions abroad and in the U.S. are coordinated by the Vermont Coalition Against Sweatshop Labor. They can be reached at 229-2340 in Montpelier.

Your thoughts on the above are most welcome. E-mail me your comments and I'll post excerpts from the most interesting replies right here. Please include, if you are willing, your name, town, and country. (However, to safeguard your privacy, I will not post your e-mail address.)

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