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Garment Printing with a Conscience

(October 2004) posted on Fri Nov 12, 2004

Making social and environmental issues a priority in your daily operations may not seem practical when turnaround times and finances are tight. But if you follow the lead of garment printers who have researched the effects of sweatshop labor, chemically treated cotton, and ecologically unfriendly inks, you may just change your mind.


By Ben P. Rosenfield

Put simply, sweatshops are facilities that minimize worker salaries (sometimes paying just a few cents per hour), offer no benefits, skimp on workplace upkeep and safety standards, and require workers to put in long hours and meet extremely large quotas, all in the name of increased productivity and decreased costs. Human rights abuses at such facilities may include a complete lack of worker rights, sexual harassment, and the use of verbal and physical intimidation. Although sweatshops exist in the US, they are typically associated with developing nations, where labor laws are nonexistent or difficult to enforce. They also are notorious for exploiting child labor.

The most commonly recognized solution to the sweatshop problem is unionization. "Only when you have the protection of an independent union can you monitor what's going on," Roth says. "Only when the workers can speak up can you really known what's going on. And the only place they can feel comfortable to speak up is a place where they are protected by a collective bargaining agreement with the power of a union behind them."

When workers are paid a fair wage and treated equitably, garment production and quality become more dependable. "Without that contract, you really just don't know," Nieman says. "Sweatshops force overtime and piece rates that keep escalating, and [workers] go in desperately poor and they leave just as desperately poor--except when they leave, they're used up as far as any kind of work in the future."

How does the screen printer benefit from purchasing sweatshop-free garments? According to Dov Charney, senior partner of Los Angeles, CA-based garment manufacturer, American Apparel, "They get a better product. They have a supplier that's committed to quality.... They get a wider range of choices." He also explains that a continual flow of availability is critically important and that an "elongated, outsourced supply chain" only inhibits the screen printer's ability to predictably deliver a product that is in style and up to date.


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