Onderstaand artikel is gepubliceerd op: FloridaToday.com, 7-4-2002      

Forced, inhumane labor a reality for many teens

Valerie Payne

When it comes to forced child labor in other countries, much of which is in factories owned by American corporations, Eau Gallie senior Edison Cruz has a strong opinion.


Take the Child Labor Quiz at www.unicef.org/crc/ to find out just how much you know about the realities of child labor.

Check out www.indianet.nl/iv.html to read "The Dark Side of Football," an expository report outlining the issue of child and adult labor sewing soccer balls in India, and International Federation of Football Associations regulations imposed at the Atlanta Conference in 1997.

Learn about current Child Labor Campaigns at www.globalmarch.org/index.html.

"I'm sure everyone knows about these sweatshops," he said. "It's really horrible that such things happen and that such young kids have to go out and try to support their families and grow up so fast, because otherwise their families can't even be at the level of poverty."

Alex Contess, a sophomore at Satellite High, is also aware of sweat shops.

"This is the main reason I don't buy Nike shoes," she said. "Poor kids make prime targets for cheap labor for large, money-hungry corporations."

Nearly half of the 273 local teens surveyed by The Verge -- 47 percent -- said they'd heard about forced labor by American corporations with factories in countries such as India, China and Mexico, but don't really know what's going on. Only 34 percent said they have read articles or seen broadcasts on this topic, and 19 percent said that they had never heard about it.

According to www.corpwatch.org/trac/nike, the definition of a sweatshop includes a workplace where workers are subject to: Extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living wage or benefits.

Poor working conditions, such as health and safety hazards.

Arbitrary discipline, such as physical and psychological abuse.

Sweatshops are found in all parts of the world in such industries as manufacturing, toys, electronics and agriculture. The clothing and shoe industries lead the pack in unsafe or unfair working conditions, with American retailers being the main culprits.

According to a report found at www.behindthelabel.org, more than 2 million people in 150 countries -- many of them young women and teen-agers -- work in garment sweatshops producing for American retailers. Of those apparel factories producing clothing for U.S. retailers, about 80 percent operate under conditions that violate local and international labor law.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions' Web site claims more than "250 million child laborers are being exploited for profit or are forced to work in order to survive."

Fortunately, the sweatshop conditions of many U.S. factories have been exposed and have triggered a major reform movement, aiming to monitor the working conditions these large corporations provide and hold them responsible.

Nike became the poster child for large American corporations that exploit child workers in Third World countries. Once they were exposed by the media for paying workers in China, Indonesia and Vietnam 20 cents an hour to produce a pair of sneakers that sell in the U.S. for $80 to $120, they announced major concessions to their critics.

In a May 1998 press conference, they pledged to raise the minimum working age in their factories, follow U.S. occupational health and safety standards, and allow nongovernmental organizations to monitor their Asian factories.

Still, problems continued in many factories. In Saipan, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, indentured servants were found -- under unreasonable conditions -- to be sewing "Made in the USA" labels onto clothing for American garment retailers.

According to an ABC expose in 1998, thousands of Chinese migrant workers were promised a good job in Saipan, and then were forced into years of labor to pay off their debt. Not only were the conditions filthy and rat-infested, the water contaminated, the fire exits locked and the heat unbearable, but many of the workers were forced to sign contracts forbidding them from participating in religious or political activity, asking for a raise, having a baby or falling in love.

A landmark lawsuit was filed by Saipan garment workers in January 1999 against the retailers and owners of the island's most prominent factories. A recent settlement proposal calls for independent monitoring of factories on the island, a code of conduct, and about $4 million in payments for workers.

While 19 retailers have agreed to settle the case, companies such as The Gap, Levi Strauss & Co., the Limited, Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch, Target, J.C. Penney, May Co. and Talbots are opposing and delaying settlement for various reasons.

Hearings continue this month.

Valerie Payne, Senior, Melbourne High





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