Monitoring Sweatshops

Monitoring Sweatshops: Workers, Consumers, And The

Jill Esbenshade
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Monitoring Sweatshops
    Book Description:

    Monitoring Sweatshopsoffers the first comprehensive assessment of efforts to address and improve conditions in garment factories. Jill Esbenshade describes the government's efforts to persuade retailers and clothing companies to participate in private monitoring programs. She shows the different approaches to monitoring that firms have taken, and the variety of private monitors employed, from large accounting companies to local non-profits. Esbenshade also shows how the efforts of the anti-sweatshop movement have forced companies to employ monitors overseas as well. When monitoring is understood as the result of the withdrawal of governments from enforcing labor standards as well as the weakening of labor unions, it becomes clear that the United States is experiencing a shift from a social contract between workers, businesses, and government to one that Jill Esbenshade calls the social responsibility contract. She illustrates this by presenting the recent history of monitoring, with considerable attention to the most thorough of the Department of Labor's programs, the one in Los Angeles. Esbenshade also explains the maze of alternative approaches being employed worldwide to decide the questions of what should be monitored and by whom.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0064-2
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Monitoring, Sweatshops, and Labor Relations
    (pp. 1-12)

    In a factory in downtown Los Angeles, 130 Latino immigrants toil away producing garments for Los Angeles’s largest apparel company, GUESS?, Inc. The Korean-owned factory is one of many sewing shops in Los Angeles that contract to make the stylish jeans, chic tops, and other fashion-forward items GUESS? is known for. Less well known are the backward labor conditions under which these high-priced items are made. Five of the 130 workers are children younger than sixteen. One child, a thirteen-year-old, has been working forty hours a week for more than a year. A U.S. Department of Labor investigation finds that...

  6. 1 The Rise and Fall of the Social Contract in the Apparel Industry
    (pp. 13-32)

    The garment industry ended the twentieth century as it began, with the stain of sweatshops on its clothes. At midcentury, government regulation and unionization combined to marginalize sweatshops within the industry. After hard-fought struggles in the early 1900s, garment workers gained a high degree of unionization. Immigrant garment workers literally marched their way out of the sweatshop and joined many of their working-class brothers and sisters in forcing employers and the government into a tripartite agreement constituting America’s social contract. This “National Bargain,” as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich refers to it, involved employers’ commitment to share their rising...

  7. 2 The Social-Accountability Contract
    (pp. 33-59)

    The fall of the social contract left a void in mechanisms to protect workers’ rights. The resulting rise of the sweatshop caused waves of public consternation as the issue gained currency in the popular media. In response, the U.S. government devised the concept of monitoring to address the domestic problem and promoted codes of conduct for international production. A new model of labor relations was under construction.

    What took shape in response to late-twentieth-century sweatshops is a new social contract—the “social-accountability contract”—in which employers make an agreement with the government, signed on to by the contractors, to protect...

  8. 3 Private Monitoring in Practice
    (pp. 60-88)

    It is important to understand the details of the monitoring process because it is the practice on the ground that belies the manufacturers’ claims that monitoring is the answer to the industry’s problems of abuse. Practices on the ground reveal that monitoring is not a guarantee of “sweat-free” labor by any means. It is, rather, a haphazard process, as this chapter will show.

    The details also reveal how current power dynamics are institutionalized in the private monitoring process. Manufacturers hire monitors and determine what activities they will carry out and what the follow-up will be. Despite the fact that monitoring...

  9. 4 Weaknesses and Conflicts in Private Monitoring
    (pp. 89-118)

    Private monitoring, as it is currently being conducted in Los Angeles, is erratic and often ineffective. Government guidelines are only sporadically followed; manufacturers can tailor monitoring to their own priorities and budget; and monitors often miss important violations. In this chapter, I discuss some of the institutional and structural causes of monitoring’s inconsistencies, both in its implementation and in its logic. These underlying weaknesses include problems with training, oversight, and reporting systems, and conflicts of interest.

    It is not the incompetence of individual monitors that results in failure to detect or correct violations; rather, it is private monitoring as a...

  10. 5 The Development of International Monitoring
    (pp. 119-144)

    An analysis of monitoring in Los Angeles is valuable not only for understanding the effects that the policy has had locally, but also because the model of private monitoring is being implemented internationally with the enforcement of company-adopted codes of conduct and of collective codes drafted by international monitoring organizations. Codes of conduct and monitoring are rapidly proliferating worldwide, even as this book is written. Such codes are now being implemented through a variety of international monitoring systems—most of them relying on the services of commercial monitoring firms. Although the standard differs from Los Angeles in that international monitoring...

  11. 6 Examining International Codes of Conduct and Monitoring Efforts
    (pp. 145-164)

    A central q for consideration is: What impact have codes of conduct and international monitoring actually had? Several researchers have systematically analyzed the content of codes, but no one has systematically evaluated the relationship between international monitoring and compliance. Studies such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s investigatory surveys of Los Angeles garment shops have not been conducted on an international level; such studies would in fact be very difficult to carry out under the present circumstances. There is no international body with the authority to demand entry into offshore factories to do inspections. Although it is unable to conduct...

  12. 7 The Struggle for Independent Monitoring
    (pp. 165-197)

    As the preceding chapters have documented, private monitoring has not significantly ameliorated the exploitation of apparel workers in Los Angeles or globally. This is in part because private monitoring is controlled by manufacturers and is not structured to involve workers. Workers are rarely aware of codes of conduct and are intimidated from complaining during interviews that take place at their work sites. Moreover, monitors hired by the workers’ bosses, or their bosses’ bosses, face serious challenges in terms of gaining workers’ trust and credibility more broadly. Private monitoring to date has been more successful at improving conditions (such as availability...

  13. Conclusion: Workers, Consumers, and Independent Monitoring
    (pp. 198-208)

    This book has argued that private monitoring has not been successful in ameliorating the sweatshop problem because of flaws in the way monitoring is carried out and the conflicts of interest involved, and also that private monitoring does not address fundamental problems in the structure of the industry such as secrecy, mobility, workers’ vulnerability, and pricing. Although monitoring in Los Angeles was a new and innovative approach to the problem of manufacturers’ lack of accountability, the program has been fraught with weaknesses, such as erratic monitoring practices, minimal training of monitors, on-site worker interviews, lack of oversight, and failure to...

  14. Appendix 1: Confessions of a Sweatshop Monitor
    (pp. 209-213)
    Joshua Samuel Brown
  15. Appendix 2: Research Methods
    (pp. 214-218)
  16. Appendix 3: List of Interviews
    (pp. 219-225)
  17. Appendix 4: Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. 226-228)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 229-248)
  19. References
    (pp. 249-260)
  20. Index
    (pp. 261-272)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)