Women and Sweatshops


Because women have been disproportionately affected by poverty, poor working conditions and corporate oppression, the issue of sweatshop labor is an issue that feminists must face. The “feminization of poverty (Freedman, 2002)” refers to the fact that 70% of the poorest women in the world are women (Jones, 2003) and that the majority of poor households are composed of single women and their children. One result of this poverty is that the majority of sweatshop workers are female. (Cravey, 2004)

Women almost always have a more difficult time finding and keeping jobs due to the other responsibilities in their lives such as child care. (Freedman, 2002) This “double shift” worked by many women can include many types of unpaid labor for instance the care of children, elderly and the sick, mandatory volunteerism, house keeping, assisting husbands with their work and food production/gardening. (Wichterich, 2000) In addition, 90% of wage earning women will become pregnant at some time in their careers. (Freedman, 2002) Because of the tensions formed when women are overly committed to jobs and family responsibilities, urban wage labor, such as sweatshop labor, with long hours and excessive demands physically and mentally often impact the woman’s role in the family and can undermine her traditional place of power as the head of the domestic sphere. (Wichterich, 20o0)

Once women are hired, the inequalities only increase as they face multiple forms of gender discrimination such as job segregation, sex stereotyping and sexual harassment. (Freedman, 2002) In almost all places women earn less than men for the same jobs; in the United States women only earn 75% as much as men and in many places it is even less. (Freedman, 2002)







Women are also more likely to be place in unskilled, low paying, low status jobs while men are more likely to be placed in charge of machines and technology. (Wichterich, 2000) Because of this, women’s jobs are more likely to be replaced by machines, whereas since men’s jobs are to run those machines their jobs remain (D'Mello, 2003).Women are also more likely to be punished physically and threatened by management (D'Mello, 2003).

One form of discrimination that is almost always present for women in any workplace, but is made worse by poor working conditions, is sexual harassment. The garment workshop has historically been a “highly sexualized workplace,” characterized by everything from “salacious bantering and indecent ribaldry to sexual demands.” Sexual harassment is not just about the individual woman’s rights and personal comfort; sexual harassment helps to establish gender hierarchies of skill and pay as well as protect men’s monopolies over positions of leadership, even within unions. (Bender, 2004)

Women are also more vulnerable to being dismissed from their jobs during times of less product demand when the company requires “flexibility” (Jones, 2003). Companies are able to justify the laying off of women due to women’s family commitments and history of discontinuous work due to pregnancy (Wichterich, 200). Labor flexibility is especially important to manufacturers of clothing because fashions change quickly and demand is seasonal, so there is not a constant demand for labor. Firing excess laborers is made easier for the corporations by relying on verbal agreements which can easily be broken or hiring temporary, seasonal or daily contract workers who not only can be fired easily but are also often treated even more poorly than the average worker. (D'Mello, 2003)