According to Irwin (2002), sweatshops are world-export manufacturing factories that are owned by main stream economists who employ people who are unskilled or semi skilled and are paid wages. These kind of factories emerged early in 1980s when the government of the US reduced on the number of work inspectors. He observes that during this dwindling time in the workforce, the number of sites to be inspected by most factories increased allowing the employers to neglect their employees. In these factories, workers started being paid according to their class, race and sexual orientation. Brown (2001) notes that these factories employed many women which meant that the wages were their lowest besides long hours of working and unsafe environment.
Irwin (2002) notes that the very existence of sweatshops in United States was exposed in 1990s when students started protesting against exploitation in factories that were manufacturing clothes and shoes. These protests by students helped to both expose the conditions faced by workers in sweatshops across the US and shed light on the economic status of most of the workers in the country. Irwin (2002) adds that these protests by students, who themselves did not work in the factories, were meant not just to explain the working conditions in sweatshops but also to bring change of these conditions. They wanted to do something to put a stop to the mistreatment that women and men were experiencing in terms of low wages paid and long hours they were working without corresponding payments. In fact, he notes that the students started by demanding that university administration stop purchasing clothing from sweatshops. They demanded that such clothes should be made by workers in better working conditions and good wages.
Bender and Greenwald (2003) believe that the existence of sweatshops has continued to flourish despite many movements that have come up to agitate for better conditions in these factories. This has been partly due the worsening economy of the world characterized by rising cost of raw material and the recent global financial crisis which has rendered many people jobless and therefore ends up in sweatshops. Another reason for continued flourishing of these factories is the argument by the supporters of sweatshops that these factories provide employment to people who would otherwise be unemployed. In one instance, Irwin (2002:21) observes that sweatshop owner said that “People choose to work in maquila shops of their own free will, because those are the best jobs available to them”.
However, these reasons have been disputed by anti sweat movements with cases of workers being held captive in factories. For instance, in 1995 police raided a fenced in compound in El Monte, California and found a clandestine garment sweatshop where 72 illegal Thai immigrants were held in near captivity conditions. The immigrants were involved in sewing of brand named label. Brown (2001) notes that sometimes, workers in sweatshops find themselves held up in walled factory compounds surrounded by barbed wire where they are supposed to work long hours without holidays or breaks. Some of the worker are subjected to physical abuse by their employers and have fines deducted from their waged besides having to pay bribes for hiring.
Similarly, Bender and Greenwald (2003) argue that stories about cases of people who work in informal sector to support their families have helped to strengthen the activities of sweatshops despite them receiving opposition from anti sweat movements. However, it is widely acknowledged by anti sweatshop economists who content that world export factories pay better wages as compared to many informal sectors in developing countries. They further observe that sweatshops do not find it difficult to find workers in the developing countries where workers who are in informal sector like agriculture are paid a fifth of what is paid to those working in sweatshop factories. Furthermore Bender and Greenwald (2003:33) note that this argument in support of sweatshop is confirmed even by the Scholars Against Sweatshop Labor statement (2001) who admits that even with their low wages and poor working conditions, sweatshops still offers superior employment terms compared to the informal employments.
However, Rosen (2002) says that this does not suggest that the exchanges between owners of capital and owners of labor with few alternatives are in real sense mutual friends or that sweatshop factory jobs are not necessarily sweatshops designated as places of exploitation. Bender and Greenwald (2003) argue that the exchanges between sweatshop owners and their employees should be seen as that of last resort which is basically being done because of desperation. This exchanges should be protected by labor policies to regulate on the limits of working hours, harmonize wages and over on the implementation of health and safety requirements.
Rosen (2002) observes that inequality in sweatshops in manifested in many forms. Apart from the usual social stratification i.e. ruling class called the bourgeoisie and the ruled class known asproletariatidentified by Marx as the major causes of inequality in employment, other factors have been identified. These include; race of the employees, sex orientation and class. He further notes that the owners of capital discriminates the owners of labor on ground of their gender with some women tested for pregnancy so that they can be removed from the workforce.
Karl Marx theories on inequality in work places
Bender and Greenwald (2003), record that Karl Marx was a 19th century writer who held varied views on the issue of social classes throughout his life. Although he lived and wrote during the Victorian era (Ross 2002) his ideas on social stratification still offer guidance to sociologists who want to solve today’s problems in work places. In his study of society, Marx was majorly concerned about the issues that affected the poor. He claimed that a typical society is always in conflict between the owners of capital-bourgeois who control everything and owners of labour-proletariat who must work for the rich and get a reward for their work. According to him the bourgeois are able to perpetuate their position of power through control of the law, the police and other forms of authority. Additionally, Marx (1976) notes that the rich produces the ideas about the society by controlling important channels such as the media and education while through this, the proletariat are conditioned to believe that capitalism is good.
Marx (1976) divides the society in epochs of primitive communism, ancient society, feudal society, and capitalist society a category in which sweatshops operates. Ross (2002) writes that Marx further argues that apart from the primitive society all the rest have been class based. In such arrangements one group owns and controls the fundamental material resources necessary for social existence and the other group has never owned or controlled the production process.
In addition to Karl Marx’s ideas on social stratification, Bender and Greenwald (2003) argue that Gramsci coined the term hegemony that described a society where the values of the owners of capital become the common sense ideas of a whole society. In this theory, Bender and Greenwald (2003) observe that it was suggested that people who are part of the working class accept these ideas without challenging them and therefore give the rich the right to make decisions and rule on their behalf. The influence of religion is also seen as being one of the most significant forms of mental control because it teaches people to seek heavenly reward and not earthly materials. Evidently, Bender and Greenwald (2003) confirm that any challenge to the dominant idea causes the authority to impose social control to the people.
Irwin (2002) also argues that in the same manner, sweatshops in the US are thriving on the ideas that the owners of these world export factories have been advancing supported by economists who view sweatshops as good. Irwin (2002) he observes that the owners of these factories seek to influence the thinking of the society by arguing that because of poor conditions in informal sectors, their offers to their employees is better. Similarly they have ganged up with influential authorities like economists and government departments to shape the opinion of the society. Bender and Greenwald (2003) argue that according to Marx's view of things, capitalism in which sweatshops fall as an economic system of production and distribution of material has its own ideas for existence. Sweatshops do not give regard to their workers working conditions. Bender and Greenwald (2003) confirm that sweatshops’ economic logic as advanced by Marx is driven by factors such as the need to maximize profit through exploitative means.
In this respect, sweatshops must involve exploitation of workers through inequality in terms of wages and prolonged working hours and amassing of profits for individual use. Brown (2001) agrees with Marx’s suggestion that capitalism as represented by sweatshops exists with motives of maximizing profits through low wages and extended working hours.
From the above it is evident that sweatshops operate under the theories that were advanced by Karl Marx. These theories suggest that modern capitalist societies have social stratification with classes of capital owners who control all the production of fundamental material resources for individual survival and the owners of labor who have not owned material resources by must offer their labor in exchange for them. Unless necessary changes are made, these labor owners will continue to be at the mercy of capital owners.