From the left, me (hello!), Kia, and our cousin Katie.
One of my darlingest cousins, Kia, is my lil sister figure. She’s a fifteen year old who’s growing into womanhood beautifully.
Anyway, she asked me for homework help the other day.. She needed to write an opinion paper in English and couldn’t decide on a subject… I suggested focusing on the wellbeing of clothing factory workers in foreign countries. After she finished writing it, she sent it to me to proofread and it just made me so darn proud that I asked if I could share it here! So, here it is…
Should We Care about the Health and Safety of those Making our Clothing?
Imagine standing for twelve hours straight in front of a machine, making clothing for people from other countries, only to make a couple of dollars by the end of the work day. All day long you are breathing in harmful chemicals, and have a risk of being caught in a fire. This is what factory workers have to do about six days every week, just to make the clothes that we get to wear on a daily basis. Labor laws are not enforced in many countries other than the United States. This includes child labor laws, which are very strict in the United States. The workers get very low wages and almost always the minimum wage of the country. Lastly, they have to work in very unsafe conditions, which can make the employees sick. With this being said, the lack of labor laws, low wages, and unsafe conditions are what factory workers unfairly have to deal with every day.
Most countries do not have any labor laws put in place. This also means that they do not have any child labor laws. Some company’s factories in other countries, including Walmart, have employees as young as twelve years old. Many sixteen year olds spend their summers working in factories. In fact, the New York Times claims that in some of these other countries approximately five hundred sixteen year olds work up to fifteen hour days, six to seven days each week. Another company, Huanya, forces employees to sign papers “volunteering” to work overtime. Their employees often have to work twelve hour days, and have to stand the entire time. This happens in many other factories as well. Due to the omission of proper safety laws, many of the factories are very loud from all of the machines working. The lack of labor laws is endangering and consuming the lives of factory workers.
Employees often make very little money. In the United States, making minimum wage would bring in around 1,300 dollars per month. However, in China minimum wage brings in about 300 dollars per month, roughly four times less than the United States. This is much less than what allows for living contently in China, as 400 to 500 dollars is the amount needed to live comfortably. Of course, people with children need even more money each month in order to support their family. Two teenagers that were interviewed by the New York Times reported that they work twelve hour days, six days a week, and only made between 120 to 200 dollars each month. Until they graduate, these teenagers are only able to work in the summer, which means only three months out of the year they can earn an income. Businesses that pay some employees below minimum wage give these underpaid workers the day off when government inspectors come. Considering this, we should care about the lives of these workers outside of the factories and let them earn enough money to live comfortably each month.
Factory workers also have to work in very unsafe conditions, which is yet another reason why we should care about their health and safety. Employees often have to breathe in harmful chemicals all day long, such as cadmium, lead, and mercury. Most employees are exposed to large amounts of pesticides from working with non-organic fabric fibers as well. Other employees have even developed skin rashes from working with gold powder or other toxic substances. In one region near Hong Kong, China, over 40,000 fingers were either broken or lost from working with the dangerous machines used to make clothes. Many employees’ hands are also covered in blisters because these dangerous machines are so hot. Some factories lock exits and bar windows, which make exiting the building in case of an emergency very difficult. A few years ago, 400 workers in Bangladesh and Pakistan were killed in fires because exiting was impossible for them. Most of these factories that started on fire passed all inspection tests. The government needs to do inspection tests not only more often, but also make them more specific so that employees can work in safer environments.
Thanks to the United States’ involvement in labor laws, generous pay, and attention to safety, very few of us have to endure these unfair and difficult work environments. Few of us have to work before the age of sixteen. Few of us earn less than eight dollars per hour. Even fewer of us must suffer breathing toxic air or handling toxic chemicals. Our country has taken measure in consideration of keeping the average employee safe and healthy. I think it is time for other countries to do the same.