After a long, difficult journey, the British ships arrived in Jamestown, full of young people like us, hoping for a better life. But, as you know, this "new world" wasn't really the "land of the free," even for Europeans. At least 70% of the colonists who came to the Chesapeake Bay region and the Caribbean came as indentured servants!
Though indentured servants certainly didn't face the horrifying treatment that African slaves did, their lives were not easy. The free settlers often treated them like beggars and thieves, even though many indentured servants came from working or middle class families. Until the "contract" expired, an indentured servant was considered the property of the man who paid his or her way to America. Often, they would not live to see the day of their freedom.
Good thing nothing like that happens anymore, right!
After a long and difficult journey, at least 72 poor people from Thailand make it to El Monte, a town in Southern California. They were brought illegally by Chinese and Thai businessmen, under the promise of a better life in America. There, they were kept in a guarded compound and forced to work 17-hour shifts for less than $2 a day, sewing clothes that would later be sold at department stores like Macy's, Mervyn's, and Montgomery Ward.
The police busted that illegal operation back in 1995, drawing national attention to the increasing problem of sweatshops in America. In 1996, the U.S. Department of Labor--the part of the federal government which is supposed to keep track of that sort of thing--estimated that out of 22,000 shops in America where clothes are made, at least half were in serious violation of wage and safety laws. And that's not even mentioning the sweatshops found in foreign countries!
In Haiti, for example, Disney clothing--like your cute Pocahontas T-shirt or Lion King pajamas--are made by a contractor known for long hours and low wages, in a situation that has been compared to indentured servitude! And everyone has heard about the lawsuit against Nike's factories in Indonesia by now. Human Rights groups and the government are working to stop this practice--and you can help, too!
The Year 2000:
In March a federal lawsuit was brought against several clothing companies by labor and human rights groups, on behalf of more than 13,000 garment workers in Saipan (do you know where that is?) They regularly work 12-hour days, seven days a week, often times "off the clock" without receiving any pay or overtime. Some of the companies named in the lawsuit include Levi Strauss & Company, Calvin Klein, Inc., Brooks Brothers, Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co., The Talbots Inc., Woolrich Inc., Liz Claiborne Inc., The May Department Stores Company, Oshkosh B'Gosh Inc., Sears Roebuck and Company, Tommy Hilfiger USA Inc., The Gap, J.C. Penney, and Target. Is there anyone you know who doesn't own clothes from at least one of these companies?! Do you want to support that sort of thing with your money?
So you're asking yourself: "what can I do about all this? After all, I'm just a student." The truth is, being a student puts you in a very powerful position! On many college campuses, students are demanding that the "official clothing" with the school logo not be made by sweatshop labor. Many Universities have adopted a "Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees" to make sure.
The students , faculty and administration of Indiana University (IU)discovered that one of the companies liscensed to make their official apparel, the J.H. Design Group, ran a sweatshop near L.A. Needless to say, they felt horrible, and worked to help the sweatshop's employees win a lawsuit against their employers. (You can learn more about it at http://www.sweatshopwatch.org/swatch/newsletters/6_2.html#victory1).
Who makes you school's sports uniforms, or your varsity letter jackets? How much are they getting paid? You can join other students in oganizing against sweatshop labor by logging onto: http://www.sweatshopwatch.org/swatch/codes/
Make your clothing not just a fashion statement, but something that isn't shameful. Make sure you don't continue the horrible legacy of indentured servitude and sweatshop labor in America and in the world. Let's really make this the "land of the free!"
Daphne - Nathaniel Bacon: a rebel with a cause