Consumers Pay More for Clear Consciences and New Duds
By George Anderson
According to Sweatshop Watch, a group that monitors garment manufacturing in California and elsewhere, a sweatshop “is a workplace that violates the law and where workers are subject to: Extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living wage or long work hours, poor working conditions, such as health and safety hazards, arbitrary discipline, such as verbal or physical abuse, or fear and intimidation when they speak out, organize, or attempt to form a union.”
Today, domestic apparel manufacturers and retailers are building a small but growing market for products that are “sweatshop free” as American Apparel in Los Angeles calls them.
Well-heeled and socially conscious consumers are willing to pay more for garments from companies such as American Apparel and No Sweat Apparel in Waltham, Mass.
Adam Neiman, co-founder of No Sweat Apparel, told The Christian Science Monitor, “I see the sweatshop issue as being a very transcendent issue. On the one hand we’re trying to help unionize the global garment industry, and on the other hand we want consumers here to start asking questions about their own working conditions.”
Mr. Neiman, who refers to himself as a “lapsed activist,” is clear that he is in business to make money. “We wanted to create a for-profit business that molds public opinion and creates a new revenue stream,” he said of No Sweat Apparel.
Kalle Lasn, chief executive of the Blackspot Anticorporation, which manufactures the vegetarian, recycled, anti-sweatshop Blackspot sneaker brand (No Sweat Apparel has sold more than 10,000 pairs since last year.), said his company is “selling an idea… trying to create a new ideal of activism.”
Mr. Lasn isn’t shy about discussing his competitors. “If we can successfully launch our Blackspot sneaker on the back of Nike and if we cut into their market share, that would be a success,” he said.
For most consumers, however, even attractive ideas need to meet a price point if they’re going to let conscience be their buying guide, said Wendy Leibman, president of WSL Strategic Retail.
“It’s not at the point where this has affected the retail market… Value is still guided by price, not where [clothing] comes from,” she said.
Moderator’s Comment: Is the growing visibility of companies such as American Apparel setting the stage for major changes in garment industry standards
for workers in the future? Are major chain retailers missing out on the “sweatshop free” opportunity? –
George Anderson – Moderator
- Shopping with conscience – The Christian Science Monitor
- FAQ – Sweatshop Watch
- No Sweat Apparel
- American Apparel
- Ad Busters