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    It's Not Easy to be Sweatshop Free

    While contacting Jewish non-profits for ModernTribe's affiliate program, we communicated with a woman who said her organization only affiliates with shops that sell products manufactured under "fair working conditions," like those advocated by Sweat Free Communities and Global Exchange. She asked if we knew anything about the working conditions at our products' manufacturing facilities. Because 95% of our products are made in the United States or Israel, and many of them are handcrafted housewares, we didn't think child labor, poverty wages, forced (slave) labor, and unsafe working conditions were likely problems. According to our affiliate contact, handcrafted by the artist/designer him or herself likely meets the standard of fair labor. But Made-In-The-USA or Israel does not ensure fairness: There are sweatshops in both countries.

    Thankfully, child labor, poverty pay, and dangerous working conditions aren't called "unfair" in the United States and Israel: they are called illegal. Sweatshops should be less prevalent in the US, Israel, and other countries which have comprehensive labor laws.

    Israeli labor laws are extensive. You can read them here at the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Labor's Web site. However, I don't know how well these laws are enforced. Please share, readers, if you know.

    So which countries are the worst offenders of fair working conditions? On the US Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs website, you can read and research their reports on abuses. An excerpt on child labor:

    According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), there were an estimated 211 million children, ages 5 to 14, working around the world in 2000. The majority of the world's working children, according to the ILO, are found in Asia (127.3 million), followed by Africa (48.0 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (17.4 million), and the Middle East and North Africa (13.4 million). While Asia has the highest number of child workers, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of working children.

    Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find research or records on particular factory/manufacturing plant violators. How does a retailer research whether any individual manufacturer meets fair labor standards other than to ask the manufacturer directly about their policies regarding employing children, wages, work schedules, and work conditions?
    added on 10/03/2007
    Here are the "Fair Trade Criteria" from the Fair Trade Federation

    • Paying fair wages in local context;
    • Supporting participatory workplaces;
    • Ensuring environmental sustainability;
    • Supplying financial and technical support;
    • Respecting cultural identity;
    • Offering public accountability; and,
    • Educating consumers.