12E.4.1 A sewing factory in downtown Los Angeles
View of the interior of a sewing factory in downtown Los Angeles, California. Several men with backs to the camera are hard at work under flourescent lighting. Materials such as spools of thread are scattered around the cluttered room, and piles of blue fabric are visible on tables.
Laborers perform all sorts of jobs; one that we are all connected to is work done by laborers in the garment industry. Beginning in the late 1800s, workers started making clothes in mass-production factories. Ever since those early days, the work has required long hours and delivered low pay. Sometimes these factories involve unhealthy or dangerous working conditions. After one particular tragedy that took place in a New York garment factory over 100 years ago, the United States put into place basic codes for factory safety. Other federal laws have established minimum wage and maximum-hour workdays. The problem is that not all factories comply with these standards here in the United States, and in other countries (where much of the clothing sold in the US is produced), there are fewer such laws. Garment workers can decide to leave jobs that do not offer safe or fair working conditions, but the money is of course critical to their and their family’s well-being, and they may not find a better garment job where they can use their skills.
This may be an opportunity for students to look at the tags in their clothing to learn where their clothes were produced, then do brief online research to learn what labor laws exist in that country. News items online may give insight into whether these laws are generally adhered to, or whether garment factories in that country have recently been found in violation of safety codes, workday lengths, or child labor laws.