Labor violations can take a number of forms. A sweatshop may be clean and well lit, for example, but it could still employ child laborers, or force employees to work long hours. Sweatshops can also be extremely dangerous for their employees; workers can be exposed to toxic substances or heavy machinery without adequate protection, for example.
A number of conditions promote the proliferation of these facilities. The first is the tendency of major producers in the first world to contract their work out to nations with less demanding labor laws. Many countries have left labor laws lax to encourage foreign trade, in the hopes of improving their economies and general standard of living. In nations where sweatshops do violate labor laws, labor inspectors may not be able to visit manufacturing facilities very frequently, and in some cases, they may be bribed into looking the other way.
Sweatshops also tend to use a number of techniques to control their workers, and employees are often kept in the dark about their labor rights. In some cases, for example, a manufacturer may provide housing and food for workers, essentially keeping them on the grounds of the facility at all times, and employees may be denied access to the outside world, which includes labor advocates, family members, and law enforcement. Because the work is unskilled, a company can also dismiss employees en masse if they express concerns about their working conditions or attempt to organize.
Clothing is one of the primary exports of sweatshops, but other consumer goods, ranging from rugs to children's toys, are also produced in such places. This can be frustrating for consumers who may want to try to avoid goods produced in poor conditions; many advocacy groups maintain lists of safe companies to buy from, along with lists of companies that routinely violate labor laws and human rights. Some companies also specialize in selling products like sweatshop-free clothing, catering to the market of concerned consumers.
Although Apple claims to be a socially responsible company, some of its suspected Chinese suppliers, such as Foxconn, Dafu and Lian Jian Technology, routinely violate China’s “Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases.” A report from China’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, “The Other Side of Apple,” criticized the company for harmful environmental and health practices in suppliers’ plants.
In one example, several manufacturers replaced alcohol with n-hexanein the parts cleaning process. The chemical works better than alcohol but poisons workers and in some instances the workers, often women in their teens or 20s, were forced to work with the poison in unventilated rooms. Because of the chemical’s use in Lian Jian Technology’s Suzhou No. 5 plant, 49 employees were admitted to the hospital when they became ill. Other workers are suspected to have been poisoned but were “pushed out” of the plant before they showed signs of illness, forced by Lian Jian “to sign papers saying they would not hold the company accountable.” According to one worker, “They left with 80 or 90 thousand yuan [$12 - $14,000] that they got in exchange for their lives and health, with fees and medical costs they would have to pay for the rest of their lives.”
In another example, Foxconn saw 12 employees jump from buildings to commit suicide in less than six months