U.S. Census Statistics Regarding Sweatshops & Slave Labor

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Every day, someone suffers from poor working conditions and forced slave labor.
Every day, someone suffers from poor working conditions and forced slave labor. (Image: Felipe Dupouy/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Sweatshops and slave labor are still prevalent practices in our modern world. U.S. labor statistics report that many sweatshops around the world are not adhering to labor laws. Slave labor in the form of human trafficking is also rampant. Statistics reveal that poverty wages and inhumane working conditions are often the plight of sweatshop and slave labor workers.

Apparel Sweatshop Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’s most recent report on sweatshop labor in 1997 found that in 150 countries across the world, about 2 million workers manufacture clothing for American retailers. These workers are mostly women and teenagers, and about 80 percent of them work in sweatshop conditions that are in violation of local and international labor laws. The salary that workers are paid is very low compared to how much the average American family spends on clothing. The BLS reported that, in 1999, the average American family of four spent $1,831 on apparel, and of that amount only $55 went to the workers. Statistics also revealed that the salaries of apparel workers between 1968 and 1999 had an inflation-adjusted 16 percent drop.

U.S. Retailers Involved in Sweatshop Labor

Top U.S. retailers, including Ann Taylor and J. Crew, manufacture clothing in sweatshops, according to a report from Behindthelabel.org. According to a 1998 National Labor Committee report, Ann Taylor workers at Kang Yi Fashion Manufacturers in China were paid on average 23 cents per hour and were forced to work up to 96-hour workweeks. Similar issues were also prevalent in sweatshops that manufacture J. Crew clothing. According to Sweatshop Watch, J. Crew skirted anti-sweatshops laws by not registering as a licensed manufacturer in the state. In 1998, the Department of Labor penalized J. Crew for wage violations. Despite this penalty, J. Crew issued bounced checks to workers and allowed the factory to go out of business in 2000, leaving back wages unpaid.

Human Trafficking and Sex Slave Labor

Human trafficking still remains a prevalent system of enforcing slave labor. In a 2007 report from the U.S. Department of State, there are approximately 12.3 million people who are subjected to forced slave labor at any given time. Victims of slave labor are often vulnerable children and young women. Sexual slave labor is the most prevalent form of human trafficking. Women and girls account for 80 percent of victims trafficked from one country to another — and 50 percent of those victims are minors.

Human Trafficking and Underage Slave Labor

Forced labor on ships on the high seas is also an avenue for human trafficking. Victims are often lured by the promise of high-paying fishing jobs and are later forced to work under unsanitary and harsh conditions. The report from the Department of State reveals that 40 percent of workers in some fishing industries are under the age of 18. The report also featured a story of a 6-year-old Ghanian boy who was rescued from a boat on Lake Volta in Ghana, where he was working for just $20 a year.

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