Buying Sweatshop Free Clothing
for Your Fashion Conscience



Sweatshop free clothing is another positive trend in the fashion world. But from what I'm seeing it is not always easy to find but it's certainly worth looking for.

As a woman I could really appreciate the efforts and commitment of the women of Nueva Vida Women's Sewing Cooperative who after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 struck their community in Nicaragua and left thousands without homes and work, took charge of their own lives.

The only real choices for employment came from working in the sweatshops in many of the free trade zones in Nicaragua. When an idea for developing a sewing cooperative for the women was formed by The Center for Development in Central America in partnership with Maggie's Organics.

The desire to be responsible for their own destiny and not have to work in the sweatshops in the free trade zones was so strong that they worked to build their worker-owned cooperative from the ground up.

From building construction to learning to sew to understanding how a business can be successfully run, these women worked hard and sacrificed over the course of several years until finally in 2005, had the achievement of being the first worker-owned free trade zone. They fought to find their way out of extreme poverty in a way that preserves their dignity and leaves them empowered to support themselves and their families.

What is a free trade zone?

A simple explanation of a free trade zone is an area or region that gives incentives to businesses to get them to locate there. These incentives might be tax breaks, duty free imports and exports or reduced utility rates. Businesses find cheap labor and the incentives a strong attraction.

Many of these businesses set tough production schedules, having workers working many hours with little or no breaks, pressure and even punishment for failure to meet schedules with little pay or benefits. I can not even do justice to this in a short explanation but these are conditions most of us would find intolerable. Everyday many of us shop for clothing produced under those very conditions.

But these are not only the problems of other countries. Anywhere in the world cheap labor can be found sweatshops are a problem, even the United States.


Businesses have different ways to deal with this issue. For some unions have been formed within apparel companies to protect worker rights, create safe working conditions, provide good wages and more.

Some businesses choose to work independent of unions and commit on their own to provide the best possible working conditions for their employees while giving them a sense of ownership in the business.

While others are worker owned co-op's like the one above with standards similar to those used for fair trade producers.

Sweatshop free clothing is beginning to find it's way in to the fashion industry more and more but we have to look for it.



How do we know what companies offer sweatshop free clothing?


Union labels identify companies. Organizations like New American Dream has a list of companies. Fair Trade certification helps, look for their logos.

Often times it is the business itself that proudly informs us through their websites or advertising that they sell sweatshop free clothing. To help assure us that they are doing business ethically, they can make themselves and their businesses open to public scrutiny.

Their are several organizations that help us keep informed about sweatshops and motivate us to act. A couple of good resources are Behind the Label and Sweatshop Watch.

I realize that when I buy my clothes I may be contributing to the problem and I'd much rather be a part of the solution. I also know that I will not be able to make all my purchases sweatshop free clothing. Every purchase that I can make from a company that is trying to do the right thing and treat their employees with dignity, respect and fairness, supports these companies so they can continue. Hopefully, this will encourage other companies too.

I think for most of us, we just didn't know, didn't really think where our clothing came from. But we do now and we can do better by shopping for sweatshop free clothing.

Our money gives us a lot of power. Let that money you worked so hard for do some good.

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