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A sweatshop or sweatshop is a derogatory term for factories and factories , usually in a developing country where people low wages work.

Multinational corporations often outsource their jobs with predominantly manual activities and moderate educational requirements to sweatshops in order to reduce unit labor costs.

The working conditions prevailing in such companies are often described as follows:

Sweatshops are mainly found in developing and emerging countries . In Mexico and Central America they are known as maquilas . In India, many young girls and women work in sweat shops (e.g. Sumangali factories) because they have to earn the socially established dowry .


Seamstresses in a sweatshop in Chicago , 1903

The first sweatshops emerged at the start of the industrial revolution in England from the 1830s to 1850s. The previous medieval handicraft businesses, with the “workshop” (compare “workshop”) called business premises and the lads and journeymen employed there, began to lose importance. Especially in the area of ​​textile production, larger factory systems emerged early on, which had a high demand for workers for the simplest jobs. The "sweater" acted as a middleman in the "sweating system", which with "sweat" = "sweat" figuratively reproduced the working conditions in the newly established facilities ( house industry ), which from around 1850 onwards were called a "sweat shop" to distinguish them called by conventional workshops.

With the further development of the "sweating system" over the course of these decades more and more the phenomenon arose that a sweater middleman again had subcontractors, who in turn had subcontractors who in turn had subcontractors who each withheld money from the original contract, until one Workers produced the actual work for a starvation wage. At that time, starvation wages were not to be understood figuratively, as Charles Kingsley described in his essay "Cheap Clothes and Nasty" from 1850, as wages in the sweatshops were not enough to survive. Friedrich Engels The Situation of the Working Class in England from 1844/45, which was written under a similar impression, but does not mention the term sweatshop , also falls into this period .

The working conditions, which was carried out without any labor and health protection, has already been criticized early on ( pauperism literature) and has up to the development of late capitalism led to an extensive list of safety regulations. The term changed to the designation of those companies that disregard the established protective regulations. The emergence of emerging countries, in which the phenomena of sweatshops emerged, led to a resurgence of the term - it became the marketing argument of “sweatshop-free” that appropriate working conditions are observed in the supplier companies as part of business ethics. A definition of the content is not given - there are only narrowly restricted working conditions with a high proportion of manual activity, while the generalization coincides with exploitation enterprises of all kinds.

Criticism of the sweatshop term

Critics of the term sweatshop argue that despite the miserable working conditions - measured by Western standards - the people employed in these companies would otherwise be unemployed. Various studies show that the wages in the production facilities operated or commissioned by multinational corporations in developing countries are mostly higher than the average wages in these countries. Campaigns against the purchase of goods produced in sweatshops thus financially damaged workers in poor countries.

Nevertheless, these establishments, primarily by Western non-governmental organizations critical of globalization , are often also referred to as sweatshops. This points to the widespread incorrect, since extensive, use of the sweatshop term.

If used correctly, however, it can be argued that the very term “sweatshop” contains exactly the definition of the working conditions measured by Western standards or measures against them and thus contradicts the criticism of the definition.


  • Jagdish N. Bhagwati: In Defense of Globalization. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • CCC (Clean Cloth Campain) (Ed.): Companies and working conditions in the garment industry.
  • CCC (Clean Cloth Campain) (Ed.): Looking for a quick fix How weak social auditing is keeping workers in sweatshops. 2005 CCC Download (PDF; 2.6 MB)
  • Jill L. Esbenshade: Monitoring sweatshops. workers, consumers in the global industry. Temple Univ. Pr., Philadelphia 2004, ISBN 1-59213-255-3 .
  • Archon Fung: Can we put an end to sweatshops? Univ. of me. Pr., Ann Arbor 2004, ISBN 0-472-10941-3 .
  • M. Knolle: Implementation of social standards in the value chain of clothing companies through the formation of cooperations. Center for Sustainability Management, Lüneburg 2006 CSM Lüneburg (522 kByts; PDF)
  • Ellen I. Rosen: Making Sweatshops. Univ. of Calif. Pr., Berkeley 2002, ISBN 0-520-23336-0 .
  • Robert JS Ross: Slaves to Fashion: Poverty and Abuse in the New Sweatshops . University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2004.
  • Naomi Klein : No Logo !. ISBN 0-00-255919-6 .
  • Klaus Werner, Hans Weiss: Black Book Brand Companies. The machinations of the global corporations. Deuticke, Vienna / Frankfurt 2001.
  • Jean Ziegler: The new rulers of the world and their global adversaries. C. Bertelsmann, Munich 2002.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Maneater | Column: Nike deserves reprimand for inhumane working conditions. Retrieved March 26, 2020 .
  2. ^ Clean Clothes Campaign: Brief information on the Sumangali program (PDF; 142 kB), accessed on June 27, 2012
  3. ^ Charles Kingsley: Cheap Clothes and Nasty. 1850.
  4. Tim Harford: The Undercover Economist. Oxford University Press, New York 2005.
  5. ^ Benjamin Powell, David Skarbek: Sweatshop Wages and Third World Living Standards: Are the Jobs Worth the Sweat? In: Journal of Labor Research. Vol. 27, No. 2. Spring 2006.
    See: Benjamin Powell: In Defense of "Sweatshops" . June 2, 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. August 31, 2010.