A Quick History of Sweatshops

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Sweatshop” before, and might have imagined secluded factories such as in a dystopian film. But it is possible that this is the extent of your knowledge surrounding sweatshops. Glass Clothing, as an ethical clothing company, believes that the fog surrounding sweatshops needs to be cleared, as this subject is often swept under the rug.

Let’s start at the beginning…

According to Reference to Business, the first example of a Sweatshop was in Ecuador, due to the conquerors demanding production of textiles and garments from the native people. However, the term was coined in England. As factories started to emerge, they employed workers (mainly women and children) for long hours and menial pay. This caused them to ‘sweat’ while they worked.

A brief overview

A main milestone for the history of sweatshops is the industrial revolution (during and around the 1800s). Europe and Britain were the main areas for sweatshops to appear, due to obvious needs for workers. As workers’ rights improved there, they moved to Germany and France. Due to more improvements of their rights in these places, we saw the shops move to Asia after World War II.

Japan was defeated, India was liberated and China pacified under one strong government. This meant the western powers could move their industry to Japan, in order to create another industrial power. They then used their close ties with India to achieve the same thing. China called for sweatshops too, and it is now considered the world’s biggest industrial power (despite the lack of help from Western powers, meaning it industrialized itself). But, in recent years the industry has been moving to Africa due to further improvements of workers’ rights in Asia.

A good example of how sweatshops would gain popularity is in America during the 1880s. Due to the influx of immigrants, the need for jobs rose. In the east coast many immigrants (especially from Eastern Europe) were happy to join the sweatshops despite the low pay. This willingness from the workers is what allowed the owners to grow their business. But, they could completely reject the rights of the workers and their working conditions.


In recent years, companies still utilise sweatshops despite their immorality. The reason sweatshops are still thriving is because of how cheap they are to build and they are popular in poorer areas. Furthermore, the large companies who use them aren’t usually found out, as the sweatshops aren’t owned by individual companies. Instead, the larger corporations go through links of many different companies to gain access to the sweatshops. Thus, their history is practically untraceable.

Hope through help

Despite this seemingly bleak history, somewhat showcasing how power and money has overwhelmed peoples’ concerns over human rights, all is not lost.
Ethical clothing companies like Glass Clothing are recognizing and acting on these problems.
Now, we urge you to help by being aware of what you purchase, to research more, and to provide hope for all who are effected and concerned by this injustice.

Read about the politics of slave labour use

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