The slave labor sweatshop in El Monte reminds us that flagrant abuses of labor and human rights occur not just in distant countries. Sweatshops in America are not the products of individual contractors who choose to flout the law. They are the result of corporate decisions and corporate indifference.
Garment manufacturers and retailers make it their business to know every detail of production. They go to sewing shops and, with excruciating attention, inspect their clothes yet close their eyes to the inhumane conditions endured by those bent over the machines. It is these manufacturers and retailers who need to be monitored for their role in creating sweatshops.
Today immigrant workers cross continents and oceans for a country that has offered hope and opportunity to so many. Manufacturers and retailers who profit from workers' broken dreams must be reminded that immigrants, no matter how poor, do not check their humanity at the border.
Let us say to corporations who exploit garment workers that we will not pay this price for fashion. Manufacturers and retailers must exercise their power to eliminate sweatshops, rather than pay lip service to codes of conduct and then cry ignorance when those standards are violated. They must stop scapegoating immigrants, blaming government, and insisting consumers do not care. Only then can we ensure that the horror of El Monte will never, ever be repeated.
Julie Su is a community activist and attorney for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center representing the El Monte sweatshop workers. Co-founder of Sweatshop Watch, she seeks corporate accountability through worker education, organizing, litigation, and advocacy.
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