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[entrance to the exhibition] Sweatshops in America

On August 2, 1995, police officers raided a fenced compound of seven apartments in El Monte, California. They arrested eight operators of a clandestine garment sweatshop and freed 72 illegal Thai immigrants who had been forced to sew in virtual captivity.

Although the El Monte incident was an extreme case of exploitation, sweatshops are not new to America. Since the dawning of the Industrial Revolution, many generations of Americans have toiled in sweatshops. Then, as now, their labor has been accompanied by widespread debate over what constitutes a fair wage, reasonable working conditions, and society's responsibility for meeting those standards. This exhibition places the current debate on sweatshops in the garment industry in a historical context and explores the complex factors that contribute to their existence today.

Click on the pictures for more detailed information about the images within them.

[introduction image] "Sweater: employer who underpays and overworks his employees, especially a contractor for piecework in the tailoring trade."

- Standard Dictionary of the English Language, 1895

"Sweatshop: A usually small manufacturing establishment employing workers under unfair and unsanitary conditions."

- Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 1993

"A business that regularly violates both safety or health and wage or child labor laws."

- U.S. General Accounting Office, 1988

"In this era of concern for civility, decency, and family values, sweatshops are repugnant to our moral core. It is wrong to value fashion when we do not value the people who make fashion real. . . . Sweatshops reflect too vividly how we as a nation feel about the weakest among us. And it is such an 'underground' problem that there is no definitive source on how many sweatshops operate in this country. But we know this: One is one too many."

- Alexis M. Herman, U.S. Secretary of Labor, 1997

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