NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Sweatshop" Campaign Hurting Those It Seeks To Help

July 18, 1996

Adult and teen workers in the Honduran garment industry wish American social busybodies would mind their own business and not try to destroy jobs in this poor Latin American country. While some would-be reformers in the U. S. are crying "exploitation" because of low wages and less than perfect conditions in Central American plants that assemble apparel for U. S. retail markets, the workers themselves are proud of and thankful for their jobs, which many see as the road to a better life.

  • The per capita income in Honduras is $600 a year and the unemployment rate is 40 percent.
  • Wages at the apparel plants -- known in Spanish as maquiladoras -- start at just under 40 cents an hour.
  • Approximately 75,000 employees work in an estimated 160 such plants.
  • While some plants verbally abuse workers or fire women who become pregnant, others supply subsidized lunches, free medical care and have agreed to union representation.

Agricultural workers who used to live in rented shacks now make some seven times what they used to make in the countryside and boast of owning their own homes -- after obtaining hard-to-get work in the maquiladoras.

  • A decade ago Honduras had virtually no apparel assembly plants and the poor had few options.
  • Now, experts report, the factories have absorbed so many workers that they are creating labor shortages -- which are driving up wages for workers in other sectors, including agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing and domestic work.
  • Explosive growth in the apparel industry has allowed its workers to remain alert to advancement opportunities and move to other jobs offering production incentives and increased benefits -- in some cases even doubling their wage base.

The U. S. labor-union-inspired campaign against the maquiladoras has had the result of banning employment of workers under 16 years of age. Those who have been dismissed usually must seek employment at lower wages in other sectors of the economy where the work is often more physically demanding. Or they buy fake documents and try to be rehired in the garment trade.

Source: Larry Rohter, "To U. S. Critics, A Sweatshop; For Hondurans, A Better Life," New York Times, July 18, 1996.


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