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WHAT IT’S LIKE Around the world, conditions at garment factories run the gamut. Some are excellent. Some are acceptable. Some are bad. Some are atrocious. Over the years, the apparel-manufacturing industry has earned a deservedly bad reputation from a history of worker abuses. In the early 1900s, it wasn’t uncommon for workers to lose arms, legs, and fingers in machinery. In Ed Cray’s book Levi’s, Hortense Thompson, a fifty-year veteran of the Levi Strauss factory in San Francisco, described the danger of operating a metal button machine in the early 1900s: One time a lady’s hair got caught in the machine. Her scalp was taken off. She didn’t die, but she was in the hospital a long time. People sometimes sewed their fingers. When people were hurt on the job, the company didn’t pay medical expenses. In the many years Richard Appelbaum has spent interviewing sweatshop workers, he says he’s actually seen worse conditions in U.S. factories than in Asian ones. L.A.s downtown garment district is filled with seventy-five-year-old office buildings that have been carved up into a warren of tiny factories employing fewer than twentyfive workers each, he says. They’re dingy, dirty, overcrowded, with exposed wiring, blocked exits, and inadequate toilet facilities. When he went to conduct his first-ever interview with workers, he entered the elevator of a downtown building, which took him to the sixth floor in total darkness, since the light was out. There, he encountered a half-dozen factories for different companies, all worthy of Dickens. There was one toilet serving all the factories on two adjacent floors no doubt adequate when the building housed a handful of office workers ages ago, but now overflowing with human excrement, since the toilet was malfunctioning, he says. I’m not saying that all factories in L.A. are this bad, but many are quite bad. Sweatshop conditions can’t always be identified by appearance alone. I think the misconception about sweatshops today is that a sweatshop is something that’s dark and dirty and crampedan almost nineteenth-century view of what the factories were like in New York, says Dara O’Rourke, Ph.D., an assistant professor of environmental policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leading expert on sweatshops and global garment labor. Actually, there are still many sweatshops like that in the U.S.really poor conditions, overcrowded factories. But I think there are equally bad or worse conditions in what you might think of as twenty-first-century sweatshop. New factories, built in the last few years in Asia, Vietnam, and China, are quite modern, new, clean, and well lit. They’ve got all the things that make them look fine. But that’s only an illusion: the facilities may appear acceptable; it is not until you delve deeper into labor practices dealing with wages, safety, and working conditions that you realize all is not well. Offenses documented around the world that may not be so easily observable by outsiders include daily friskings, verbal and phys- ical abuse, sexual harassment, and pregnancy checks. Some female workers have even been asked to have abortions. According to a report from the late 1970s entitled Women Workers in Asia, management at certain factories would often provide pep pills and amphetamine injections to keep the women awake and working, causing some of them to become addicts. Wage violations in the U.S. slip through the cracks when unscrupulous factory owners employ the practice of buying checksworkers must pay their bosses cash in order to receive their paychecks. Thus, the figure on the pay stub creates the illusion that workers are earning the federal minimum styles | Ping Fashions Ltf

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