With dress codes becoming more and more strict, schools have resorted to uniforms to ensure that their students are dressed appropriately. Every year, parents are expected to pay hundreds of dollars on uniforms that they do not have a choice of buying to keep their children in their school of choice. In 2015, 21% of public schools and 54% of private schools reported requiring their students to wear uniforms, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
With so many students wearing school uniforms, clothing companies have supplied to that demand. Companies will usually resort to the cheapest option to make the clothing—sweatshops. According to Fair Trade Labor, sweatshops are any workplaces in which workers are subject to extreme exploitation. The conditions of sweatshops include the lack of benefits, unacceptable working conditions and barely living wages.
Most sweatshops violate at least two labor laws, with most sweatshops being found in Central America, South America, Asia, China, India and some parts of Europe. One labor law that is often violated is forced child labor. Children are often separated from their families and forced to work, denying them their childhood. According to the International Labor Organization, an estimated 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in developing countries.
Many clothing brands, particularly those that participate in fast fashion, use sweatshops as a means of distributing clothing in a timely manner while still being affordable. Some uniforms that students are forced to wear are made in sweatshops. One example would be the American clothing and home decor retailer who makes Pinecrest’s uniforms. Land’s End rates an “E,” the lowest possible sustainability score, on Rankabrand.org for sustainability and labor concerns. According to Continental Uniform, Heritage’s uniforms are made in Miami, Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
To combat sweatshops, the label Fair Trade has been making its way onto the packages of many items found in stores. According to Brandless Life, “Fair Trade is a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, shoppers, advocates, and organizations putting people and the planet first.” Fair trade not only ensures that the workers creating a product are paid fairly but also the sustainability of this process.
If students want to ensure that they are not contributing to sweatshops, then they should inform themselves on where and how their uniforms are made. Students who disagree with the practices that go into making their uniforms should discuss the issue with their school administration.