Concerned About Labor Conditions Overseas? How Can You Make Your Clothing Purchases As Ethical As Possible?

If you grew up during the U.S. manufacturing boom, before "made in China" became a common phrase, you may be concerned about the increasing news coverage detailing significant health and safety violations at a number of offshore manufacturing plants. While rising labor costs in the U.S. have spurred many companies to move the manufacturing process overseas, this move comes at a price -- in order to offset the cost of shipping raw goods and completed products, many overseas workers for U.S.-based companies are paid pennies per day and are subject to working conditions that would be patently illegal if the facility were located on American soil. Read on to learn more about how you can make your clothing shopping a more ethical experience.

Are U.S. companies that manufacture clothing overseas required to comply with labor laws and regulations?

Although there is a commonly-held perception (by both the public and certain company owners) that overseas manufacturing is essentially the Wild West, with few rules or regulations, U.S.-based companies are still required to adhere to the laws and regulations of the countries in which they're doing business. This is true even if the country itself doesn't enforce these laws. U.S.-based companies aren't required to abide by U.S. labor laws when operating overseas, however.  

Unfortunately, the health and safety laws put forth by other countries (particularly those with a heavy manufacturing base) aren't always what you might perceive as safe or ethical. For example, some countries don't have restrictions on child labor, while others have no minimum wage or may not permit an employee who is injured due to the employer's negligence to sue. 

How can you ensure the clothing you purchase has been manufactured at a facility that complies with the law?  

One way to ensure your clothing has been manufactured in a safe working environment is to investigate the labor laws and enforcement procedures of the clothing's country of origin. However, researching and cataloguing the labor and wage laws of a variety of countries can be a tiring job; and because these laws and enforcement practices can change frequently, you may find your information is quickly out of date. By purchasing clothing explicitly labeled "made in the USA," you'll be able to rest assured that these products were created under fair and safe working conditions. Seeking out products manufactured by union-covered employees in the United States provides an additional layer of protection.