Sweatshops and Disney

Consumers can play an important role in closing sweatshops, and they have a right to know what companies are using sweatshops to produce their product there are simple steps consumers can take to help fight against the use of sweatshops. Right now many famous companies are using sweatshops readily to save money.

However, ironically, the companies that use them are the companies that can afford to spend the extra money for regular labor. Some of these name brand companies include; Nike, Disney, Kathie- Lee Gifford, Gap, Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren, and Wal-Mart. Many people have no idea that these companies are using sweatshops. Disney for example is a very well known company. No one would ever expect that their favorite childhood Disney memory could have been created through sweatshops and child labor.

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Disney is just one of the many well respected, loved companies with dark secrets. It is hard to believe as a consumer that a company that consumers have grown to trust and love uses such forced labor, with underaged sweatshop employees making consumers favorite characters come to life. Well, Peter and Rochelle Schweizer makes it clear that it could be a possibility: “ The face of Disney the manufacturer is not a pretty one. All too often Disney clothes, toys, and trinkets are made by child laborers. Disney licensees have been caught using child labor on three continents” (245).

Many other companies are practicing the same type of labor policies without consumers’s knowledge. If companies feel that sweatshops are a decent and fair way of doing business and have no problems with continuing to use them, they should at least make these reasons public and confront their consumers’s concerns. They should let their consumers know why they choose to conduct their business in this manner.

Consumers would then have the real information on the product that they choose, and not only what the company wants them to know. Consumers would then be able to base their product choice on work place conditions as well as the over all product information. Some companies’s use of sweatshops have been made public. Kathie-Lee Gifford’s designer clothes company for example was widely evident in the news in 1996.

Gifford was shocked when she heard of the sweatshop conditions her company was using. Since this Gifford has been involved in organizing the Apparel Industry Partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor. This organization tries to crack down on the use of child labor. This is one example of where the public influenced a company to change its policies. This gives hope that with consumer support other companies can be influenced in similar ways.

Disney, however, has not been so noteworthy in their efforts. Disney licensees go out of their way to bring their company to countries such as Burma, where the practice of child labor is a normal everyday event, and they exploit this to create their product as cheaply as possible. Schweizer explains how remote the locations that Disney licensees use, “ For years Disney licensees were manufacturing in a country few Americans could locate on a map.

Burma- also known as Myanmar, the name given it by the ruling military junta- is a poverty – stricken nation wedged between India, China, and the lush mountains of Thailand.” (251). This is an ideal location because so few people are aware of it. This makes it easy for the Disney licensees to continue their business without being detected. Another insight to Burma is that drug lords hold great power and are protected by the government. Disney licensees had to get the permission to have sweatshops in Burma from these drug lords. This shows how the drug lords are the ones with the power in Burma.

First companies must win the respect of these drug lords before they are able to work there. “ Burma’s attraction as a manufacturing site is obvious: ultracheap labor.” When consumers and human rights groups along with labor organizations took action in 1996, they did get a response from Disney. The National Labor Committee and other organizations together made Disney’s involvement in Burma public with the Free Burma Campaign.

Disney denied these claims. They pretended they had no involvement in Burma. They knew how the negative public announcement would hurt the company, which is the major reason why companies hide the facts from the consumers. Schweizer explains that many other respectable companies have volunteered to monitor their working conditions, however, Disney is not one of them. This shows that Disney is aware that the problem of sweatshop exists in their Disney may have changed its ways concerning Burma after public protests, but it seems less than interested in tackling the child labor problem. Retailers and manufacturers have been asked by the U.S.

Department of Labor to voluntarily pledge to monitor their contractors to make sure no child labor is being used. Dozens of well- known companies have joined, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Guess, Lands’ End, Lerner New York, Levi Strauss, the Limited, and others. However, Disney continues to be a very hypocritical company by continuing to stay active in UNICEF activities. Yet, Disney can continue to entertain millions of children everyday. It is a shame that the children that are working for them do not receive the same benefits. It is quite possible that they would love to have a short break to enjoy a cute Disney movie. This shows how companies try to rationalize what they know is wrong. Consumers must know that they are being deceived by the image they have of the company.

The company CEO’s can no longer ignore the situation. Consumers have to let the companies know that they are aware of this situation. They need to let the companies know that they can not continue to hide the problem. Something needs to be done. Consumers must stop supporting these companies. If the consumers keep on ignoring this, then the companies win. Consumers have to start fighting for those children’s rights because no one else will until someone starts.

The children are trapped in a society that encourages this horrible situation. After the consumers get involved, then the companies can not ignore their public. They will have to look for another source of economic growth. Without the companies there wanting the children to work, they will be set free from these conditions. But we do then face the problem of what the children would do for income. It is horrible to think that the children have to depend on these jobs to live. Although that is the ugly truth, there has to be a way that these children can get into school where they belong. An even better situation outcome would be that the children could get better wages and working conditions. That would be the ideal situation.

The reasons the companies have for using sweatshops must be considered as well. We know that they are feeling pressure to find cheap labor in order to drive up profits. But if the earnings of Michael Eisner are compared to a Haitian worker, as the National Labor Committee states, “ It would take a Haitian worker sewing Disney garments 156 years to earn what Michael Eisner earned in one hour!” (sec.2) Something needs to be done so that the difference between these wages are not so great.

The National Labor Committee provides more horrifying statistics to think about; “ Disney reported a record 63% increase on its first quarter profits, Disney TV stations reach one out of every four households in the U.S., one out of every four movie tickets sold in the U.S. is for a Disney film or for a film distributed by Disney, Disney radio stations reach 123 million people a week” (sec.3). This shows just a part of the influence the Disney company holds on the U.S. public. It also illustrates the fact that Disney can definitely afford to stay away from child labor and the use of sweatshops to create its products.

Many companies are just like Disney this is just one of the many examples. It is important for consumers to know and understand these facts. Consumers are then faced with a decision: to get involved, or to go on ignoring the problem because they feel there is nothing they can do. But without the aid of these consumers, organizations’ attempts at stopping these companies fail. The organizations rely on consumer support for their movements. It is also important for these organizations to show the consumers how easy it is to get involved and have their opinions and voices heard. All consumers’s ideas are important.

There are many small steps that the consumers can take to make a difference in the use of sweatshops. The best way would be to get everyone to take just one step. If just a few people took a step a day there would be a tremendous difference. But if just a one person took a step a day, the effect would not be as great. It is important for the consumers to take the first step in showing their concern. If consumers never voice this concern to the companies, they (the companies) continue to think that they are getting away with using this cheap labor. Here are some ideas on how consumers can easily get involved on a daily basis to ensure they are showing support.

Holstein makes consumers aware that the process of getting involved can be a simple one, “ There is no way to pick up a product and instantly know how it was made. But there are very practical things you can do over a period of time to give yourself greater confidence about One of the simplest things consumers can do is to check where the articles are made. Consumers can do this by looking at the label on the merchandise.

If they see that it was made in a third world country that regularly uses sweatshops such as: China, Burma, Haiti etc.., the possibility is greater that the merchandise was made in a sweatshop. If the consumer does not feel comfortable going by the label alone, they can ask a store manager. Store managers are usually friendly and willing to share any information that they know about their products with the consumer. However, this could both be an advantage or a disadvantage.

The store manager may know less than you do about the situation or could have even been instructed not to talk about such an issue with customers. The opposite could be true as well. The store manager could have been trained with the knowledge of all the company’s labor laws and issues and would be eager to share this learned knowledge. It is worth the chance to try either way. Once a consumer has found where the product was made, they should be cautious of certain countries. Some of the tactics taken are consumer boycotts. This is the tactic that the opponents of the regime in Burma employed.

Boycotting is not always the best action to take, as explained by a Reebok executive: “ If Americans decided that they weren’t going to buy soccer balls made in Pakistan, a million people would be out of jobs tomorrow” (par. 3). Simply, boycotting is not helpful, all this does is make more people lose their job. This is not a permanent solution. A more effective way to show concern is to ask questions about the countries of origin. Learn more about the products that consumers buy. If the consumer sees a made in the U.S.A label, they should not assume it is safe.

Many products made in the United States are also made under less then ideal situations. Consulting a monthly State Labor Review shows that the United States is still trying to work against this. “Child labor continues to be an issue of great interest at both the Federal and State level. A mix of legislation was enacted this year, with laws passed both to strengthen and to relax child labor regulation.[ in the U.S.]” ( Nelson, par. 7).

The United States itself is still having problems weeding out these companies who are producing merchandise in such conditions. The problem of sweatshops is also evident in the U.S.. Consumers should use the resources given to them. One extremely useful resource is the U.S. Department of Labor’s website [http://www.dol.gov/dol/esa/public/nosweat/trands.htm]. Here they can find a list of retailers that are using enlightened sourcing practices. They can also contact the consumer group that they use most regularly and persuade them to include workplace conditions in their report. By doing this the U.S. Department of Labor is making a lot of consumers more aware of a situation of sweatshops, most of these consumers they reach are completely ignorant of the situation. This could greatly influence the way people shop. After consumers take these steps, the companies will see the effect.

Hopefully the effect will be great enough that the company will change their labor practices. By making the companies change their labor practices, the consumer has made a difference. Without the consumer and the aid of different National Labor Committees, the companies could not be Consumer’s children can also get involved. Children have a voice and when they are informed of such activities as child labor and sweatshops they can be useful tools. Maria Sweeney saw this potential in her fourth grade class. Every year she has her students choose a topic of social significance for an end of the year play. One year her students chose global sweatshops and chose the Nike and Disney companies to be their focus (par. 2).

The children were cautious with Nike was at the top of the list, “Most kids think they can’t live without Nike,” one student observed. The others agreed that the company holds great sway over young people. Several wondered if we could even compete with its power: “ The whole point of the play would be to get them to join the boycott,” one student cautioned,“ but most kids would never stop wearing Nike stuff. It wouldn’t be cool at all to be against Nike” ( par. 3).

The students agreed that kids have the right to know of the awful conditions. These children knew that they could make a difference if they informed their peers of the situations that they have The students wanted to be able to reach all of their intended audience. This is why they choose Disney as the second company, hoping to reach the younger audience. The students knew this was important news to get out. Parents of these children showed some concern in their children not hearing both sides of this issue, so their teacher made the effort to stress the difference between the goals behind the companies’ public relations department versus the human rights groups.

The public relations department’s goal being to promote a positive public image and thereby enhance earnings, their motive here being profit. This would somehow explain to the students why the public relations departments would publicly deny any involvement with child labor or sweatshops. The human rights groups however are motivated by morality and justice. This way the children knew the differences between both sides and could make their own Once the children’s play was put together, the school refused to let them perform it in front of the rest of the school as originally planned. The children recognized this as censorship. They were being forced to only perform it in front of an audience consisting of their parents.

However, a reporter heard of the children’s misfortune and got response from the community. By extreme luck the students were asked to perform their play on Broadway (par. 19-20). Consumers of all ages can make a difference if they are given the chance. Everyone can bring their own personal experiences and opinions to get involved. This shows how anyone can make a difference.

The children’s ideas would now be heard by a larger audience then ever expected. Their feelings are being heard by a more diverse group of people. This means that they may help even more people realize the truth to this awful situation in these poor third world countries, who rely on U.S. companies to set up sweatshops so they can earn a meager living. In conclusion, Moberg shows us that consumers can make a difference in the fight against sweatshops, “ Consumer power propels the drive against sweatshops today, but most organizers think that this alone will produce only limited advances.” (par. 8)

Consumers must aid organizations in their fight against International sweatshops by getting involved, being aware, and being not ignorant. Without the consumers the organizations fight is pointless. They are fighting for what most consumers are ignorant about. It is important to get the information out to everyone about the poor conditions, our everyday products are being created in. Everyday more and more consumers are being made aware, although they do not know how to help. That is where the organizations get involved. They provide the information on how individual consumers can make a difference. Everyone is important in this cause.


  1. Moberg, David. Bringing Down Niketown. The Nation. v268 no21 p15-16. 7 June 1999.
  2. National Labor Committee.Campaign For Labor Rights. Disney Alert #2. 11 June, 1997.
  3. National Labor Committee. Are Human Rights Compaigns Necessary 28 July, 1997.
  4. Schweizer, Peter and Rochelle. Disney the Mouse Betrayed. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing: 1998.
  5. Sweeney, Maria. Sweating the Small Stuff: Mickey, Michael, and Global Sweatshop. Radical Teacher. no 55 p11-14 1999

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