How to Identify Garment Sweatshops
The New York State Department of Labor offers this guide to help businesses identify and avoid sweatshops when they seek apparel contractors.
Sweatshops operate illegally as part of the underground economy. They often are fly-by-night operations that can pack and move quickly from place to place, sometimes across state lines.
Sweatshops flourish because of the huge competitive advantage they gain over legitimate businesses that:
Although sweatshops routinely can produce garments at lower cost than honest shops, they have pitfalls. A company that enters into a contract with a sweatshop can incur:
Doing business with a sweatshop also means a company runs the risk of damage to its public reputation.
We at the New York State Department of Labor recognize and applaud the importance of the garment industry to our economy. We hope that you find this guide useful. Please contact our Apparel Industry Task Force in New York City with questions and comments.
New York State Department of Labor
Apparel Industry Task Force
75 Varick Street, Seventh Floor
New York, NY 10013
These are the basic laws that govern the production of clothing.
"Hot Goods" law
Since 1996, New York State law forbids the sale or distribution of clothing produced in sweatshops.
We can stop the sale and/or distribution of apparel produced in any shop that:
Garments produced without proper payment of wages may be tagged as "unlawfully manufactured" by Task Force investigators.
Manual workers must get their pay weekly, and not later than seven calendar days after the end of the week in which they earned the wages. With each wage payment, an employee must receive a written statement that shows:
If the time needed to complete work at a piece rate drops the wage below the hourly minimum, the contractor must pay the minimum wage.
It is common practice in sweatshops to take a percentage of an employee's wages when they get paid in cash. This is against the law. Employers are not allowed to make wage deductions except those authorized under state and federal law like income taxes and social security. The only other deductions allowed are those for which an employee grants permission in writing, such as:
Garment industry manufacturers and contractors are required by law to register with the New York State Department of Labor. In addition, when a retailer works directly with a contractor to produce garments, the retailer is considered a manufacturer and must register.
We post our computerized data base on the Internet so that garment businesses can find out whether their current and potential contractors are registered. The data base contains the name and main address (branch locations are not included) of the contractor. You can find registration data on the New York State Department of Labor's web site at: Apparel Database. Or you can call the task force at 1-800-447-3992 to get the same information.
A garment contractor that fails to register is breaking state law and is a sweatshop operation. Because a garment company that does business with sweatshops is subject to possible fines and prosecution, we recommend you tell contractors that you expect them to comply with state and federal regulations as part of their contract with you.
We also recommend that you ask a contractor whether they will subcontract your order. If so, there is a chance that some production might come from sweatshop labor, so we advise that YOU find out who the subcontractors are.
Task Force members investigate apparel manufacturers looking for garment sweatshops. When we do a site visit, we:
To meet registration requirements, contractors must provide workers' compensation insurance. They must also comply with other state laws that govern the production of apparel and accessories to apparel.
The Task Force issues violation notices to businesses that break state laws covering:
Task Force investigators also may seize materials distributed to "homeworkers."
In addition, when Task Force investigators find sweatshop conditions that seem to violate state or federal safety and health laws, or local building and fire codes, the task force will alert the proper agency.
No single feature marks a garment factory as a sweatshop. However, there are many conditions common to sweatshops. Here are some examples:
The New York State Department of Labor's Apparel Industry Task Force holds monthly seminars for:
Our aim is to help raise working standards and strengthen voluntary compliance with state and federal laws. Businesses that attend find these seminars useful. They promote new levels of cooperation between government and the private sector. The ultimate winner is New York's garment industry.
Our seminars cover in depth the topics mentioned in this guide. The task force offers specific guidance in many areas. We can tailor our sessions to your needs; we are on hand to help you. To schedule a seminar, call the task force headquarters in Manhattan at 1-212-775-3658.
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