Walt 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. 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 consumersís 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
consumersís 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 Mueckler 2 know. Consumers would then be able to base their product
choice on work place conditions as well as the over all product information.

Some companiesís use of sweatshops have been made public. Kathie-Lee

Giffordís 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. " Burmaís
attraction as a manufacturing site is obvious: ultracheap labor." (252).

Mueckler 3 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 Disneyís 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 licensees operation. 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, Landsí End, Lerner New York, Levi

Strauss, the Limited, and others. Disney has not (254). 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 CEOís 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 Mueckler 4 for those
childrenís 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, organizationsí attempts
at stopping these companies fail. The organizations rely on consumer support for
their movements. It is also Mueckler 5 important for these organizations to show
the consumers how easy it is to get involved and have their opinions and voices
heard. All consumersís 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 what you buy." ( par. 1) 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 companyís 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 Mueckler 6 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 werenít 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 Laborís 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 persuaded to change their ways.

Mueckler 7 Consumerís 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 choosing these companies. Nike was at the top of the list, "Most kids
think they canít 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 wouldnít 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 become aware of. 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 companiesí public relations department versus the human rights groups. The
public relations departmentís 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 opinions. (par. 15)

Mueckler 8 Once the childrenís 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 childrenís 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 childrenís
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. The information is out there,
it just needs to be accessed.

Bibliography

Moberg, David. Bringing Down Niketown. The Nation. v268 no21 p15-16. 7 June

1999. National Labor Committee.Campaign For Labor Rights. Disney Alert #2. 11

June, 1997. 22 March 2000.

National Labor Committee. Are Human Rights Compaigns Necessary? 28 July, 1997.

22 March 2000

Nelson, Richard R. State labor legistration enacted in 1998. Monthly Labor

Review. v122 no1 p3-15 January 1999. Schweizer, Peter and Rochelle. Disney the

Mouse Betrayed. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing: 1998. Sweeney, Maria.

Sweating the Small Stuff: Mickey, Michael, and Global Sweatshop. Radical

Teacher. no 55 p11-14 1999