When you take an unconventional approach to anything, you’re often faced with people asking “why?”. It’s no different when we tell people about our Made in USA sheets. With virtually every other bedding brand manufacturing overseas, people are often curious about why we’ve chosen such a different path. After all, offshore manufacturing is the popular choice for a big reason: it’s cheap, cheap, cheap. So what is our answer to this big question? It’s quite simple: because labor conditions in international factories are unfathomable.
The textile industry, which encompasses the production of clothing, bedding, and linens, employs over 25 million workers in more than 100 countries (approximately 80% are women). It is also notorious for having some of the worst conditions and lowest pay of any industry. The term “sweatshop” is commonly used to describe the factories that employ textile workers.
Textile workers in developing countries typically work 10 to 12 hours a day. During peak production times, when factories are faced with high demand and tight deadlines, employees will be forced to work 16 to 18 hours, often with seven-day work weeks. Most of these countries lack overtime laws and employees are quick to be fired if they refuse to comply.
And it only gets worse; many factories lack clean drinking water, sufficient electricity, and working toilet facilities, leading to often unbearable heat, noise, exhaustion, and lack of sanitation. With factories packed beyond capacity and a shortage of emergency exits, safety is also a major concern. In Bangladesh, roughly 100 workers die each year in garment factory fires, and in 2013, a collapse of a major factory building killed over 1,100 workers, drawing brief global attention and a short-lived call for reform.
On top of the major safety issues and sub-standard working conditions, textile workers are also burdened with serious health concerns. Around one-third of garment workers in India suffer from respiratory diseases that they contract on the job. Workers in the textile industry are exposed to a number of chemicals used for processes like dyeing and finishing. Chemicals like benzidine, used as a color enhancer, and formaldehyde, used as a wrinkle-free treatment, commonly cause burns, skin lesions, and breathing trouble, and are responsible for serious long-term afflictions like nasal and lung cancer, brain cancer, and leukemia. Pregnant women face exponentially higher rates of miscarriage due to the strenuous conditions, heat, lack of adequate break time, and exposure to a high level of noise which is known to elevate pulse rate and blood pressure.
To further compound the problem, textile workers in developing countries earn far less than a standard living wage. Workers in Bangladesh earn barely more than $100 per month; Cambodia and Indonesia fare only slightly better reaching almost $200. Wages in China are less than one-sixth that of the United States, and India only one-fifteenth. As hard as it is to imagine, women in many of these countries willfully choose the sex trade over the garment industry – simply because the pay is much better.
With women making up the vast majority of the workforce, and men serving as the supervisors and managers, sexual harassment is rampant in overseas textile factories. In a recent survey, one in five female factory workers reported harassment in the workplace including sexual comments and advances, inappropriate touching, pinching, and bodily contact. It’s widely understood that this figure understates the true issue as many women fear the repercussions of speaking out. The terror for these workers doesn’t end when they clock out from their shift – women are also frequently assaulted or raped on their way home from work late at night.
Discrimination against pregnant workers is another issue that plagues female textile workers. Factory managers outright refuse to hire pregnant women and those that become pregnant during the course of their employment face verbal abuse or physical stressors such as the refusal of breaks and being forced to stand for the entirety of their shift. Maternity leave is unheard of in developing countries and women risk losing their jobs if they fail to return to work immediately after the baby’s birth.
As if all of this isn’t enough, child labor is also prevalent in the textile industry in developing countries. Children are considered to be ideal to serve as cotton pickers since their small and nimble fingers don’t damage the famers’ prized crops. In India, 60% of garment workers were under the age of eighteen when they started their employment; many reported being hired when they were only fifteen. An investigation of a factory in Bangladesh that was contracted by the US government to manufacture shirts for the Marine Corps found that one-third of workers were children, mostly young girls. While the growing attention has resulted in major progress in the world’s child labor crisis, it’s still estimated that 11% of the world’s children sacrifice the right to go to school in exchange for low-paying and dangerous jobs serving part of the textile supply chain. (source: UNICEF)
You simply can’t operate in the textile industry and not be aware of these astonishing facts. Yet all the major bedding brands and other popular start-ups are still choosing to manufacture overseas for the sake of profits. This just doesn’t fit with our core beliefs - Cotton & Care’s founding principles are Sleep Well & Do Good, and after learning all this, we just knew we couldn’t sleep well at night knowing we were supporting these types of human rights violations. Textile workers in the United States are among the highest paid in the world, workplace health and safety conditions are highly regulated, and our laws protect against child labor, discrimination or abuse against employees. A US-based supply chain is key to our Do Good philosophy, and we’re glad to have these great people behind our Made in USA sheets.