Sweatshop just do it-8x6.jpg

The Artefact
“Just Do It” is the slogan for one of the biggest corporations globally. Nike encourages fitness fanatics and exercise buffs to “Just Do It” when encouraging exercise, a healthy, fit and fashionable lifestyle. This picture gives a play on words. While encouraging the consumer to buy their products, Nike is also one of the largest corporations which run sweatshops globally. The little girl pictured above acknowledges that the people working in these sweatshops aren't all adults, but quite young, working long, strenuous hours for an income that won’t even provide the basic needs.

The public health issue
Unsafe working conditions, low wages, child labour and exploitation are a few of the reasons why the globalized fashion industry is negatively impacting people’s health and quality of life. Most sweatshops don’t pay their workers enough to even support their basic needs. There are sweatshops that have small children working for them and the children are treated very badly and are made to work extremely long hours. The slogan “Just Do It” as depicted in the cultural artefact represents what people working in sweatshops are made to do, the impact that this is having on their health and also the countless number of women and children who are being wrongly treated in these circumstances.

Literature review
Modern slavery controls, and in some cases claims, the lives of millions of people across the globe (Inequality Watch, 2012). Approximately 1.2 billion people in the world live in extreme poverty, which is defined in absolute terms of low income at less than one dollar per day. But in reality, the consequences of poverty exist on a relative scale. Within countries, the evidence indicates that in general, the lower an individual’s socioeconomic position, the worse their health. Borg & Kristensen (2000) suggest a social gradient in health that runs from top to bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum. This is a global phenomenon, seen in low, middle and high income countries. The poor are exposed to greater personal and environmental health risks, are less well nourished, have less information and are less able to access health care; they thus have a higher risk of illness and disability. Poverty has been identified as the greatest threat to health. Poverty creates ill-health and forces people to live in environments that make them sick such as living without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation. Illness can reduce household savings, lower learning ability, reduce productivity, and lead to a diminished quality of life, thereby perpetuating or even increasing poverty. It is suggested by Swinnerton (2006) that, generally speaking, poor people are sick more often than wealthier people and poor people die younger due to poorer economic, social, political and physical conditions (WHO). When considering slave labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates 2.4 million people were victims of human trafficking from 1995-2005. This estimate uses the UN Protocol definition of human trafficking, and includes both transnational and internal data. The number of people in modern-day slavery across the world is estimated at 27 million people. Out of these 27 million people, 80% of these transnational victims are women and girls, and 50% of these are children (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing, 2013).

The $450 billion dollar global fashion industry is one of the most important sectors of the global economy that creates jobs and clothes for people all over the world. It employs over 25 million workers in over 100 countries. Sociology and psychology researchers as well as theorists and other human right organizations have been especially interested in this invasion of human rights in the globalized fashion industry for the past 10 years. Their findings have suggested that this industry is a major issue in today’s society and an important issue which needs further attention within the public health sector. The reality of this industry is that many individual producers in the developing countries work long hours under strenuous conditions for an income which is far less than the living wage.

The effects which long working hours and forced overtime are having on individual’s working in sweat shops is a major concern. Employees normally have to work between 10 to 12 hours, sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day. When a factory faces order deadlines, working hours increase. Kirk O. Hansen (2010) reported on Chinese workers who were frequently working a seven-day week in peak seasons. During this time, they would sit for 12-14 hours a day, working non-stop. These demands meant that they would sew until their arms felt sore and stiff. Long term effects of these conditions could mean disease or illness (Woolf, 2008). Another impact which sweatshops have on workers’ is that of eye strain, exhaustion and debilitating overuse injuries which occur due to poor ergonomics, long hours and constant pressure to meet production workload (Huff Post, 2013). These illnesses often go undiagnosed and untreated. In many factories, workers do not receive clean drinking water, nor are they allowed to use the toilet when they need to. In Bangladesh around 200 workers have died and many more have been injured in garment factory fires between June 2004 and June 2006. There were no emergency exits, people were trapped in the factories and most died in a mass panic. The same happened during a fire in a garment factory at the end of 2012 where 112 people were killed in Bangladesh.

Non-Governmental Organisations play a large role in researching the public health issue of globalization in the fashion industry. This includes manufacturing and production, stakeholders and the ins and outs as to why consumers continue to demand the quantity of production that is taking place. They are also aimed at advocating for human rights of workers in sweatshops to improve working conditions and ensure workers' rights. This is done through media such as websites, documents, interviews and other campaigning material (DeWinter, 2001)

Cultural and Social Analysis

It is important to consider and understand social theory in order to gain an insight as to why and how this public health issue continues to be prominent in today's society.

Capitalism is defined by an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by state. This concept of capitalism largely contributes to the inequality identified in the global economy and more specifically, the globalized fashion industry.

One of the most influential social thinkers of the 19th century was Karl Marx. He was known as a philosopher, social scientist, historian and revolutionary.

Marx believed that all historical change was caused by a series of class struggles between the bourgeoisie 'haves' and the proletariat 'have nots'. The bourgeoisie are the 'haves', the middle and upper classes. They have economic and political power. They own land and run businesses. They are capitalists. On the other hand, there are the proletariat 'have nots', the lower classes, those who do not have economic or political power. The proletariat provide labour on the land or work in the businesses owned by the bourgeoisie. According to Marx, the proletariat are exploited by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie employ and use the proletarian labour to produce goods that are sold for more money than their wage, in which they are paid money for. Through this process, the bourgeois businessman keeps any profit made and becomes wealthy from the labour of the proletariat. When applying this to the globalized fashion industry and sweatshops, it is clear to see that a capitalist process is in play. While large corporations are earning billions through revenue, millions of people are living in poverty and are forced to work in these conditions for a small wage (Baker, Carl, Hillman, Lawrence, Robards, Scott, 2012).

In order to solve this global problem, a wide spread, macro level action should be taken in order to solve it. The public heath issue of globalized fashion sweatshops is detrimental to thousands and a significant issue to overcome. Companies, corporations and business need to be aware and accountable of the process of how, when and where products are made and who these are made by. The action which is taken can include institutions and organizations such as The United Nations, The World Health Organisations and the International Labour Organisation which focus on worker rights and working conditions. Through this public awareness, the general public will then know and understanding the process of products which they buy and how the prices can be unethically cheap and easy to access.

Analysis of artefact and own learning reflection

"Just Do It" is a well-known slogan linked with Nike and the selling of their high end sport products. The artefact, however, is a play on words which illustrates the way which workers in these sweatshops are treated and forced to work in terrible conditions, long hours, and without the proper equipment or daily wage. This big brand company is one of many who are exploiting human rights and freedoms for their own benefit, and getting away with it. It's unethical and it is not just or fair. This artefact summarizes the poor conditions and way in which workers are treated by big companies in order to gain profit and fame.

This unit has given me a greater understanding and knowledge of not only public health issues, but issues on a global scale which are only gaining size and momentum. I am now appreciating and understanding the world differently, and even questioning the world, media, and politics in a way I hadn't before. Through my research I've found that very little information is available to the general public, so they are unaware of how big this problem is. Even when speaking to friends and family regarding my research, they were astounded at the scale of the exploitation of workers and the companies involved.


Borg, V., & Kristensen, T. S. (2000). Social class and self-rated health: can the gradient be explained by differences in life style or work environment?. Social science & medicine, 51(7), 1019-1030.

Inequality Watch. (2012) Poverty and Health. Retrieved on October 28, 2013. http://www.inequalitywatch.eu/spip.php?article146

Kirk O. Hansen, S. R. (2010). "Taking your code to China." Journal of International Business Ethics 3(1).

Huff Post (2013). The Truth About the Clothes We Wear: How Fashion Impacts Health and the Environment. Retrieved on October 1, 2013.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beth-greer/fashion-environment_b_3527049.html

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (2013). Garment Workers. Retrieved on September 28, 2013. http://wiego.org/.../occupational-groups/garment-workers

Baker, S., Carl, J., Hillman, W., Lawrence, G., Robards, B., Scott, J. (2012). Think Sociology. Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Australia.

Woolf, L.M. (2008) Women and Sweatshops. Retrieved from http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/sweatshops.html