Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Why buying American-made products is essential to being an ethical consumer.

Sweatshops aren’t anything new. To save a few bucks, many American textile manufacturers have chosen to move jobs abroad to places with “cheap” labor. In fact, nearly the entire textile industry offshored. Some wanted to be able to get away with paying workers very little and not having to comply with regulations that protect workers.

But some sweatshop workers aren’t even paid. This week, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the Chinese government is forcing members of religious and ethnic minority groups into secluded indoctrination camps and then forcing them into factory work. This clearly falls under the U.S. and United Nations definition of slavery. That’s not all: It turns out that North Carolina-based Badger Sportswear, which supplies athletic gear to college campuses across the U.S., was actually sourcing its products from one of these camps.

The company announced it was suspending this arrangment while it conducts an investigation. But this case makes us ask an uncomfortable, but important, question: How many of the imported goods Americans use every day are made by modern-day slaves?

This is a grim reminder of why outsourcing has consequences, both in the U.S. and the places where domestic manufacturers send these jobs. American workers lose their livelihoods and then live through the painful experience of seeing their communities destroyed. Workers abroad are exploited—even enslaved.

Out of solidarity with workers everywhere, we can’t support companies that don’t care about the dignity of work and what it means to fairly pay someone for their time and contributions. Buying American-made products isn’t just about supporting American workers. It’s about being an ethical consumer who supports workers and rejects exploitation.

Although cases like this are happening all over the world, it’s an important reminder of the human costs of outsourcing.  

Listen to this NPR interview with the AP’s Dake Kang on how he made this disturbing discovery.