Slaves to Fashion
Poverty and Abuse in the New Sweatshops
Just as Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed uncovered the plight of the working poor in America, Robert J. S. Ross's Slaves to Fashion exposes the dark side of the apparel industry and its exploited workers at home and abroad. It's both a lesson in American business history and a warning about one of the most important issues facing the global capital economy—the reappearance of the sweatshop.
Vividly detailing the decline and tragic rebirth of sweatshop conditions in the American apparel industry of the twentieth century, Ross explains the new sweatshops as a product of unregulated global capitalism and associated deregulation, union erosion, and exploitation of undocumented workers. Using historical material and economic and social data, the author shows that after a brief thirty-five years of fair practices, the U.S. apparel business has once again sunk to shameful abuse and exploitation.
Refreshingly jargon-free but documented in depth, Slaves to Fashion is the only work to estimate the size of the sweatshop problem and to systematically show its impact on apparel workers' wages. It is also unique in its analysis of the budgets and personnel used in enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Anyone who is concerned about this urgent social and economic topic and wants to go beyond the headlines should read this important and timely contribution to the rising debate on low-wage factory labor.
Praise / Awards
"A brilliant and beautiful book, the mature work of a lifetime—must reading
for students of the globalization debate."
". . . unflinchingly portrays the reemergence of the sweatshop in our dog-eat-dog economy."
—Los Angeles Times
"Slaves to Fashion is a remarkable achievement, several books in one: a gripping history of sweatshops, explaining their decline, fall, and return; a study of how the media portray them; an analysis of the fortunes of the current anti-sweatshop movement; an anatomy of the global traffic in apparel, in particular the South-South competition that sends wages and working conditions plummeting toward the bottom; and not least, a passionate declaration of faith that humanity can find a way to get its work done without sweatshops. This is engaged sociology at its most stimulating."
" . . . the definitive book on the subject, not least of all because it is so eminently readable. . . . It's a book with brains, brawn and heart . . . a classic. . . . I also think the timing is good. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, what with the recent election results . . . I sense a second-wave gathering in the anti-sweatshop movement. . . . Slaves to Fashion will be indispensable to this process."
—Alan Howard, former assistant to the president of UNITE
". . . an academic study of sweatshops and a major contribution to the debate over their reappearance. . . . Trade unionists, labour activists, and academics concerned about this burning social and economic disgrace should read this important and timely contribution to the growing debate on inhumane, low-wage factory labour."
—Asian Labour Update
"What starts out as a personal tale of heartwarming reflections, with a purity of soul that is disarming, effortlessly turns into an intellectually stimulating discourse of serious import. The analysis and implications flow as this book delves into the dark shadows of sweatshops in the garment industry and eventually succeeds in illuminating our insatiable hunger to consume, sometimes at the expense of human and social justice. This is a book that will impress those of us who consider globalization to eventually be a local issue, as the reader understands the notion of sweatshops in our very own backyards. . . . This book belongs on the shelf of any student of globalization who wishes to approach the debate with the respect it deserves. Readers interested in the social and political impact of sweatshops on immigrant communities will find the book of interest as well."
"If the elimination of sweatshops is your issue, this is your book. And if it's not your issue, when you learn of Nicaraguan garment workers earning less than 1% of the price of the jeans they sew, and consider that the U.S. buys 30% of the world's imported clothing and the European Union another 26%, you may decide it should be."
—San Francisco Bay Guardian
"Ross's argument is presented with clarity. . . . For anyone who seeks a complete picture of sweatshops and an understanding that goes beyond the sad knowledge that they still exist today, Ross's book is a must-read."
—Saskatchewan Law Review
"Ross provides a detailed and expert analysis of a particularly important industry, and combines the best aspects of academic carefulness and popular appeal. It remains to be seen whether the analysis of labor rights discourse can produce a moral philosophy adequate to the task."
—Human Rights & Human Welfare
Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.
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