America’s made in America bargains have been found to come at the expense of human costs. The Washington Post newspaper showed that often immigrant workers were paid as little as $5 per hour.
Increasingly, immigrant labor is used in the garment industry where workers are paid below the legal minimum wage. Federal regulators have found the practice to be widespread with many workers undocumented.
Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator at the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division, said, “Not only do [the employers] have the pricing pressure, but they have a labor force that’s prone to being exploited. They’re using that, taking advantage of these workers.”
For twenty years garment factories have been providing clothing to leading American retailers. The better manufacturing processes and lower transportation times and costs have helped to contribute to keeping production based in the U.S.
This has come at a human cost, however, as immigrants who once looked to America for a better life; now find that prospects and opportunity are disappearing as they compete against countries where labor is much cheaper in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Mexico.
Many workers fear deportation so they never complain about conditions or pay.
Clothing prices would have to rise by 40% for the workers to be paid minimum wage according to the Department of Labor. The clothing they produce is often sold at discount retailers such as TJ Maxx, Ross Dress for Less, and Forever 21.
The exploitation of the immigrant workforce not only undermines the immigrant worker but brings down wages which affect native-born Americans. The retail outlets do not question how they are able to acquire clothes so cheaply.
In a statement, Forever 21 said it “takes these issues very seriously and requires all of its vendors to comply with federal and local minimum wage and record-keeping laws.
“While Forever 21 does not own or operate any of the third party vendors or contractors involved, it is our policy and practice to not purchase merchandise from any companies who violate the law.
“Forever 21 condemns any third party vendor that violates these laws, and takes appropriate action to encourage these independent vendors to improve compliance.”
Most of the exploitation is carried out in Los Angeles. The garment industry is believed to want American goods at Bangladesh prices.