The interrelated activities that comprise this lesson incorporate social studies, English, geography, and math. They help participants make connections between their own clothes and the people who make them. They pose questions about our responsibilities and suggest research-based action projects.

In Part I a brief, interactive activity identifies where participants' clothes were made and leads to an examination in Part II of the thousands of Latin American children who harvest crops in the fields or manufacture apparel in factories for export.

PART A: Where Did You Get Those Shoes? (30 minutes)

1. Ask for approximately 10 volunteers, with an even number of females and males, to come to the front of the room.

2. Ask half of the volunteers to check the labels they can find on all their clothing. The second group of volunteers will help to read the labels and call out the countries where the clothes are made. The facilitator or a volunteer makes a list of all the countries named under the heading “WHERE.” Make a check for each multiple reference. Include shoes, eyeglasses, and headgear. Note: This works well as a homework assignment in which participants survey their closet and drawers and record information about labels and countries where apparel are made.

3. Once this list is completed, ask participants to analyze the results. In almost every case, the majority of the garments will indicate that they were made outside the USA.


Why do you think a small group of randomly picked people in the United States is found to be wearing clothing from such diverse countries?

Were the brand names those of US companies? Why do US clothing companies make their products abroad?

Who do you think made the fabric in your clothes? Made the buttons, zippers, and other decorations? Sewed the buttonholes, set in the collar and sleeves? Was it more likely to have been a male or a female worker? An adult or a child? List these ideas under the heading “WHO.” How much do you imagine that the workers who made these clothes were paid? How much should they have been paid? For example, should the workers have received pay that equals a quarter of the garment's retail price? Half? List participants' ideas on the board under the heading “THEIR PAY.”

4. Ask participants what they have been paid as an hourly wage? List the wages and type of work on the board under the heading “YOUR PAY.” Ask them what the minimum wage is in this country and add this amount to the list.

PART B: The Global Marketplace on Your Back (1 hour minimum)

1. Explain that this activity will link their clothes to the people who made them and the global economy.

2. Define these terms for the group and ask them to supply examples:


CHILD LABOR: Work performed by children, often under hazardous or exploitative conditions. This does not include all work done by kids—children everywhere, for example, do chores to help their families. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for protection “against economic exploitation and against carrying out any job that might endanger well-being or educational opportunities, or that might be harmful to health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development” (Article 32).


A factory, often foreign-owned, that assembles goods for export. From Spanish, the word is pronounced mah-kee-lah-DOH-rah. It is usually shortened to maquila (mah-KEE-lah).


An industrial area in which a country allows foreign companies to import material for production and export finished goods without paying significant taxes or duties (fees to the government). A free-trade zone thus decreases a company's production costs.

3. Pass out Handout 1a, “Central American Free Trade Zone Exploits Girls” and/or Handout 1b, “Kids in the Fields” or show video entitled Zoned for Slavery.

  • After reading or viewing, discuss:
  • What is the predominant age and gender of the workers? Why?
  • Which working conditions do you think are exploitative or demeaning?
  • How do the managers treat the workers?
  • Do the workers have opportunities to go to school?
  • Why do you think these people are willing to work for these low wages?
  • Generate adjectives to describe the workers' world?
  • Would you trade places with them?

Note: Reliable reports published in 1998 and 1999 indicate that conditions have not changed substantially in these types of worksites around the world.

4. Display on an overhead projector or pass out copies of Handout 2, Hire Rosa for 57 Cents an Hour. Ask participants for their reactions. Have them “free write” for five minutes. Refer to their responses in Part A about their own hourly wages.

PART C: The Effects of Higher Wages (45 minutes)

1. Introduce this math problem that evaluates a claim often made by clothing retailers when approached about requiring better wages for the workers who make our clothes. They often assert that wages must be held low so that US consumers can have inexpensive products. With some facts and some math, evaluate the validity of this claim.

2. Distribute Handout 3, T-Shirt Math, and provide a few minutes for participants to complete the handout individually or in pairs.

a. Would you be willing to pay more for a shirt if that meant that workers in another country were getting higher wages? How much more? Do you think most people in the United States would be willing to do so? Why or why not?

b. Based on only the information in this exercise, are any human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights being violated? Cite specific articles.

c. The clothing manufacturer sells its goods in the United States yet manufactures them in El Salvador. Why do you think this is the case?

d. Who should be responsible for seeing that Salvadoran workers make wages sufficient to support themselves and their families?

PART D: Work, Buying Power, and Basic Necessities: Here and There (30 minutes, plus homework)

1. Display on an overhead projector or pass out copies of Handout 4, Work and Basic Necessities. Review with participants the number of hours a Mexican must work to buy basic household items. Discuss:

  • What conclusions can they draw from the evidence of these figures?
  • What kind of life would a worker earning this wage be likely to have?
  • How do you think this low wage affects the health, leisure activities, quality of life, and planning for the future of the worker and his/her family?

2. Complete the chart at the bottom of Handout 4, Work and Basic Necessities by finding prices of the same goods at a local grocery store.

3. Organize research teams which will find out about child labor and working con ditions in particular countries, industries, and regions of the world. Be sure they review the definition of child labor presented earlier. Have them select countries and companies based on the labels of clothes in the initial activity. (See Organi zations Working for Economic and Social Justice, p. 106.) Participants should gather data based on the following research questions:


  • Does child labor exist?
  • How many child laborers?
  • Which industries employ child laborers?
  • Why do the children work?


  • How are the children treated?
  • How much are they paid?
  • What hazards and risks do they face?


  • Why do the countries (or countries in the region) allow child labor?
  • Why do companies hire child labor even when it's illegal? Are the reasons economic? political? social?
  • How do children become laborers? What are their family and socio-economic conditions?


  • What do international documents (e.g., Convention on the Rights of the Child, Universal Declaration of Human Rights) say about child labor?
  • What do international organizations (e.g., United Nations, International Labor Organization) do to halt child labor?
  • What does your government do to halt child labor?
  • Who is working on the solution?
  • What are they doing?

PART E: Are My Hands Clean? (45 minutes)

1. Play or read the song on Handout 5, Are My Hands Clean (Recorded by Sweet Honey in the Rock in the album Still on the Journey)


  • How many countries are mentioned in the song?
  • How many corporations are mentioned and why are they located in different parts of the world?
  • Why does the making of the blouse require so much transportation between the industrial world and the “third” or developing world?
  • What human rights issues are raised in the song?
  • Do you think it is fair to suggest that those who buy these products have “dirty hands”? If not, how would you describe these purchasers? Does this description fit you? If so, are you comfortable with it? If not, what might you do about it?
  • What would it take for people to have “clean hands”?
  • Given the widespread problem of child labor and abuse, how can one become a more socially conscious shopper?
  • How can we help others become more conscious of their participation in this “dirty business”?

PART F: Taking Action (Variable)

There are numerous opportunities for informed, value-based action. Below are some approaches, including contacting web sites, monitoring and affecting personal and institutional purchasing practices, and influencing international companies and local stores.

1. Have the group discuss the Ladder of Labor Responsibility (below) developed by Co-op America (See p. 29). It is a new tool for consumers to determine the labor conditions behind the products they buy. As of 1999, they have developed ladders for athletic shoes, tea, coffee, hand-knotted Oriental carpets, and blue jeans.

The Ladder of Labor Responsibility

a) Top Rung companies are green businesses and fair-trade organizations that are models of how business can be done to respect people and the planet. These companies sprang up as alternatives to business as usual.

b) Upper Rung companies have codes of conduct that are being independently monitored and enforced, pay a living wage, and are also engaged in development work in the communities where their workers live.

c) Lower and Middle Rung companies have corporate codes of conduct to protect workers, but may or may not be enforcing them. Some have enforced codes of conduct, but do not pay their workers a living wage that provides for basic needs.

d) Bottom Rung companies have not yet adopted a code of conduct or started to monitor and enforce the practices of their suppliers and subcontractors. Bottom rung companies might also be flagrantly violating their own codes of conduct.

2. As a group, identify those sporting goods and clothing apparel that your school district or recreation department purchases (e.g. balls, t-shirts, uniforms, sports shoes, and band uniforms) or relevant purchases made by the fire and police departments and janitorial services. Conduct research into the labor practices (wages, conditions of employment) of the companies that manufacture these products. Based on findings, have participants develop a plan to promote fair, humane purchasing practices by the school and municipality.

3. Ask participants to consider the personal actions to end sweatshops suggested below. Discuss the pros and cons of each of these. Have participants role play these actions to help them become more effective agents of change.

Choose one product that you buy often (coffee, gifts, clothing) and purchase it only from a green business or a fair-trade organization.

Raise awareness. Ask one retail store each month if its products were manufactured without exploiting anyone and how they know.

Write, call, or e-mail one manufacturer each month from which you regularly make purchases. Ask them where they are on the Ladder of Labor Responsibility and urge them to take the next step. Be sure to note how frequently you purchase their products. Request a reply.

Select an action campaign and become involved. (See addresses below.)

Whenever possible, buy products that you know are produced by companies that enforce fair labor practices and respect the Earth. Buy from community-based businesses.

Remember to monitor investments. Make sure your (or your parents') financial planner is screening for labor issues.

Source: Adapted from

Five Simple Steps to End Sweatshops.


4. Resources, Campaigns, and Companies

a. Books, Government Publications, Educational Guides

By Sweat and Toil of Children, Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Child Labor Division, Room S-5202, Washington, DC 20210, Tel: (202) 208-4843,

Child Labor is Not Cheap, a three-lesson curriculum for youths through adults, Resource Center for the Americas, 317-17th Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55314-2077, Tel: (612) 627-0445.

Consumers' Guide to Fairly Traded Products, Fair Trade Federation, P.O. Box 126. Barre, MA 01005, Tel: (508) 355-0284.

Global Sweatshop Curriculum Packet for 4th through 12th graders, Campaign for Labor Rights, 1247 E. Street SE, Washington, DC 20003, Tel: (541) 344-5410.

Made in China: Behind the Label, National Labor Committee, 275 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10001, Tel: (212) 242-3002,

The Department of Labor's Employment Standards Agency, Wage and Hour Division, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20210, Tel: (212) 693-0051,

Shopping for a Better World, Council on Economic Priorities, 30 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003, Tel: (212) 420-1133,

b. Campaigns for Fair Labor Practices

Campaign for Labor Rights, 1247 E Street SE, Washington, DC 20003, Tel: (541) 344-5410, Publishes newsletter with up-to-date information on all sweatshop campaigns and analysis of current labor-rights issues.

Co-op America, 1612 K St. NW, #600, Washington, DC 20006, Tel: (202) 872-5307, Conducts anti-sweatshop campaigns targeting Disney, publishes National Green Pages, <>, and sponsors <>.

Fair Trade Federation, P.O. Box 126, Barre, MA 01005, Tel: (508) 355-0284, Promotes fair-trade products and businesses.

National Labor Committee, 275 7th Avenue, 15th Fl., New York, NY 10001, Tel: (212) 242-3002, Coordinates Disney, Wal-Mart, K-mart, and many other campaigns.

Sweatshop Watch, 310 8th St., Ste. 309, Oakland, CA 94607, Tel: (510) 834-8990, A coalition of organizations committed to eliminating sweatshops.

c. Some Companies to Contact

Disney 500 S. Buena Vista St. Burbank, CA 91521 818-846-7319 (FAX)

Esprit 900 Minnesota St. San Francisco, CA 94107

GAP INC. 1 Harrison St. San Francisco, CA 94105 415-952-4400 415-495-2922 (fax)

Guess? 1444 S. Alameda St. Los Angeles, CA 90021

J.C. Penney 100 Commercial Rd. Leominster, MA 01453