Sweatshops & Child Labor WebQuest

An Internet WebQuest on Ethics in the Market
created by Richard M. Capozzi
Norman Thomas High School

Introduction | The Task | The Process & Resources | Conclusion



Who says accountants are boring?! Who says marketing executives are self-serving?!  In today's marketplace accountants, or records processing occupations, have their finger on the pulse of the economy. Responsible marketing can change consumer attitudes toward products, a commercial practice, or even a lifestyle.  Moreover, if a company is trying to cut corners, and then starts polluting the environment, or employing child labor, or violating the human rights of its workers, accountants are likely the first to know.

Accountants may be heroes.  Depending on their integrity, accountants can help to hide the 'smoking gun' or be the 'whistle blowers' for all kinds of abuses against the environment, consumer safety, or workers' human rights. Of course, accountants help a company make money and stay ahead of its competitors, but they can also be the conscience of the corporation.

Accountants, and particularly Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), know the price a company has to pay for its advantage. But if the price is too high--meaning children suffer or the health of workers is endangered or the environment is degraded--then the Big Question facing 'the guy in the next cubicle' is: "Do I stand up and take responsibility to wage a protest against evil business practices and maybe lose my job, or do I say nothing and look out for Number One?"


The Task

Accountants will have their day! Should the 'bottom line' reign supreme, or should protecting human rights and ensuring the happiness and health of workers--as well as of consumers and children--and of the environment--be the number one priority of multinational corporations? In this WebQuest on Sweatshops & Child Labor we will use the Internet for practically all of our research; we will learn everything that we will need to know in order to give an informed answer to the Big QuestionWe will produce: 1) a Scrapbook that contains the results of our research, complete with sources; 2) a Chart in MS Excel that deals with the exploitation of girls around the world; 3) a Research Essay, complete with Webliography, in which we develop a coherent response to the Big Question; 4) a PowerPoint Slideshow that provides a public service message combatting one of the abuses that we learned about: human rights, child labor, environmental, consumer safety; and 5) a Debate on the question: "Should I blow the whistle, or not?"  Finally, we will Publish our essays at http://www.topica.com/lists/HumanRightsForum.


The Process and Resources

In this WebQuest you will inform yourself about sweatshops and child labor so that you can answer the Big Question.  You will explore Web pages from people all over the world who care about ethics in the marketplace.  Because these are real Web pages we're tapping into, not just things made up  for school, the reading level might challenge you.  Feel free to use the online reference materials on the Resources page.

You'll begin by getting some background information about sweatshops and child labor, and about how to stop those abuses.

Step 1 - How This Works

Create a MS Word file which you will Save As "Scrapbook-Your Name" in My Documents. Then, explore the Web pages linked below to answer the questions associated with each link. 

Step 2 - Looking Deeper from Different Perspectives


Assume the role of a records processing professional who has just conducted an audit of the accounting records of Company X.  As a result of the audit, you have begun to doubt the ethical integrity of Company X, since it is clear to you that Company X is guilty of serious human rights abuses by employing sweatshop and child labor in order to drive down the cost of production and increase the company's profits. What to do? Your first step is to begin to research sweatshops and child labor to help you decide if you will 'blow the whistle' on your company, or not.  And if you do decide to expose Company X's human rights abuses, how will you persuade your fellow employees to agree with your point of view and take action.

IMPORTANT: Read through the files linked to each section of the WebQuest.  Copy the sections you feel are important by dragging the mouse across the passage and paste them into your ScrapbookRemember to copy/paste the URL of the file you take notes from so you can quickly go back to it if you need to check a reference or prove a point.

Organize what you've learned into an opinion essay that answers the Big Question based on what you have learned from your research.


Use the Web page links below to help you answer these questions specifically related to Sweatshops:


A.  Read the article What is a Sweatshop? and Sweatshops: What to Know and answer the questions below in your scrapbook:

1.  Why do sweatshops exist?
2.  Who works in sweatshops?
3.  How can sweatshop owners get away with lying?
4.  What are Free Trade Zones?
5.  Describe sweatshops in the USA.
6.  What is the 'race to the bottom'?
7.  What is NAFTA?
8.  Define IMF, WTO, World Bank.
9.  What is the net effect of making loans to poor countries?
10.  Are all corporations necessarily 'evil'?
11.  What role does politics play in all of this?
12.  What can we do?

B.  Read the article Between a Rock & a Hard Place and summarize the history of sweatshops in America.

C. Click on SweatshopWatch.  Read through the list of FAQs.  Copy/paste the questions and then summarize each answer.

D.  Take a guided tour of the virtual musem exhibit A History of American Sweatshops: 1820-Present and answer the questions below. Copy/paste any images or text that you feel would be particularly persuasive in a slideshow that aims to curtail sweatshop labor.

1.  How did sweatshops in America first get started?
2.  Why were women, immigrants, and children more likely than male tailors to work for a sweatshop in the US garment industry?
3.  What is interesting to you?

E.  Read the article Was Your School's Cap Made In This Sweatshop? which explores labor abuses carried out by BJ & B in the Dominican Republic.  Answer the questions below.

1.  How much does a BJ & B worker earn for every baseball cap s/he makes?
2.  How much do the caps sell for in the US?
3.  Who profits the most from the BJ & B factory?
4.  Is the equivalent of $40.00 per week enough for a family to live on in the Dominican Republic? Explain.
5.  Do you own a baseball style cap made in a sweatshop in the Dominican Republic?  Name the national brands, sports teams, and universities that BJ & B makes baseball caps for.  Are you still sure that you don't own one? 
F. Read the article What We Can Do To Stop Sweatshops by Mia Kirsh. Answer the following question in a paragraph: Are you willing to change the world by changing the way you shop?  Why or why not? 

GAP, Inc.

Use the Web page links below to help you answer these questions specifically related to GAP, Inc.'s use of sweatshops:


Read the New York Times article Labor Standards Clash with Global Reality by Leslie Kaufman and David Gonzalez about labor conditions in El Salvador and what role GAP, Inc. is playing there.   Then, answer all the questions below based on your understanding of the situation.
1. What is the 'lesson' GAP, Inc. claims to have learned from its experience in San Salvador, El Salvador?

2. Have the working conditions at Mandarin improved? Why or why not?

3. Why is it so difficult to stop labor and human rights abuses in a country like El Salvador?

4. How much would it cost GAP, Inc. to monitor its 4000 independent factories? Do you think that GAP, Inc. can afford to do so without significantly diminishing its 'bottom line'?  Why or why not?

5. Why is it difficult for GAP, Inc. to get the local government to accept the presence of independent monitors?

6. According to a GAP, Inc. spokesperson, what is the solution to labor and human rights abuses in El Salvador?

7. Do you think GAP, Inc should be held partly responsible for the fact that workers at the Charter factory earn only $0.60 per hour, a wage that cannot support a family (even in El Salvador), or should GAP, Inc. be seen as a kind of 'hero' for starting the independent monitoring program? Why?

Child Labor

Use the Web page links below to help you answer these questions specifically related to child labor:


1.  Read the Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia entry: Iqbal Masih; and the article Iqbal Masih Remembered.  On the basis of your reading, write down in your own words who Iqbal Masih was, and what his legacy is.

2.  Read how teen leaders were inspired by Iqbal Masih's life: 15 year-old Elizabeth Bloomer; founder of Free the Children Craig Kielburger.  Describe their commitment in 100-200 words.

3.  According to the Free the Children Campaign, the single most effective way to end child poverty and the exploitation of children is education.

Click on the link 'Chart Directions' to create a MS Excel chart about the exploitation of girls around the world.  Save as: 'Chart-YOUR NAME' and email this and all other deliverables as attachments to: submit@languageartsweb.net.   You may refer to the 'Exploitation Chart' as a model.

Click on the Free the Children website to get some ideas about what you can do to educate your peers about child labor and how to fight against it.

This will help you prepare a slideshow presentation in which you seek to educate others about the realities of sweatshop and child labor, and persuade them to seek alternatives. You will receive more specific instructions below.

4.  What else is being done to help, and who's doing it?  Click on the RUGMARK Foundation link.  Expalin what the RUGMARK label means.

5.  Read about 'bottom rung' manufacturers and retailers.  Analyze where your brand loyalties are.  Are you buying free of sweatshop and child labor?  What more can you do to stop human rights abuses?



Now that you know something more about sweatshops and child labor, and have seen what some people are doing about those problems, let's complete our public service campaign by creating a few new products.

1. Work in triads to create a slogan for an anti-sweatshop campaign, and produce PowerPoint slideshow that presents the facts as you know them about sweatshops and child labor in a way that educates your peers and persuades them to take some kind of action to stop those abuses.  Your presentation will be graded according to the following rubric.

2.  Debate the Big Question in class.  Parliamentary Procedure: Everyone will get a chance to speak, but only one person speaks at once.

3.  Now you must answer the Big Question in the form of an research essay.  Will you decide, as a records processing professional, to 'blow the whistle' on the company you work for if it violates the human rights of its workers? If so, how will you enlist the help of your marketing colleagues in order to help stop the abuses?  Follow the outline below to guide you through the process of writing your research essay.

4. Real World Feedback: Now, email your essay to the following address: HumanRightsForum@topica.com, so it can be published at: www.topica.com/lists/HumanRightsForum.  Follow the URL to read each others' work and continue the dialogue.  Send your essay to your Social Studies teacher, your Business teacher, and anyone else you think may be interested.  Invite them to join: www.topica.com/lists/HumanRightsForum.


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