15 Companies That Use Sweatshops: Top Brands Including Nike

Many of us have favorite brands that we like. But some of those brands still use sweatshops. Those brands include:

  • Apple
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Dell
  • Tesla

A sweatshop is a shop or factory where employees work for long hours at low wages and in unsafe conditions. These working environments are predominant in many developing Asian countries, such as China, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. But even in the United States, there are sometimes terrible working conditions.

It can be hard to know whether a company operates using ethical principles and fair business practices. You’ll be surprised to learn that many of the biggest names in the fashion and tech industry still use factories that pay employees unfair wages. Many of these factories also utilize child labor and make employees work long hours in conditions that are not safe.

Once you’ve opened your eyes to the reality of these atrocities, you can decide to shop better. Here are 15 brands that still use sweatshops.

Companies that use sweatshops (2024)

Clothes

Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dell, Tesla

In a report by CNN in 2019, International Rights Advocates sued the above companies for using child labor in the Congo. Children were used to mining cobalt in dangerous conditions. It’s a component used to make lithium-ion batteries which are used in rechargeable electronic gadgets.

Nike

Does Nike still use sweatshops? Throughout the years, Nike has been one of those companies that have been linked over and over in various ways to child labor and unsafe conditions in their factories. As recently as 2020, investigations showed that Nike (along with Apple) was linked to forced labor from the Uyghur people in China.

A study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) linked 83 companies as benefiting from abusive Uyghur transfer programs. Nike was named among those companies. The company has also been accused on the American side of its corporate operations of gender discrimination against women and a culture of sexual harassment.

Abercrombie & Fitch

Abercrombie & Fitch has been in business for over 100 years. Originally it started as an outdoor specialty retailer and has evolved into fashion for a laid-back lifestyle.

The company also has a long history of bad working conditions at its factories. In December 2010, 29 Bangladeshi workers were trapped inside a factory and died in a fire there while they were sewing clothing for Abercrombie.

In 2013, Abercrombie & Fitch finally decided to join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety to ensure that factories were made safer for garment workers. However, when the agreement expired in 2018, the company refused to join the new three-year agreement, despite 147 other brands signing it.

The fact that the brand has not formally re-committed to be legally bound by the safety accord suggests that it is not devoted to changing its unsafe factory practices and does not prioritize the overall well-being of its workers.

Adidas

Along the same lines as Nike, Adidas is another sportswear manufacturer that has been linked to forced Uyghur labor in China. While the company was accused of being a client of Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Adidas got an apology from the manufacturer for using their logo on their website, and the company has since removed their logo.

The Adidas website has a section that describes its supply chain and worker sustainability, suggesting that they are making strides to improve in these areas. They have laid out a 5-year plan to address some of the issues, giving some hope that, in the future, this brand may be moving in the right direction. Still, some of the languages on the website are vague, so it is hard to discern how much effort has really been completed.

H&M

One of the most recognizable names in the “fast-fashion” industry is the Swedish company H&M. Numerous documented situations back up claims that H&M utilizes sweatshops and child labor.

While H&M boasts about its sustainability efforts on its website, it does not address its workforce conditions. The numerous claims about their labor practices overshadow any effort that they make in the sustainability direction with their clothing.

Forever 21

Also synonymous with “fast fashion,” the Los Angeles-based Forever 21 has been accused of participating in unfair and illegal working practices even in the United States. There have been claims from factory workers stating that they were paid well below minimum wage and forced to work long hours in factories in Los Angeles.

Using loopholes in the law, Forever 21 has not paid any money towards the claims against their labor practices. It’s an indication they have no desire to acknowledge their wrongdoing or fairly compensate their wronged employees. Situations like these show that it is not safe to assume that if a product is made in the United States, the company uses fair employment practices.

Gap

Gap seeks to produce its fashion as cheaply as possible at the expense of its factory workers. In 2004, they admitted the factories they used had unsafe machinery and violated child labor laws. While the company has worked to improve things, as recently as 2018, Global Citizen reported that hundreds of factory workers were being abused.

Lululemon

Lululemon has gained a cult following among celebrities and influencers as a high-end athleisure brand. In 2019, there were claims from female Lululemon factory workers in Bangladesh that they were beaten and physically assaulted. They also stated some of them are paid only 85 euros a month and are forced to work overtime.

Shein

Shein is a Chinese brand that became popular through its huge following on Instagram. It is the definition of fast fashion, adding hundreds of new products to its website each day at very inexpensive prices. The BBC has found Shein suppliers’ workers do 75-hour work weeks.

Their staff is pressured to turn around lots of clothes in a short period of time. Workers are only paid per item of clothing.

TJ Maxx, Ross Dress for Less

The LA Times reported in 2016 that TJ Maxx and Ross Dress for Less both used factories that paid workers less than minimum wage. Workers were making only $4 an hour.

Unfortunately, TJ Maxx and Ross Dress for Less don’t get penalized because they’re not the ones employing them. Activists are pushing for laws to be passed to be able to penalize the retailers that use these low-wage factories.

Final thoughts on sweatshops

Some of the most well-known and expensive brands have a dark cloud hanging over them with regard to fair labor practices. We must all ask ourselves if buying these clothes is worth more than the fair treatment of human beings.

It’s important to do our part to eliminate the profit these companies gain from using cheap labor by not buying from them. We hope what you’ve learned here inspires you to seek out better brands. If we all make that choice, these brands will stop using these factories, and the factories will have to change if they want to stay in business.

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