Sweatshop, small manufacturing establishment in which employees work long hours under substandard conditions for low wages. Sweatshops were an outgrowth of the contracting systems in which an employer or middleman (called a sweater) sought to reduce overhead costs and to increase the volume of production by distributing materials to workers in their residences and by paying for work piecemeal. Sweatshops were originally residential, and they developed later into small factories.
Before the 1850s primitive conditions had characterized many of the small shops and residences in which manufacturing was done, particularly in the British clothing industry. But sizable segments of the populations in the United States and Britain did not work under unwholesome conditions in sweatshops until the full development of the Industrial Revolution brought about large, surplus urban populations, mechanization, and specialized methods of production.
By 1850 more than 200,000 women were employed in factories in the U.S. making such products as clothing, shoes, and cigars. As women and children increasingly entered the labor force, the sweatshop system was expanded. In the 1890s sweatshops formed the mainstay of the garment industry. The system was further promoted by the large influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.
Restricted through Legislation
By the 1930s sweatshops had been severely restricted in the garment and other industries through federal and state legislation, especially minimum-wage and child-labor laws.
Source: “Sweatshop,”Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000
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