Last spring, members of the American University chapter in Washington, D.C. had their safe illusions shattered as they enjoyed a private tour of the Smithsonian's exhibit Between a Rock and a Hard Place, A History of American Sweatshops, 1820-Present. The tour began with the expected scenes of working conditions in the 1800's including a mock sweatshop showing the small spaces where people worked for 14 hours a day and often slept as well. Though most people today believe that sweatshops and virtual "slave labor" no longer exist in the United States, the students were shocked to learn that many sweatshops are currently operating in America and the number is rising. The workers are most often illegal aliens brought into the country specifically to work in these facilities. Since many companies now buy products piece meal from various suppliers, it is often difficult for them to keep track of where their supplies are coming from. Other organizations deliberately turn a blind eye to the method of production in order to take advantage of the low prices available on sweatshop products. The disturbing exhibit reminded the students that injustices occur when society becomes complacent. It also demonstrated the important role human resource professionals can play in upholding fair labor practices.
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