Factory conditions have posed significant threats to workers since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
While many developed countries have substantially improved working conditions, developing nations still struggle with providing safe factory conditions for workers.
This article explains the efforts being made to improve working conditions across the world.
Modern Factory Conditions
Factory conditions have changed drastically since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In the United States, as well as most other developed countries, government regulation has significantly improved working conditions for factory workers through:
- Regular safety inspections
- Equal pay
- Paid overtime
- Minimum wage
- 8-hour working days
These types of regulations ensure safe and equitable working conditions for people who have historically faced harsh working environments.
Read more: The Evolution of Working Conditions in Factories
While developed countries have enacted strict regulations and policies to protect workers’ rights, many developing nations lack the policy, enforcement, and funds to substantially improve conditions. Throughout the world, primarily in nations like Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and India, workers face struggles including:
- Low wages
- Long hours
- Hazardous conditions
These conditions put severe strain on workers by limiting their ability to make livable wages and forcing them to work extreme amounts of overtime, putting them at risk for injury or even death.
Read more: Working Conditions in Modern Factories
Poor working conditions lead to thousands of deaths and millions of injuries worldwide, from individual injuries from machinery mishaps, to mass death from unsafe factory infrastructure. However, efforts across the world are being made to improve factory conditions in developing countries.
Poor factory conditions frequently lead to worker injuries and even death, in the most extreme cases. The garment industry employs 60 million people worldwide, millions of whom work in poor factory conditions that abuse and exploit their workers. Better factory conditions lead directly to improved productivity and profit; however, many of the industries in developing countries lack the resources, knowledge, and funds to begin the processes of improving their factories. Among developing nations, some of the worst factory conditions are seen in:
International consumers and organizations have pressured these countries to improve their legislation for decades; however, little improvement has been made. In some countries, including Indonesia and Bangladesh, minimum wage laws have improved in recent years. Unfortunately, these improvements have not been enough to enforce living wages, and still allow employers to pay as little as $33 per month to workers.
While there is a rise in companies taking responsibility in ensuring better working conditions for their manufacturers, many companies struggle to assess improvements in conditions thoroughly and accurately. Organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) help companies evaluate their manufacturers and help manufacturers employ better practices. Typically, assessments are based primarily on three factors:
- Hazardous conditions
These are the primary factors that help assess factory conditions, though others include:
- Child labor
- Abuse and harassment
- Job security
- Information and transparency available to workers
- Ability to form unions and practice collective bargaining
Unions and collective bargaining led to direct improvements in factory conditions in the United States and the United Kingdom, but unions are readily punished and disbanded in many developing nations. In many cases, unions are an extension of management, and do little to help empower workers.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency dedicated to setting international standards of labor practices worldwide. As of 2021, ILO and its partner, IFC, have partnered with 12 countries and over 2.4 million workers worldwide to empower workers and fundamentally change working conditions in developing nations. Significant improvements as a result of their intervention include:
- Improved wages
- Women in management positions
- Less abuse of workers
- Less forced labor
As of 2016, intervention through worker education, factory inspections, and proper funding has resulted in a 6% improvement in worker injuries, a 29% improvement in worker fatigue, and a 24% decrease in worker concerns with injury.
Many issues still remain, including:
- A lack structural integrity and safety in factories
- Overworking employees
- Forced and coerced labor
- Child labor
Substantial changes have been made in recent years in factory conditions, but further improvements are still needed. While international efforts are significant drivers in improvements, companies have considerable weight in influencing workers’ rights by holding their manufacturers accountable for safe working conditions. Additionally, individual consumers have power over companies by choosing to support responsible practices and ethical manufacturers.
Read more: How Consumerism Drives Demand and Pollution