How Should Christians Respond to Sweatshops?

Many modern-day shoppers do not know where their products are made. Every single day, Americans spend their money on items that were probably produced in sweatshops around the world, including some that are in the USA. Sweatshops are factories that violate labor laws and “are characterized by low pay, long hours, and unhealthy working conditions.”

While companies are making a high profit on such products, the workers in sweatshops are forced to work in terrible conditions with unfair pay. Even children work for long hours in sweatshops and many die because of the dangerous conditions.

Major, well-known brands utilize sweatshops and numerous people are ignorantly buying these items, which support oppression, slave labor, terrible working conditions, and unfair pay. Many people around the world are personally affected by sweatshops, especially in Asia, India, Central America, and South America.

While most people are ignorant of the plight of these oppressed workers, Christians need to be knowledgeable and proactive in fighting against the unfair working conditions of sweatshops. A follower of Christ cannot, at the same time, promote missions to share the gospel with the world while ignoring the consequences of their personal consumerism of sweatshop products. 

To examine this issue, this article will include an overview of sweatshops, relevant biblical passages, and suggested steps of action for everyday life to fight against sweatshops.

An Overview of Sweatshops

People first used the word “sweatshop” in the 19th century, which generally referred to any place of employment that had unfair working conditions. Europe and America had many sweatshops during that time, which eventually proved themselves to be morally wrong.

In America, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911 influenced reform and the development of a union to protect factory factors from unsafe working conditions and unfair pay. However, neither the U.S. nor Europe has completely eradicated sweatshops from their countries.

While America has made major strides in creating labor laws, many countries around the world still have sweatshops that break labor laws and violate human rights. These sweatshops mostly employ women and children, who are paid a very small amount of money to work in unsafe environments.

Sweatshops produce many different products, but the main products are “garments, cotton, bricks, cocoa, and coffee.” Many popular clothing and shoe brands found in malls and shopping centers, such as H&M, Aéropostale, Nike, and Forever 21, sell products made at sweatshops. Workers are treated unfairly to produce “fast fashion” for America and other Western Countries.

What Does the Bible Say about Sweatshops?

Scripture does not specifically mention the word “sweatshop,” but it does discuss the oppression of the poor and God’s disdain for immoral business practices. The first half of Proverbs 22:22, says, “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor” (NIV).

Similarly, another proverb reminds believers, “One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich — both come to poverty” (Proverb 22:16, NIV). 

Furthermore, Zechariah 7:10 specifically says not to oppress the poor, foreigner, widow, or fatherless. All these verses strictly denounce those who oppress and exploit the poor for the purpose of making themselves rich.

The Book of Isaiah is also relevant to the issue of sweatshops. In Isaiah’s day, the Israelites fasted in order to get God’s attention and to please Him, but He was not impressed. The Lord recognized their false repentance, pointing out their inconsistencies since they were exploiting their workers and fighting with each other (Isaiah 58:3-5).

Instead, God said, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7, NIV). The Lord denounces the exploitation of the poor and His followers should as well.

Christians are called to help the poor and oppressed (Psalm 82:3; Proverbs 19:17; 22:9; Acts 20:35). God cares about the poor and their situation (Psalm 34:6; 35:10; 113:7; 140:12). He also holds people guilty of sin for hurting the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).

Believers can honor God by seeking the well-being of the poor. As Proverbs 14:31 says, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (NIV).

Scripture is very clear that believers should help the poor, not oppress or exploit them, and that God cares about those who are poor and needy. Those who work in sweatshops are being taken advantage of by major companies who make a great financial profit at the workers’ expense.

They must work to barely survive, even so, they are paid unfair wages and work in dangerous environments. God does not approve of this practice and followers of Christ should not support sweatshops.

What Can Christians Do?

Although some individuals are working to free sweatshop workers from their slave labor, there is still a need for more people to become aware of and fight against the terrible working conditions of sweatshop workers, including children.

There are multiple government and human rights organizations that are actively fighting against sweatshops around the world. Christians can get involved in these organizations while also supporting gospel outreach through missions to key areas where sweatshops are located, such as in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, or Buenos Aires.

Workers in sweatshops need to be told that the Lord cares about their plight and offers ultimate freedom through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 10:9-11; Galatians 5:1). Christ is the Light and Hope they need.

To fight against sweatshops and their unfair wages and hazardous working environments, some companies have become fairtrade. In fair trade, workers are paid fairly for their jobs and have better working conditions.

Clothing, food, coffee, and other products that are fair trade can be found by looking for a “fair trade” label. Christians can help fight against sweatshops by buying items that are fair trade and avoiding sweatshop products.

Although believers may like certain brands or stores that are popular, they should avoid stores that are associated with sweatshops if they want to avoid fueling the corporations that are oppressing and exploiting the poor. There are even major campaigns believers can join in boycotting such brands and stores.

Another way to fight against sweatshops is to make people aware of the situation and how the Lord hates the oppression of the poor. The general public is not aware of the plight of sweatshop workers and Christians are even less aware.

However, believers should be the main ones urging for proper treatment of workers because of the biblical truth that all people are made in God’s image and all people need the good news of Jesus (Genesis 1:27; Romans 3:23-24).

The credibility of churches and individual Christians as witnesses of Jesus is at stake when Christians deliberately choose to ignore issues that they can speak life and hope into as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Following Christ with One’s Entire Life

Believers are called to love God with their entire beings (Mark 12:30). Being a follower of Christ is not delegated only to “spiritual” activities but impacts a person’s entire life. Because buying activities of everyday people does impact how others are treated, believers need to be mindful of their shopping habits for food, clothing, and other products.

John Woolman, a Quaker and follower of Jesus, recognized this truth in the 1700s when he realized that many of the items he owned had contributed to the oppression of the poor.

He also recognized that if the unsaved workers knew Christians were assisting in their oppression, then the Name of Christ would be blasphemed. Like Woolman, modern Christians must consider what they are supporting when buying products, because they should want to accurately represent Christ to a lost and hurting world.

For further reading:

How Should Christians Respond to Suffering?

What Does it Mean That ‘We Were Bought at a Price’?

How Validating Others Helps Us Love Like Jesus

Why Can’t We Serve Two Masters?

How Did Jesus View Wealth and Poverty?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Togapix


Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.   

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