Is It Worth the Sweat?: Effects on Human Rights caused by Sweatshops in El Salvador

Rachel Boyell


Sweatshops do not have a good reputation, often deservedly so. However, despite popular belief, sweatshops can also play a positive role in conditions of abject poverty, gender equality, and unemployment. Investigated in this research are the consequences of sweatshops on a variety of outcomes (municipal services, employment, education, gang violence, class/gender equality and workers' rights) through the application of a natural experiment methodology to El Salvador. Two of the country's largest cities, which are otherwise very similar, have starkly different incidences of sweatshops (high in Santa Ana, low in San Miguel). Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods from several different sources (including reports from the CIA, USAID, UN, Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. Department of State) this research argues that the presence of a large sweatshop industry in Santa Ana improved economic opportunities and quality of life compared to those in San Miguel. Also considered (and rejected) are alternative explanations for the better performance of Santa Ana. In a country reeking with havoc since it’s founding, the examination on the progression of its economy specific to Santa Ana and San Miguel is imperative. El Salvador originated as a monoculture export economy yet drastically flipped to a country of industry (largely textile). After years of bloodshed, the apparent difference in two cities comparable in history, culture, ethnicity, and geography in economic opportunity and poverty is a divide that simply cannot be ignored.


Sweatshop; El Salvador; Human Rights

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