“We were fed like animals and worked like machines.”
Modern-day slavery affects over 40 million people around the world and its byproduct can be seen throughout society in the clothes you wear, the phone you use, and the coffee you drink. Today we speak with Nasreen Sheikh, an ex-slave who escaped her sweatshop to change the lives of others. Born undocumented in a village on the Indian-Nepalese border, Nasreen’s fate would have her forced into an arranged marriage by the age of twelve. Not accepting her future, Nasreen tells us how as an illiterate child who didn’t know her own age, escaped to Kathmandu with her cousin, only to fall prey to a sweatshop.
Nasreen details her experience and touches on horrifying working conditions, low wages, and how the clothes she was making had more freedom than she did. After all, the garments would be put on ships and taken to Europe and beyond. Her life changed when she came across a man who taught her how to read and write. Now Nasreen is empowering women, fighting for fair trade, living wages, and better nutrition through her organizations, Local Women’s Handcrafts and Empowerment Collective. Nasreen tells us what gives her hope, how the average person can create change, and why values need to be the bedrock for a better future. To hear more about Nasreen’s incredible story, be sure to tune in today.
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Key Points From This Episode
Sweatshops are well hidden, but if you trace down a supply chain far enough beyond the big factories, you can find them.
Escaping the cycle of sweatshop labor is very difficult, as people are often unaware that they have other options, or have not received enough education to find better work.
Nasreen worked up to 20 hours a day at just 10 years old, with cold water to put in her eyes to keep her awake, blasting music, no windows, and in cramped quarters. Workers weren’t allowed to talk to each other and would not receive their $2/day pay and would be punished with rotten food if they did not finish the clothing order.
By pure chance of circumstance, Nasreen found herself free of the sweatshop when the agent disappeared. Left on the street, she encountered a stranger who agreed to teach her. In receiving this education, she opened new doors in her life.
Having a business plan is not the most important thing. Nasreen acquired a loan for a sewing machine and used the skills she learned in the sweatshop to start making more ethical garments, then started teaching others to do the same.
Nasreen’s organizations, the Empowerment Collective, and Local Women’s Handicrafts have employed women and given a livable wage, along with skills and education.
If you are concerned about where your coffee, chocolate, clothes, or anything comes from, pay attention to certifications like the Fair Trade Certification or equivalent. You can also utilize tools from non-profits like Fashion Revolution to look into your products.
If you are starting a business (or are evaluating your operations) and find it is difficult to keep in mind all the different ethical factors, remember that someone or something is affected in real life by your business decisions.
“When you are in Nepal and India, life happens so fast and we don’t have a sense of safety anywhere. That we need to run — I learned from a very early age.” — @localwomens [0:05:50]
“The sweatshop had very terrible conditions. We were working almost 12 to 15 hours a day and we were getting less than two dollars by doing many shifts.” — @localwomens [0:10:12]
“We were fed like animals and worked like machines.” — @localwomens [0:11:07]
“Right now, America imports $1.3 trillion of products and services that come from slavery.” — @localwomens[0:22:54]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode
Benjamin Von Wong
Nasreen Sheikh on LinkedIn
Nasreen Sheikh on Twitter
Nasreen Sheikh on Instagram
Nasreen Sheikh email
Local Women’s Handcrafts
Fair Trade Certified
Fair Trade Organization