Sweating System

Sweating System, a term which began to be used about 1848 to describe an iniquitous system of sub-contracting in the tailoring trade. Orders from master-tailors were undertaken by sub-contractors, who themselves farmed the work out to needy workers, who made the articles in their own crowded and foetid homes, receiving “starvation wages.” The term is now used in reference to all trades in cases where the conditions imposed by masters tend to grind the rate of payment down to a bare living wage and to subject the workers to insanitary surroundings by overcrowding, &c., and to unduly long hours. Kingsley's pamphlet, “Cheap Clothes and Nasty,” and novel, “Alton Locke,” did much to draw public attention to the evil. In 1890 an elaborate report by a committee of the House of Lords was published, and led in the following year to the passing of the Factory and Workshops Act and the Public Health Act, which have greatly mitigated the evil.

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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