10/05/2005

Sweatshops

So we all know corporations are greedy, that's a given, but to what extent and at who's expense? I recently became familiar with the topic of sweatshops and child labor and I thought this was a thing of the past, I was wrong. Truth is that sweatshops and child labor are a growing problem still. In fact they say a large part of the Americans' quality of living is spawned by use of these sweatshops and child labor. Corporation greed seeking to produce goods at the lowest cost are directly and indirectly abusing and exploiting workers. We don't hear much about it because it's no longer an issue in the US but relocating the problem doesn't eliminate it. Would you purchase a t-shirt for $20 knowing the person who had produced it only made 6 cents for their labor? 75% of consumers say they would boycott stores selling products made from sweatshops and 85% say they'd be willing to pay 5% more for goods that are legally made. Sweatshops The big deal is that it's ethically and morally wrong for corporations to profit off of these sweatshops. These workers need to be earning a reasonable wage to live instead they will work for 80 cents a day under horrible conditions and we are profiting off of that. I think it's outrageous but what do you think?

6 comments:

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Dan said...

I don't think that your post paints an accurate picture of what is going on. If a corporation is paying someone 80 cents a day and they are willing to work for that, then obviously they don't have any better opportunities or they would take them. Comparing rates in the US and some third-world country is irrelevent. What would happen if corporations had to pay a higher amount? They would obviously pull out of that market because the only reason that they are there is because of the cheap labor. When this happens, how much will those poor children be making? 80 cents a day is better than nothing. So rather than complaining about the wages in third-world countries, maybe you should send some aid yourself.

Ann said...

Have you ever lived in a third world country? Nothing in a third world country is as expensive as it is in a first world country such as ours. The cost of labor there is going to be cheaper than here because the cost of living is cheaper there than it is here. The whole idea of foreign investment is to gain from comparative advantage. A third world country can produce many things cheaper than a first world country simply because the cost of labor and living is lower. We're not hurting those people, we're helping them by giving them jobs when work is hard to come by. They earn enough to take care of their families and put food on the table. We're helping their economy by being there, and they earn no less than others in their country. In fact, they're probably earning more.

Dr. Tufte said...

-2 on Bree's post for spelling and grammatical errors.

The difficulty with assessing an issue like this is that we are encouraged by certain parts of society to ignore important features of the situation. Here are two.

1) Claiming that a person bears (some) responsibility for the wages paid to the workers who make products they buy is an implict claim that you do not bear responsibility for the wages of workers who do not make goods you buy. This is a suggestion that you should worry about the worker paid 6 cents per hour to make your shirt, but not the one working next door who is paid 5 cents an hour to clean latrines. The problem is that the shirtmaker probably prefers their job. You do not improve their situation by refusing to buy the product of their work. You might improve the shirtmakers options by buying the services of the latrine cleaner, thus raising local living standards. But ... we don't suggest that people do things like that (which actually make a lot more sense). This is a sign that this is a politically motivated argument (against capitalism) rather than a social argument about what might make people in developing countries better off.

2) Are you obligated to make yourself worse off so that someone can be better off? It isn't unreasonable to say either yes or no to a question like this. If you say no, then there is no problem. If you say yes, then you could help out that person by just sending them a check. The shirt they make doesn't have to have anything to do with this. The fact that Bree has presented a common enough argument that the shirt is part of the problem, suggests that this sort of complaint is really about hurting shirt companies, and not helping shirtmakers. Again, this boils down to a veiled criticism of capitalist systems. It gets worse: to the extent that the price of labor cannot be passed on to the consumer completely, worrying about the shirtmaker amounts to requiring other stakeholders to bear some of the burder for the sympathy that you are extending.

Digression: This sort of confusion is quite common, and is addressed in my ECON 3020 class. There, I show how wages are related both to the skills of the individual, and to the level of technological support in the community surrounding that individual. Low wages persist in developing countries because the level of surrounding technology isn't thick enough for those people to be more productive. You can make them immediately more productive by moving them to a place with better technology. But ... they already do this, and yet we get defensive when people want to emmigrate here.

Tyler said...

I agree that ethically, corporations should not outsource labor to third world countries just to exploit the employment benefit regarding extremely low wages. Although, on the other hand if you are receiving the same quality of product as you would otherwise, what is the problem? As Ann stated the low wage rates are most likely similar to any other wage rate in that country. So my question is, based on their culture and economy is child labor and low wages actually an imperative issue in third world countries.