Could sweatshops actually be good for poor nations?
Back in 2003 or so, there was a particularly strong Western backlash against sweatshops.
Not to say the labour sites were ever in vogue, per se, but brands like Sean John, Gap and Tommy Hilfiger got a particularly nasty public recoil when it was revealed how they manufactured their goods.
Yet could what we think about sweatshops, somehow, be misguided? Could sweatshops, despite the obvious connotation the word carries, actually be good for the workers inside them?
Now before you get out your “MSN, fire this moron!” stationery, let me preface this post by saying this is not my idea. It belongs to Benjamin Powell, an assistant professor of economics at Suffolk University. He’s somewhat of an expert on the economies of poorer countries, and is currently writing a book called No Sweat: How Sweatshops Improve Lives and Economic Growth.
That title alone leads you to think Powell is a nut, but let’s hear him out.
Powell starts his post on AidWatchers.com like this: “Back to school shopping leads many people to buy apparel that was made in sweatshops. Rather than feel guilty for ‘exploiting’ poor workers, shoppers should rejoice. Their spending is some of the best aid we can give to people in poorer countries.”
The basis of Powell’s argument, as he goes on to write, is that in spite of the unsafe, low-paying circumstances afforded sweatshop workers in poor nations, they are often much more generous than the compensation given employees of other industries in such countries.
According to the professor’s research, so-called sweatshop worker earnings equalled or exceeded the average national income in 9 of 11 studied countries. In four of those nations, sweatshop worker earnings more than doubled the national average.
Further, he notes, sweatshops – for all their toxicity when mentioned alongside a company’s name – also play a “crucial” role in economic development in poverty-stricken countries. They both attract international investment to poor nations and help jumpstart their own economies.
“It was not long ago that sweatshops existed in now-wealthy Asian countries,” Powell notes.
Powell’s case, then, seems to hinge on the name “sweatshop” and how the world’s overstated just how lousy these places are based on the negative inference of the word. Still, for all his accompanying research, this sure appears to be a case of arguing in support of the lesser evil.
Shouldn’t the focus be on improving labour conditions in these nations overall rather than justifying sweatshops – which even Powell admits carry savage work environments – because they stack up well against other work in poverty-rich regions?
What do you make of Powell’s stance? Could sweatshops actually be a good thing for poor countries?
By Jason Buckland, MSN Money
Posted by: merle | Sep 4, 2021 11:49:27 AM
sweatshops are excellent. they allow goods to be made much cheaper, all while charging the same old price. you see, the purpose of everything is to increase the profit margin.
it's also really a good idea to further cement our reliance on international shipping as well as our dependence on oil.
the thing about sweatshops is that it relieves stress on bosses who would otherwise be concerned about the safety of their workers. safety regulations can be ignored. it allows some businesses to improperly deal with their waste. this is good, because it acts as a counterweight to the efforts of the green movement. disregarding ill effects of industry restores the balance of our world.
poor people may think they have a life already. but they do not. they need to be gathered up by our society and enslaved/controlled . wiping out other cultures, and forcing our worship of money onto others is a time-proven successful venture. religion knew this, and look how well a select few made out with that approach. so we should probably keep doing that.
imagine what a pain in the behind it would be, if we actually had to dissasemble electronic/computers AND we had to pay attention to rules. many of these 3rd world 'people' would probably die anyway. so what's a little poison? also, they should be training themselves to become potential customers so they can be rescued from their simplistic lives.
if things were not so politically correct nowadays, then we could just grab these "people" and throw them on boats, and then fling them to other nations where they could be called slaves. but, oh no, can't do that!?!? that's a thing of the past. shame, because we could have made money off the sale of their lives. just haven't figured out how to put a positive spin on slavery yet. someday,perhaps. gotta get rid of the world's conscience, and money is the key to that.
articles like these are a great move in that direction.
i, for one, applaud obscene ceo wages, and uncalled-for-bonuses all on the backs of our disappearing middle class and manufacturing jobs. another great article, MSN !!
Posted by: Lisa | Sep 4, 2021 3:20:01 PM
I agree with this article. Yes, I agree. I believe the sweatshops give these people something, at the very least. So, yes, we should keep them...and no, I"m not being sarcastic at all.
As for Merle's thought that people are enslaved in these places. YOU are indeed "enslaved" when you have to pay bills or rent or your mortgage. If YOU don't pay your bills, there is a consequence. So, therefore you must have a job, right?? Some of us are just luckier in life is all.
I would much rather "give" through buying from these companies though then giving to a charity. At least I know these people are working for the dollars coming to them...and sorry...but life IS about work. (Here comes the backlash.)
The only thing that makes me angry here is Mr. Buckland tries to "blame" HIS article on Mr. Powell. (I wonder if anyone else notices this.) At least OWN your articles/beliefs.
Posted by: Jack | Sep 5, 2021 12:32:21 PM
Yes, go for it! Nothing more needs to be said.
Posted by: agree | Sep 5, 2021 6:23:41 PM
The general idea is that, if the sweatshop workers didn't WANT to work in those DANGEROUS AND BAD environments, they don't have to. They are welcome to continue prostituting themselves and looking through dumpsters for food. The sweatshops offer an alternative.
Of course, these sweatshops could increase the salary and ensure better working conditions but WHY? If you're already offering better working conditions than anywhere else in the area, why bother? Plus, the last time I checked, prostitution (one of the alternatives) isn't the safest working environment either.
As a company, if you're increasing your profit margin by having sweatshops, then you will be more tempted to open more sweatshops. These new sweatshops will hire even more people and will lead them away from a life of crime and prostitution.
I'm sorry to tell the hippies : "sweatshops work... and they work well".
And finally, company executives that find ways to help increase profit margin by helping underdeveloped countries should get a bonus. And even though my post may sound sarcastic, it really isn't.
Posted by: Steve | Sep 5, 2021 6:35:51 PM
I am having a somewhat hard time understanding the over all benefit. Here's what I see, correct me if I am wrong; old dangerous equipment from here sent to be used by poorly educated people. Massive unregulated pollution to ship the raw materials from here to be assembled there and then shipped back here on the same polluting boats to be sold. Company *profits* skimmed off by Sr Management who fired local workers & shipped jobs overseas. Profits & money leaving the country in managements pockets and hiding in a tax haven weakening our country *AND* means of production now in a country outside of our control who then run 'extra shifts' creating a massive illegal piracy source of goods for our local fired employee's.
So, let me get this straight: More pollution + More unemployed + More concentration of wealth + more opportunity for crime to flourish + More domestic currency shipped offshore = GOOD?
"Wealthy" asian countries are not wealthy, they depend on a foreign customer who may yet implode taking them down in a massive pyramid scheme. This is not the British Industrial Revolution or the American Farming Revolution raising everyone's standards, this is a house of cards in search of a gust of wind. Perhaps this 'Economist' should study a bit of history or even just get a clue.
Posted by: balance | Sep 5, 2021 9:22:52 PM
Transport pollution will occur whether there are sweatshops or not. Think of aluminium: dug up in one place, electrolysis in another and production of material in yet another place. If you wanted to consider something closer, think of coffee, silk, etc. If we're not willing to stop consuming, we should stop pretending that our standards are so much higher than those of the sweatshops.
Posted by: Eric | Sep 6, 2021 1:05:49 AM
The companies that benifit the most, ie The Gap, Nike, Home Depot, Wal Mart etc, and many more that put their BRAND NAME on these items must be held accountable for the ethics involved in their manufacture. Safe, clean, pollution concious, green attitude. etc. What more are they doing in that country? sweatshop is not enough, is a fixed percentace of every dollar going to education of employee children, health clinics in the neighbourhood, childrens hospital in the local large city? besides tossing a few "good paying jobs"" to the poor, what is Wall Mart doing to make this a better world. Are those companies , and NORTH AMERICANS , only motivated by what is cheapist? The consumer, US, Canadians and so called rich nations , need to invest in only the companies that meet a reasonable ethical standard and do NOT buy from the the ones that do not. Do not boycott a country, like China or India, boycott companies and their purchasers who do not meet a reasonable standard. They will follow the money, we, the consumer, have the power.
Posted by: jim | Sep 7, 2021 12:52:45 AM
"Some of us are just luckier in life is all."
Love it. Let that line console you the next time someone you love dies, or you lose a leg in a car accident, or you get cancer and have to quit your great job and spend every last cent on medication in your last days!! I hope you have people around you that are as compassionate as you!
That goes to everyone that loves sweatshops! I know I've shopped at Wal-Mart before, and I love finding good deals. But if I could stop and make a choice every time I buy something, between 'made in sweatshop by young child' or the three times more expensive 'made in Canada', I'd gladly be a little more broke. You may save a couple bucks here, and a few bucks there, but the people who truly profit are the people who profit share in these companies.
Also some food for thought. Not everyone in these countries have a choice in the matter of working in these holes. Countries like China have forcibly relocated millions of people, people who may have been content living simple, self-sustaining lives, to cities so that they HAVE to choose to work in any number of great factories! Wow, now that's choice!!
Another thing to remember. Yes jobs are provided, even though they border slavery, and this is good for economies. But America once became rich on the backs of slaves, and the thriving profits did not make it right!
Posted by: Lee | Sep 7, 2021 1:57:01 AM
Why not slavery? I mean we have the technology to suppress slave rebellions, which was the only reason that slavery has ever been inefficient, we can assign shock collars, universal surveillance, licing contingency to allow slaves to die horrible deaths if they do not have access to their owners favour, plus giant metalic suits of iron-man or transformers-like industrial destruction that can kill 1,000 slave rebels in one second. I mean slave revolts are the only reason that slavery never worked right? So what if people work harder and never rebel when they do not have to worry about earning a livlihood and never get lazy when they still have to earn luxuries? The rich elite can still have the decadence and now that we can kill millions of slaves without losing our slave economy, what is to stop us from our new progress? Surely this is what the Romans, the Southern Confederates, the Nazis and the Communists would have wanted for us? Let us not dissapoint them :)
By the way, slave rebellions will always succeed sooner or later...
Posted by: Travis | Sep 7, 2021 8:00:44 AM
All I have to say is what do these people do if they don't work in the shops???? Does anyone ever think of this?? I have been to many countries & done a lot of travelling & these shops are a much safer way for people to make money. If they can't work in the shops what do you think they will do for money? Prostitution, selling drugs, stealing, etc... People have to think outside the circle on this one!!!!
Posted by: bonk | Sep 7, 2021 9:36:23 AM
lol here, try thinking outside of "the box" instead......these people already have lives. their lives are based on the environment around them. they are based on small economies that belong to their villages. maybe it's not cash printed by banks and supplied with built-in debt. maybe it's not our life. maybe they don't care about leasing cars or training themselves to toil for a brand name's furtherance.
many on these shores figure a life can only be what our lives are. and that is a crock.
come on people!!! the only alternative to our way of life is not prostitution and poverty!
the fact of the matter, is moving the jobs there costs jobs here. moving the jobs there, puts money into shareholders pockets. moving the jobs there is cheaper for the company.....no safety regulations to follow, no worker protection, no worker rights, no environmental responsibility. get it?
everyone has seen the film footage of kids pulling apart mountains of computers, in their bare hands and feet. this is the reality that is being advocated. if you think these humans had something worse than this, or that this is somehow the answer to their dreams.....then what we are suffering from is a poverty of true purpose.
a pro-sweat-shop attitude is a pro-corporation attitude, and there is no sense dressing up exploitation as anything remotely charitable. it is far too obvious what the real motivations are.
Posted by: SP | Sep 7, 2021 9:42:35 AM
Some comments here are interesting esp in light of the old order Mennonites living right here in Canada. Do they resort to selling their bodies for $$ Travis? Do they create unnecessary pollution bringing their goods to market? Is their society built upon exploitation? Was Canada or the Northern USA built upon exploitation? Exploitation is not helping most in the third world and it sure as h3ll isn't helping most Canadians or Americans. We fail as a society each time we put exploitation ahead of creativity and ingenuity. The Chinese will see the failure of their approach when retirement comes in 15 years and the 1 child policy rears it's ugly head. Civil unrest is an understatement. So no, sweatshops are not good for poor nations or even rich nations, illusory benefits, just like our CEO's illusory created profits (Enron).
Posted by: hmmm | Sep 7, 2021 11:00:48 AM
Let's get one thing straight: you don't necessarily work in sweatshops because you want the latest car or ipad. Many people see that as the opportunity to save up enough money to help support sending a brother or sister to school. Numerous parents don't want their kids to stay and farm the land... they want better for their kids. Kids also have that sense of responsibility. They suffer to help their families and sweatshops allow for that. There are several options: selling merchandise at local markets, prostitution, prize fighting, etc. (not an exhaustive list by any means) Actually, in Thailand, in addition to prostitution, prize fighting allows for young kids (as young as 8-10) to take home money.
You have to stop thinking of sweatshops as being slavery. They are working and they are getting paid. The working conditions may not be on the 40th floor of a building with AC, but these are acceptable working conditions. You may want to tell people that not everyone in the world wants to work for money and buy nice cars. I'm telling you that not everyone in the world needs to work in perfect conditions.
Sweatshops offer an alternative. If they don't want to work there, they don't need to. If they do want to work there, they better put in the hours and work their butts off. If not, they're gone.
Posted by: don | Sep 7, 2021 1:51:40 PM
Because these people are poor does not give the big corporations the right to take advantage of them. There is no reason they still could not pay properly and protect the health of their workforce.(they have the money to do so) If the rate of pay ends up making the worker wealthy compared to what they were doing so be it. How does the change the fact that they are still taking adavantage of those with limited choices? Corporate greed still rules....they just want someone to thank them for it. CEO's getting their millions can justify they are good people making it easier to sleep at night. What a joke. Does it help buld thier economies...yes.... but it still doesnt make it right.
Posted by: enlighten me | Sep 7, 2021 5:46:08 PM
sweatshops over there, cost us jobs here.
how is that for simple enouph?
there are many formerly-employed people here now. and their jobs are gone. forever.
i need one of the sweat-shop advocates to explain exactly how mass unemployment helps me?
even when i throw away ethics, i still see economic chaos.
Posted by: hmmm | Sep 8, 2021 12:57:33 PM
Costing us jobs here? I think we're changing subjects... the title clearly says "Could sweatshops actually be good for poor nations?" Whether it affects us or not is not the issue.
Posted by: hail myopia | Sep 8, 2021 1:14:06 PM
what? you mean we can talk about this subject, only as long as we don't mention how it is ripping our manufacturing base apart and lowering our standard of living?
oh well....yes, yes, i think sweatshops are a healthy alternative for cannibals and orphan hookers.
hows that? better? what's next....a discussion about the lower cost of making goods, but don't dare mention the rising retail price of the same goods? and make sure no one mentions the astronomically inflating salaries of ceo's for these same corporations? ya. probably wouldn't be a good idea if that was noticed either.
Posted by: Steve | Sep 8, 2021 2:34:22 PM
Sweatshops cost jobs here, which employ (drumroll please) "the CUSTOMERS" for said sweatshop manufacturers! So... it might seem like that is an entirely relevant point. There is nothing wrong with providing jobs to the third world if we increasing the markets for our goods there as well. Sadly Harvard MBA grads aren't smart enough to see that far ahead and since we live in a myopic credentialist society it will take a massive depression before any needed changes are rammed through, so you might want to hold off on a mortgage for a few years.
Posted by: Albertan | Sep 8, 2021 2:51:49 PM
Well Hail Myopia don't hide behind your supposed feelings for your fellow man.
You don't like overseas factories because they reduce the manufacturing jobs in North America, plain and simple. Having those factories move to those countries provide furhter opportunities for the locals. If they wish to stay as they are they can but if they wish to have a factory job that is now also available. Ever wonder why the pay is so low over there? Its because all the locals compete to get those jobs because they are better than anything else available.
If you have 2 people and one is willing to make the same widget for 1/4 the labour cost who do you pick? Its called efficiency. There are jobs and tasks that people in North America are more efficeint at and those are the jobs that they should stick to. The more efficient the world becomes the greater the wealth there will be for EVERYBODY.
Also its so simplistic to blame big corporations for all the worlds evils. Who are big corporations? They are a collection of individuals who pooled their money so that it could operate more efficiently. Thats right. All those corporations are owned by that nice older couple down the street with retirement savings. Not exactly the greedy maniacs they are portrayed as.
Also to the person that thinks corporations should donate. A Corporations purpose in life is to take capital (retirement savings of everybody) and produce a return. That return is then distributed to the shareholders. Do you want somebody else deciding where you should donate? Didn't think so. So why should a corporation choose where to donate the money of its shareholders?
In conclusion myopia in most simplistic terms you are greedy. You would rather have a factory in North America where that particular work is done ineffciently while the people in the foreign country starved instead of giving that factory work to that foreign country raising their standard of living and ours (through efficient production) while you found a job that you could be efficient at.....
Posted by: CDN | Sep 8, 2021 3:11:01 PM
Japan used to be a sweatshop nation as did Korea. GM (America's greatest corporation at one point) put domestic badges on those former sweatshop country cars (Chevy Nova /Aveo etc,etc etc). Japan's economy isn't doing so great & hasn't been for the past 15+ years and unless I am mistaken GM (the company) had to be bailed out by the Canadian and US government for being such an abject failure. Using GM as a case study it's been a failure, Shall we look at Zenith and RCA next? We see what environmental degredation happens in many third world countries even third world parts of Canada like Alberta where poorly educated people trade today's income for tomorrow's pollution related health problems. Sweatshops are a bad bad idea