Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Sweatshop Debate

Professor Ben Powell will be giving two talks on Monday, March 6. At 10:30 he'll be talking about sweatshops, and at 2:15 immigration. He is the author of "Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy (Cambridge Studies in Economics, Choice, and Society)."

Here's a link to United Students Against Sweatshops, a national student labor organization.

Here is a link to a short video featuring Ben Powell:

This link shows the conditions inside sweatshops in Bangladesh.

And finally, John Stossel:

1) As western consumers and businesses, are we valuing people as whole human beings or exploiting them in a quest for productivity, profits and low prices?

2) Should we boycott companies that use sweatshops on ethical/moral grounds?

3) Should we boycott companies that utilize sweatshops that use child labor since we know that they are working instead of obtaining an education that results positive externalities in their society?

4) Why do labor unions back anti-sweatshop campus organizations?

5) Why does United Students Against Sweatshops also advocate for a $15/hour minimum wage?


  1. 1. I would point out that our legal system would punish companies for conducting business in this manner on our own shores. For me, the issue is not the pay. The pay is often higher than the average pay of the countries involved, and in those areas, more than “fair”. For me, the issue is the work conditions. If people are willing to sew clothes for 20 cents a day, I am okay with that. I am not okay with reading about 111 people dying in a sweatshop fire because management actively blocked exits and ordered workers to return to sewing. The fact that the building did not have adequate escape routes to begin with and lost lighting only compounded the problem. The idea that people are dying for my clothes is unsettling at best. So, to answer the original question, we clearly do not value all human beings equally. We protect our own citizens from exploitation, while allowing people in other countries to be exploited for our own gain.

    2. If a sweatshop involves the use of a dangerous workplace, I have no problem with not buying their products. The basic business model for clothing involves large companies contracting out their designs to small companies. For instance, Wal-Mart and Payless Shoes get their shoes from many small companies spread out primarily through Asia. Wal-Mart has been very successful in demanding their suppliers make expensive changes to suit their business needs, including the adoption of RF tags and quality control improvements. I think they would and could make demands on working conditions if customers push for it.

    3. Child labor is not necessarily bad. My mom started working at a very young age, and while I feel bad that she had to, it was necessary. The opportunity to work isn’t a bad thing if the work environment is safe. Further, in some cases, employers schedule work hours around school to allow the children to go to school and still make some money.

    4. Labor unions have a number of reasons to back anti-sweatshop campus organizations. First, if we want to look at underhanded motives, unions could be trying to put political pressure on companies operating out of the U.S. to the benefit of their members. If these companies are forced the close the sweatshops, it could mean the companies come back to manufacture their products here to get that “Made in the U.S.A.” tag. Also, I would argue that many people in unions believe in worker solidarity, so it could just as easily be a moral argument about how workers should be treated. Your location does not change your basic rights, and labor unions strongly believe that workers should have safe work environments.

    5. They advocate for a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage in the U.S. only, judging by their website. They don’t seem to advocate for a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage for workers in foreign countries. I don’t support a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage because it would artificially devalue currency.

  2. Follow-up video: