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One has to wonder about the true motives of people opposed to “sweatshops”

In June, the Sun newspaper in the UK claimed that a factory in Sri Lanka that produces a line of clothing for a popular singer Beyonce is using sweatshop “slaves.” The report attracted little interest in Sri Lanka, partly because attention was more focused on the devastating floods that hit the island. But perhaps the report also failed to make waves because it simply did not ring true; the mainstream apparel factories in Sri Lanka are seen as responsible and respected employers in the formal sector.

– Ravi Ratnasabapathy, writing an article called Why Sri Lankans want to work in Beyonce’s “sweatshop”

However I think Ratnasabapathy might overestimate both the wits and honesty of the people who criticise such forms of employment in the Third World.

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28 comments to One has to wonder about the true motives of people opposed to “sweatshops”

  • Stonyground

    Serious question. Has any society ever achieved the transition from a poverty ridden agrarian economy to a modern affluent society without going through a phase when poor working conditions and long hours were the norm? I’m sure it must be possible but I suspect that occurrences of it happening must be rare.

  • Michael Jennings

    If you can say “I quit” and walk out the door, you are not a slave. In cases where the worker cannot do this, we should be concerned. If he or she can, not so much.

  • Laird

    To respond to Perry’s question in the headline, I think the motivations are mixed. Most of those people are well-meaning but simply ignorant: ignorant of the facts on the ground (which is what the linked article addresses) and ignorant of simple economics. Some (such as Donald Trump) have a sort of “second-order” economic ignorance, believing that if imports from countries tolerating “slave-labor sweatshops” are reduced that will somehow translate into jobs here at home. These people are both ignorant and delusional. And then there are those (radical Greens and their ilk) who simply want to destroy our capitalistic economic system and thus return us to our agrarian roots (which will necessary lead to the deaths of countless millions, but to them that’s a feature, not a bug, since they see humans as a disease to Mother Gaia). Those people are truly evil, but in my opinion are relatively few in number.

    So for most people, I see their motivations as merely some form of ignorance. Fortunately, ignorance can be cured. Evil cannot; it can only be destroyed.

  • Sean MacCartan

    ”A nurse in a government hospital would start on a salary of Rs. 15,620, and once promoted would receive Rs. 21,660. Salaries for teachers in the government service is similar, ranging from Rs. 13,410 to Rs. 15,540. Like the apparel industry, both professions predominantly attract young women, although nurses naturally require a much higher level of education.”
    I love the little barb in that final sentence.

  • Stonyground, July 31, 2016 at 4:47 pm: “Has any society ever achieved the transition from a poverty ridden agrarian economy to a modern affluent society without going through a phase when poor working conditions and long hours were the norm?”

    Our working conditions may one day be seen as oppressive/unsafe/exploiting, just as we would be a bit taken aback if we suddenly found ourself in an ordinary victorian factory. “poor working conditions and long hours” will always be the past’s norm when viewed through the prism of PC. Poor-er working conditions and long-er hours may be the normal view of our present even by non-idiots in the future.

  • Alsadius

    These are the joys of a) not really knowing how economic development works, and b) making the perfect the enemy of the good. I’m still waiting to hear much in the way of complaints about the horrors of sweatshops that I have not personally experienced myself in a Canadian job. (Admittedly, the odd story of actual slave labour is a genuine horror, and I’m against that. But long hours, hard manual labour, hot conditions, and being fired for breathing the word “union”? Here we call those “good-paying manufacturing jobs”.)

  • Paul Marks

    There is a belief that low wages and bad working conditions are due to the “greed” and “cruelty” of employers.

    That wages and conditions are not determined by productivity but by good or bad feelings.

    Whether it is Dickens denouncing “Tom Grandgrind” or endless Hollywood films, this delusion is pushed.

    It is, in fact, ancient.

    To some Catholic thinkers the “just price” or the “fair wage” was simply what the free market (as opposed to force and fraud) produced – but to others (many others) the “just price” or the “fair wage” was something different from what supply and demand produce.

    These thinkers held (along with Roman and Greek thinkers before them) that the state could mandate a lower price without creating a shortage, and better wage and conditions of work without creating unemployment.

    What is special about now is that economists (who used to be about refuting such fallacies) now reinforce them.

    “Nobel Prize” winning “economists” talk and write as if supply and demand (and productivity) were all optional – that prices (a wage is a price – the price of a service) can be set regardless of supply and demand.

  • Cal

    So hard leftists expect that everyone in third-world countries should have cushy, well-paid jobs like they do. That everyone’s human right, apparently. But then they simultaneously pursue economic and energy policies that most of them willingly admit will take us backwards economically, such that few people, even in the first world, will have cushy, well-paid jobs.

  • Paul Marks

    For those who do not understand – conditions of work are part of wages, they are also set by supply and demand.

    Efforts to artificially improve conditions of work (faster than productivity improves) can only lead to higher unemployment, lower wages – or both.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Paul Marks
    > To some Catholic thinkers the “just price” or the “fair wage” was simply what the free market (as opposed to force and fraud) produced

    I think that for the most part it comes down to one philosophical question: what is a factory for?

    For many on the left the purpose of a factory is to produce jobs and a livelihood for workers.

    For others, myself included, the purpose of a factory is to produce goods and services, and ultimately a profit for the owners.

    Where you stand on this question really determines your view on a “just wage”. I guess many politicians try to navigate between the two. It does need to be said that almost exclusively the people who create the factories in the first place are advocates of the second view.

  • newrouter

    this may be applicable to the topic:

    With this perspective, we can better interpret statements like the following from Bernie Sanders:

    “It is a national disgrace that millions of full-time workers are living in poverty and millions more are forced to work two or three jobs just to pay their bills. In the year 2015, a job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and must be raised to a living wage.”

    What he is saying is really this:

    “It is a national disgrace that millions of full-time workers are living in poverty and millions more are forced to work two or three jobs just to pay their bills. In the year 2015, a job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and no one should be allowed to continue to work for such low wages.”

    It should come as no surprise that the policy espoused by Sanders is simply to ban something he does not like. This is not an isolated policy perspective.

    Once you get started on this corrective, reading things like NYT editorials becomes a lot less unpleasant

    link

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    In a way, this would be like imposing a minimum wage standard, but for a whole nation. The workers would lose their comparative advantage, and be unemployed, but at least they would have their dignity! Good luck eating that.

  • “Nobel Prize” winning “economists” talk and write as if supply and demand (and productivity) were all optional – that prices (a wage is a price – the price of a service) can be set regardless of supply and demand.

    This. Many modern economists seem to believe that the temperature can be controlled by painting a line on the thermometer.

  • newrouter

    we should be asking whether “we can ban the banners”? see john kerry on ac or hilarity rotten clinton
    on minimum wage.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Paul Marks @ July 31, 2016 at 9:12 pm:

    …conditions of work are part of wages… also set by supply and demand.

    Except when employers use coercion and political influence to dictate conditions of work.

    Which is far too prevalent in Third World countries.

  • Watchman

    Rich Rostrom,

    Coercion and political influence do not replace supply and demand, they just distort the curve. Indeed, if I remember my simple equations from A-Level Economics correctly, one of the factors determining supply and/or demand is tax, which is a shorthand for all government intervention.

    Coercion is perhaps potentially disruptive enough to derail supply and demand, but that is where we transit to slavery (although supply and demand will still work in slavery economies with a different profile) – from a liberal economic point of view all actors have to be free to act.

  • Thailover

    Laird said,

    “I think the motivations are mixed. Most of those people are well-meaning but simply ignorant: ignorant of the facts on the ground (which is what the linked article addresses) and ignorant of simple economics.”

    If you mean ignorance as in, they merely don’t know, then that’s one thing. If you mean ignorance as in willingly engaging in ignore-ance, i.e. willful ignorance because it goes against their social pseudo-religion, then that’s another thing altogether.

    I don’t doubt that most people who are against “sweatshops” are economically ignorant, but I do disagree with the idea that most are merely lacking information and will change their mind when exposed to the facts. I’ve found the opposite to be true, that is, I’ve found that very, very few change their minds even when faced with the fact that these workers typically earn 2 to 5 times the average national wages in their nations (7 times in honduras). That if you gave them the option of cutting wages and using that money to make their working environment safer and more pleasant to work in, most would decline, and if you paid the equivilent of 5 to 10 dollars an hour, only the politically connected would have those jobs, not the poor, only they wouldn’t either because no company would bother to build a factory in an unstable nation accross the ocean only to pay employees $10/hr.

  • Laird

    “I’ve found the opposite to be true.”

    I can’t argue with your experience, and your observation might be widely valid. Personally, I have a more charitable view of the educability of the common man, but of course I could be wrong.

  • Thailover

    “In 1993, Senator Sam Harkin proposed banning all products made from child labor from comming into the United States. The result according to OXFAM is, that thousands (of children) “became prostitutes or starved”.”

    3 minute video.

  • Thailover

    Laird said,
    “…but of course I could be wrong.”

    My experience is in dealing with those agitating against sweatshops; the “McDonalds should pay their employees $15/hr” crowd. Granted, the situation would probably be much different dealing with those who don’t have the topic on their minds.

  • Thailover

    Fraser Orr,
    Thank you for using the term just wage rather than fair wage. “Fair” applies to games, artificial situations that are made into a roughly even competition between two combatants in a zero-sum situation. Tic-Tac-Toe and chess come to mind. In such zero-sum situations, winners causes losers (and vise-versa of course).

    “Just”, on the other hand, is a matter of where justice applies in context, and an injustice isn’t occuring. Just wages are those agreed upon by both the potential employee and the employer, to mutual gain or profit. There are no “fair wages” where choice is concerned because one, (employee or employer), “winning” does not imply a net loss to the other. Indeed, voluntary cooperation to mutual profit is win-win. (Which is one illustration as to why Marx was an idiot).

  • Thailover

    Cal said,

    “But then they simultaneously pursue economic and energy policies that most of them willingly admit will take us backwards economically, such that few people, even in the first world, will have cushy, well-paid jobs.”

    It’s a strange phenomenon. I’ve seen studies or polls asking those harboring ill will against “the 1%”, i.e. the top 1% of income earners, in which they were asked which would be better, (a) Some people get mega-rich creating and selling goods and services which improves everyone’s life, or (b) Everyone has an “equal” quality of life, though a significantly lower standard of livig than those in choice ‘a’.

    An alarming number of people choose option ‘b’.

    I really don’t get that, unless they’re under the crazy impression that Steve Jobs being rich somehow harms me rather than improving everyone’s life. Indeed, Jobs only became richer when he did in fact make other’s lives better, either through Apple products or through Pixar.

    I’ve heard it described as envy or jealousy. But I have no idea because the entire mindset seems so alien to me. It makes me wonder if the average person is aware that wealth is created rather than merely confiscated.

  • shlomo maistre

    I really don’t get that

    A primary driver of human happiness is derived from having more stuff than other people.

    99% of Americans alive today are richer in wealth than the wealthiest emperors, businessmen, and inventors were centuries ago except in terms of sexual partners and land. But the vast majority of Americans are, as compared to the wealthiest humans of centuries and millennia ago, far less happy in general and less happy in particular with respect to their material wealth because having more stuff than others is a main incentive for accumulating wealth.

    Libertarians often have trouble understanding this.

  • But the vast majority of Americans are, as compared to the wealthiest humans of centuries and millennia ago, far less happy in general and less happy in particular with respect to their material wealth because having more stuff than others is a main incentive for accumulating wealth.

    And you know this how? How happy were the wealthiest humans of centuries and millennia ago? What was the happiness index of the top 1% in Magdeburg in 1630?

    because having more stuff than others is a main incentive for accumulating wealth.

    Nah, it is just one of many reasons and I suspect for most people, not all that big a one.

  • Robbo

    Serious question. Has any society ever achieved the transition from a poverty ridden agrarian economy to a modern affluent society without going through a phase when poor working conditions and long hours were the norm? I’m sure it must be possible but I suspect that occurrences of it happening must be rare.

    Serious answer. The norms in agrarian society were dawn-to dusk working hours, dangerous working conditions – have you ever been kicked by a cow? , low pay and intermittent starvation. Even ‘sweatshop’ working conditions were an improvement. The curve never dipped, it’s just that to Victorian middle class ‘reformers’ the new urban poverty was more visible than the older rural worse poverty, and of course this still is the case.

  • Re Thailover, August 2, 2016 at 3:38 am, opinion poll meanings relate to what people think they’re being asked.

    – “Steve Jobs got rich selling me iPhones, and I have a job / a meaningful life / an equal vote”

    versus

    – “the elite are rich and rule, and (related to that) my life has no meaning, no point”

    Plenty of people are slaves to the politics of envy but there will be other reasons why some choose ‘the other door’ in such polls.

  • Laird

    Shlomo, I can’t confirm (and neither can you, per Perry) whether Americans today are less happy than “the wealthiest humans of centuries and millennia ago”, but I can assert that they are less happy than they were a decade or more ago. And it has nothing to do with comparing living standards to others in the world, or to our own ancestors, and everything to do with comparing those standards to ourselves not so long ago, and with our expectations of improvement in the future. Neither of those comparisons is favorable. The general level of unhappiness is fully warranted.