Look for the Sweatshop Label
Sweatshops are good. That’s the message of this article. Embrace them. Hope for more of them. Given a choice, buy goods made in them:
Don't get into a lather over sweatshops, By Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek, Christian Science Monitor: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is pushing the city council to adopt an ordinance that forbids the use of municipal funds to purchase uniforms and other clothing made in "sweatshops." … colleges often adopt similar standards for clothing displaying their school logos. North American unions ... often lobby to impose working standards for developing countries similar to San Francisco's proposed ordinance. Though these efforts are intended to help poor workers in the third world, they actually hurt them. We use "sweatshop" to mean those foreign factories with low pay and poor health and safety standards where employees choose to work, not those where employees are coerced into working by the threat of violence. And we admit that by Western standards, sweatshops have abhorrently low wages and poor working conditions. However, … alternatives to working in a sweatshop are often much worse: scavenging through trash, prostitution, crime, or even starvation. Economists across the political spectrum, from Paul Krugman on the left, to Walter Williams on the right, have defended sweatshops. … People choose what they perceive to be in their best interest. ... If workers voluntarily choose to work in sweatshops … it must be because sweatshops are their best option. Our recent research - the first economic study to compare systematically sweatshop wages with average local wages - demonstrated this to be true. We examined the apparel industry in 10 Asian and Latin American countries … Not only were sweatshops superior to the dire alternatives economists usually mentioned, but they often provided a better-than-average standard of living for their workers. … In 9 of the 11 countries we surveyed, the average reported sweatshop wages equaled or exceeded average incomes and in some cases by a large margin. … Antisweatshop activists - who argue that consumers should abstain from buying products made in sweatshops - harm workers by trying to stop the trade that funds some of the better jobs in their economies. Until poor nations' economies develop, buying products made in sweatshops would do more to help third-world workers than San Francisco's ordinance. By purchasing more products made in sweatshops, we create more demand for them and increase the number of factories in these poor economies. That … raises productivity and wages, and eventually improves working conditions. …
Many economists support this position (see here for a discussion of the Worker's Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association). But if you've lost a job to a sweatshop, perhaps one of the newer internet types that are displacing professional workers, I suspect the economic development of another country and free trade aren’t paramount in your evaluation of the consequences of increasing the number of sweatshops.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, August 2, 2005 at 01:53 AM in Economics, International Trade, Unemployment |
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