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“Where Sweatshops are a Dream”

Posted by: Annie Voy | January 18, 2011 | 19 Comments |

An op-ed by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times:

Where Sweatshops are a Dream

This was first published in 2009 but ties in well with today’s assigned reading from “The End of Poverty”.  Thoughts?

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Responses -

I agree with the authors idea about sweatshops. Most of the people who are against sweatshops come from developed countries who would rather see these jobs being offered within their borders. However the wage difference between a developed country and a less developed country is huge. This is how companies keep prices low. Another argument against sweatshops is the small wages that workers make. But in most areas where sweatshops are prevalent, people working in the sweatshops make more than they could working elsewhere. So they are actually making a decent amount compared to their piers. I doubt their are too many villages/communities that are as bad as the one described in the article but there are more arguments for sweatshop use than just the ones presented by the author.

Although sweatshops may create undesirable working conditions, as we discussed in class today sometimes these conditions are preferable to there being no jobs available at all. One must consider that if working conditions were made better and a better wage were offered, firms would be less willing and able to create as many jobs. This would result in fewer people being employed, but those being employed being better off, in exchange for more being left unemployed altogether. Also, any betterment of conditions and wages in one developing nation can diminish their competitiveness and easily become a reason for a firm to leave and enter a new labor market. Just as we try to find a balance in our own country between unemployment rates and quality of life through the minimum wage, we must be aware that the relationship between the two also holds in developing nations. Often, especially in developing nations, having more employed at a lesser wage can be more beneficial than having fewer employed at a higher wage and better conditions.

I agree with the author of this article and also Jeffrey Sachs on the issue of sweatshops. I understand why many people in developed countries are so against sweatshops due to their terrible working conditions. I, too, was against sweatshops until I read Jeffrey Sachs arguments for them. I believe that people in developed nations simply do not understand the significant negative impacts that would arise due to closing these sweatshops down in extremely poor countries. The media needs to provide more articles such as this one to inform the developed world that sweatshops are not all bad news. I found it interesting, also, that raising the wages to what the developed world might consider at least a decent rate could ultimately cost the workers in these sweatshops their jobs. Like the author of this article noted, working in sweatshops is by no means desirable, but it is better than the alternatives for these extremely poor people. The sweatshops do not only offer dead-end jobs for these developing countries, as they have been proven to help countries climb the economic ladder as seen in China. Ultimately, as terrible as they may seem, sweatshops could be the key to helping extremely poor countries climb the ladder to the developed world.

The article definitely presents a different perspective on sweatshops, which I have never considered before so it was interesting to note the benefits of sweatshops to the poor working classes of underdeveloped nations, especially when one considers sweatshops not as the cause of poverty but as just a mere symptom of it. The experiment in Cambodia where wages were increased and working conditions were improved brought about more corruption than benefits. My thoughts on that though is whether or not there might be other causes for the failure of labor standards such as the fact that maybe the developing country lacks proper infrastructure or the means to enforce the standards without corruption.

Both Jeffery Sachs and Nicholas Kristof point out that well-meaning Americans who want better working conditions for sweatshop workers aren’t considering that the alternative is often worse. Having never been in extreme poverty ourselves, we are insulted to think that for the sake of our clothing, people are working in terrible conditions. While this does show compassion it also shows ignorance. I think the author’s point that people concerned with helping developing nations should consider showing support for AGOA is excellent, because the African people which benefit from AGOA are in dire need of better market opportunities. I wonder at Kristof’s suggestion that “At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade”. Although it is possible, it seems like quite the scheme to be an advocate for better working conditions with the agenda of protecting American jobs.

I think that this article brought up some very good points about sweatshops. One of the sentences that caught my attention the most was: “[s]weatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty.” Americans and people of other wealthy countries who advocate for the closing of sweatshops are most likely very close-minded in their opinions. As the article, our discussion in class, and the other people who commented say, sweatshops can be very beneficial to the developing countries. Although it may seem like a horrible job to have, it may just be the only thing keeping these people from living in ultimate poverty. Yes, the conditions are not always favorable, but shutting down a sweatshop is a faux-pas toward getting the country out of poverty.
I, myself, am a big supporter of keeping labor in the U.S., but as we learn more about sweatshops, I’m beginning to open my eyes more. I think supporting local businesses is great, but when it comes to large-scale manufacturing, it may be appropriate to outsource. Giving these developing countries the chance to manufacture for companies can be seen as a win-win situation: the developing countries may potentially start to grow economically (which may benefit the world in the long run), and it is cheaper labor for the companies.

As with the comments before me, I agree that this view of sweatshops is also a new idea for me because of the way that people in developed countries like ours view them. However, I completely agree with Hayley that our view of sweatshops comes a lot from our ignorance. We in the United States are so far from the developing world and most of us have never seen or experienced anything remotely close to what those populations experience in their daily lives.

Also, I think it is also important to think of the alternatives that the Cambodian people have to working in the sweatshops. Cambodia has a major problem with sex trafficking and many girls are forced into prostitution to earn money for their families; however, the girls that are prostituted generally don’t receive any of the money that is paid to the brothels. Although it is sad to think of those two options for earning money, when those are your choices, it changes the outlook for the sweatshop.

After rereading the article, I am slightly shocked that the families would want to work in a sweatshop. However, thinking back to microeconomics and opportunity costs, the families realize they could make more money in a sweatshop (their opportunity cost of digging through landfills and garbage dumps). As one woman stated in the article, she would rather have her son work in a sweatshop “. . . partly because she has seen other children run over by garbage trucks. Her boy has never been to a doctor or a dentist, and last bathed when he was 2, so a sweatshop job by comparison would be far more pleasant and less dangerous.”

The families realize their children and parents would be less likely to have a limb removed in a sweatshop than outside, in the garbage dump. This fuels their desire to obtain jobs in sweatshops.

I definetley agree with the author that working in a sweatshop isnt the worst possibility for many people around the world,in fact it can be a good thing relatively. I personally do think the factories people work in are a bad thing, but the conditions in which people are expected to work in are deplorable. I think it would be a bad thing if the factories closed because many families would have to turn to far worse jobs to make ends meet, so until there are enforcable labor standards world wide that can keep companies from closing down and relocating to places with lower labor costs, i think sweatshops must stay.

I find it very interesting how much this article ties into some of the things Sachs was talking about in Chapter 1. Both authors make a valid point in that although sweatshops may look like a bad thing to people from outside countries, they are actually a good thing for these countries struggling to climb the latter. Sweatshops are looked at as opportunities to succeed. I think that the US should not be so quick to come in and shut these factories down, but encourage foreign manufacturing in order to pull some of these struggling countries out of poverty.

On another note, it is interesting to think about the places sweatshops can be located. They usually go to countries with more reliable resources, therefore it seems that it would be impractical to open a factory in Malawi, where there is more disease and insecure resources to maintain successful manufacturing.

I like many other American’s described in this article used to view sweatshops as awful places that should be shut down. However, after reading this article and the first chapter in The Poverty, my opinion has been slightly altered. I still see sweatshops as awful places, but I now understand that these factories are not all bad.

Sweatshops are located in countries that are beginning to climb the ladder of development and they provide job opportunities that otherwise would be scarce to none. It is a sad reality, but it is my hope that someday these developing countries will no longer look to sweatshops to employee the majority of its people, but instead there will be a successful society in the works.

I agree with the comments before me and I would also like to point out that the systems that are created in developed countries such as are own are rarely, in my perspective, whats needed. The best way to really get to the roots of the problem is to talk to people like Nicholas Kristof who have seen the problem from an internal viewpoint. I think it is important as people who demand change to educate ourselves with multiple viewpoints. I completely agree with Kristof, I would hate to scavenge dump, I would much rather work all day for guaranteed pay even if it is sickeningly low. If people can work, there is opportunity for change as seen in the southern village Kristof refers to.

I strongly believe that the author is headed in the right direction with this article. The US and other countries should not be focusing so much on setting standards for sweatshops but rather more towards developing poorer nations and creating more opportunities. The people living in extreme poverty like those mentioned in the article, should be receiving our primary attention. Then, once these poor countries begin to develop, more and more jobs can be created and working standards might improve on its own.

I agree with everyone who believes that the more that the idea of sweatshops is discussed the easier it is to become a supporter of not closing them down. Furthermore, I feel that it is necessary to point out the fact that even though sweatshop workers make little to no money at all in comparison to American wages, We can look to the purchasing parity of these countries. We take a look at how people who are literally “living in the dumps” could make a good living for themselves doing something that we would consider without a doubt inhumane. While I agree with the author regarding purchasing African made products, I would like to see more options at combating this problem.

Rummaging through a vast ocean of garbage is a life that no human should be forced to endure. I think that the author is convincing in arguing that a sweatshop job is at it’s core, a job. It is an opportunity for these poor people to make money, to get out of the depths of poverty, and to work in conditions far better than a pile of trash. The imagery the author casts in this article is troubling. Although sweatshops are no spa, mountains of steaming garbage are unimaginable. I think if we create more manufacturing jobs with improved and set labor standards, these people can rid themselves of a miserable existence. Sweatshops for young children is a hard reality to swallow, but it is the option that is the lesser evil and should be promoted, at least for now.

In a stark contrast to those who construct U.S. trade policy and reside high atop an ivory tower; Nicholas Kristof has felt the heat emitted from the Third World garbage dumps he writes about. Perspective is something that can never be understated in the quest for solutions to poverty and lack of opportunity. Without taking perspective into account we run the risk of acting with the greatest of intentions while in reality we are robbing others of key advances towards a higher standard of living. While in developed countries we use politicized phrases such as \sweat shops,\ others throughout the world choose to refer to the same situations as extra meals or opportunities for a better life. This article is a strong challenge to reject the first world notions of work standards and quality of life that are being naively disseminated to the rest of the world. As a society we are so far removed from the basic struggle for survival that we should be careful not to remove factory jobs as one of the few opportunities that many impoverished individuals have for a better life.

This article really hits home for me. My husband is Cambodian and he is from Phnom Penh. I have been told many stories of his families life there during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. His family was very fortunate to survive escaping Cambodia as well as being able to come to American and have a better life than what they had and would have had living in Phnom Penh. It makes his family and myself very sad especially when we think about his parents siblings that still live there.

This article reminds me of a video i saw about a jean factory in China that hired young girls to sew, trim, and make the jeans. While the conditions were less than ideal, the girls made it clear that they sought out this job in order to be able to send money home to their families. The problem was not the factory itself, but rather the conditions in the factory. The workers often had to work 16-18 hour days with only a single break, and often they weren’t paid on time. Part of the solution is not to take away that job opportunity, but rather to encourage companies who use those factories to find ways to improve them and make a better working experience for the workers. The obvious problem will then become the cost of goods increasing. However, because the idea of “improving working conditions” is often marketable, consumers may be willing to pay more for goods they know were made in good environments.

I have learned previously that sweatshops actually help people get out of extreme poverty. I have argued that a sweatshop job is better than no job, or scavenging for food and plastic to sell in the hot stinky garbage pile. I agree with the authors stance on sweatshops and how manufacturing factories help build a positive economic growth for a country.