Apr 202011
Authors: Courtney Stuard

I am neither a “self-righteous liberal,” nor a “hip college student,” but I do value human life, personal autonomy and logical consistency.

Last Wednesday, the Collegian Editorial Board published an Our View titled, “We need more sweatshops,” which attempted to justify the existence of sweatshops in developing countries around the globe. However, there are numerous reasons why we do not “need more sweatshops.”

First, the very word “sweatshop” is synonymous with a factory where life-threatening working conditions endangers workers who are grossly exploited.

Sweatshops directly undermine basic human rights, such as freedom and respect by imposing long hours of arduous labor with minimal compensation on children, women and men of developing countries. In a sweatshop, a worker is valued as a means to an end –– the end being a cheaply produced product that will be sold at outrageously marked-up prices to the U.S. consumer.
Moreover, the working conditions that sweatshop workers are subjected to are so heinous that the American Anti-Slavery Society has denounced it as modern-day slavery. Also, factory management often coerces workers into employee agreements without fully disclosing details of the jobs and worker expectation.

Second, it cannot be concluded that sweatshops offer a “better” life for workers in developing countries.

Individuals in developing countries can, and have, for centuries lived by subsistence agriculture, or self-sufficiency farming which is when a farmer grows enough food to feed his family, without a great amount of monetary wealth. This may be a surprise but not everyone in the world equates “happiness” or “wealth” with possessions or amassed money. In fact many equate happiness with food, home and family.

Furthermore, in a sweatshop the worker is completely removed from the produced product.

Those workers do not enjoy the “fruits of their labor.” Rather the worker receives bare minimum compensation or “starvation wages” for rigorous work. Thus, the worker, after paying tax, may not even have enough money to buy food for a family, which is often large in developing countries.

Third, the majority of workers in sweatshops are in fact forced into working at the factories.

When a corporation moves into a developing country, it introduces an entirely new system and way of life. When a corporation moves in and buys up land that was once owned by subsistence communities, then those individuals no longer have a means for producing food. The community which is tied to the land has nowhere to go. Thus the community is forced to work at the factory that was built by the corporation.

Then the corporation exploits the desperation of the communities by hiring the individual for the least amount of money that it possibly can. So, although it is true that the corporation saves the community from potential death, it is only able to do so because it creates a paradigm of false choice that did not exist prior to the corporation’s arrival.

Thus, regardless of what neo-liberal economist Paul Krugman says, sweatshops are not consistent with the tenets of a free-market system.

Principles of the free-market — which the U.S. claims to endorse — include voluntary consent, property-rights and non-intervention by the state. None of those principles are honored by sweatshop owners. When multi-national corporations partner with the state to build these sweatshops, they do not respect the property-rights of the farmers; rather they snatch up farmers’ property without giving the farmer a choice.

In those situations the property rights of corporations are respected, but the property rights of individuals are not. Many corporations would not be as profitable without state invention paving the way for success. That is not free-market capitalism; it is fascism. Sweatshops are then in direct conflict with the supposed moral and economic values that America purportedly supports.

Consequently, there is absolutely no way to ethically justify sweatshops. Sweatshops do not help raise the living standard in developing countries. Instead they lower them by developing dependency that parallels neo-colonialism. So, no, we do NOT “need more sweatshops.”

Courtney Stuard is a senior journalism major. Her column appears on Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 6:15 pm

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