At the risk of sounding like a heartless bastard and pissing off people everywhere, I say let the sweatshops sweat.
It’s hard to shake the part of my conscience that’s screaming at the already clear immorality of this column because to a large extent, I agree with college activist groups like The United Students Against Sweatshops and WSU’s Progressive Student Union, which condemn sweatshop conditions. These groups speak for those in Third World countries without a voice. Ironically, I feel I must speak up for them as well, the amateur aspiring middle-class spoiled American collegiate journalist brat that I am.
Luckily, I have on my side a source who is always right: Mother. When I called Mom this week to check up on her, I brought up the subject of sweatshops, because I’m a nerd. My mother grew up in the Philippines at a time when the prospects for a bright future were dim for most Filipinos. I asked for her two cents and she told me a chance is better than no chance. Sounds obvious, right?
You might think fighting for living wages and human rights is the chance indigent workers need. Obviously, sweatshops are evil. It’s inherent in the term. When WSU advocates a living wage for an underage child producing WSU apparel working 10 hours a day and seven days a week, it’s a warm, comforting and fulfilling sensation for the child’s stomach and Western conscience.
But how would a corporation view this? Negatively. What is the number one motivation of all corporations? Profit. When college students and the like advocate a living wage, corporations must then take another consideration into the cost of production. All of us surely want what’s best for these people, but when we say what’s best for them is a living wage, we must consider how corporations will react as well.
The only reason sweatshops compete in the market is the cheap cost of labor. So when we protest in favor of living wages, are we risking a child’s only chance of upward mobility, however slight? Yes, because as always, corporations prefer profit over protection. Wherever labor is cheap is where they will go.
Similarly, few people would argue the notion of civilizing human rights a bad thing, but it must be looked at in context. College activists across the country can promote fair working hours, a minimum working age and safe working conditions. However, for the underage child scavenging a polluted garbage dump for food, a sweatshop doesn’t sound like an absolutely horrid alternative. An age restriction might prevent an underage child from providing for his or her sibling. A limit on working hours limits a child from making more money from what is already an appalling wage. And when Westerners use the term sweatshop, we are misleading people. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times said relative to other options, sweatshops offer one of the few job environments that don’t entail constant sweat. The alternatives often include sexual slavery and underage militia service. The adverse effect of raising standards inevitably shifts jobs from the poorest of countries to better-off countries.
Lately, we’ve witnessed auto worker unions in the United States going on strike to advocate a fairer contract with their employers. PSU’s demonstration last week served a similar purpose for Third World workers. However, the situations are completely dissimilar. We have to find it in ourselves to admit what we want for others, just because we have it and love it, is not always right or possible. Take a look at Iraq and the dilemma of democracy. Much like it, the question of sweatshops and whether it is wise or ethical to export our working conditions is a question of which is the lesser of two evils.
Friday, October 12, 2007
"Sweatshops may be best option; Eliminating sweatshops might eliminate chances"
Congratulations to Edward Quedado on his column in today's Daily Evergreen. This young man displayed some uncommon common sense, moral courage, astute reasoning. and respect for truth and facts instead of caving in to emotion, PC groupthink, suburban college student guilt, and the socialist indoctrination he has undoubtedly received from his professors. He probably doesn't realize it, but Quedado has taken the same position on sweatshops as a distinguished Berkeley economics professor (also not a bastion of conservatism.)