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Ethical Issues in the Developing World: Sweatshops 3

ETHICAL ISSUES IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD: SWEATSHOPS

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Ethical Issues in the Developing World: Sweatshops

Introduction

There has been extensive debate surrounding the ethics in sweatshops over the decades. The relationship between sweatshops and the high consumption rates of America has seen the industry grow significantly in the recent years, despite the criticisms of child labor, underpaid labor and poor working conditions within the sweatshops in the Asian countries. Sweatshops have often capitalized on the low wages as a means of gaining profit sue to the low costs of production (Carson, 2012; Esbenshade, 2008). However, it becomes important to examine the ethical dynamic of this industry, which is important in achieving human rights, deserved wages, and good working conditions. Some of the most successful brands in America including Nike have faced severe criticism concerning their sweatshop operations in the developing countries, and which have even jeopardized the company itself. The paper will focus on the background of sweatshops along with some of the recommendations that can be used to achieve standard ethical practices within this industry.

Background

According to Wong (n.p), one of the main issues that brought about the criticism of sweatshops in the industry is the extremely low wages paid to laborers working in the factories. These wages fall below the minimum wages within the standards of the developed world. As the federal minimum wage per hour in the United States stands at $ 7.25, the figure has fallen sharply to about $ 1.25 per hour in Thailand, 69 cents in Philippines, and 67 cents in China. However, even with these low figures, workers within the sweatshops are said to be paid less. These wages are barely enough for their sustenance.

Another issue within the sweatshop industry is the high levels of volatility in the workplace. A sweatshop in Indonesia was found to hire and fire workers very easily (Ingram, 2009). This can be attributed to the fact that the type of work being done is low skilled, which means it is easier to find other workers willing to work for equally low wages. As such, the state of welfare of the workers is significantly diminished due to the low level o job security. Even after being fired, workers are not awarded any form of payment to cushion them until they find employment elsewhere.

Working conditions have become a major issue in the textile industry, particularly in the sweatshops within the Asian countries (Kates, 2015). Bangladesh, for instance, is the world, s second largest exporter o garments after China, despite it being a small country. With over $ 20 billion in revenue, the textile industry is therefore considered the backbone of the Bangladeshi economy. A sweatshop factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, killing more than 1000 and wounding hundreds more workers who were on shift at that time. 2500 more workers were rescued.

Records estimated a total of 3122 workers employed, although the numbers of death as well as those rescued showed to be significantly higher (Seedeen, 2013, n.p). Despite this, the owner was said to be aware of the structural shortcomings that led to this incident, but took no action in an attempt to prevent it. This was reported to be one of the worst workplace accidents in the country. The Bangladesh tragedy is a reflection of the many incidences of sweatshop accidents that result from neglect, and which many sweatshop workers risk every day. In addition to this, there have also been reports that the workers are severely mistreated in terms of verbal and physical abuse (Sollars and Englander, 2007).

These incidences have led to injuries as well as psychological trauma in the workers, thus becoming a major concern about the state of ethical standards within the countries. In 1996, workers in a Nike factory were forced to go run in circles because they did not wear the right shoes, and were thus hospitalized (Sollars and Englander, 2016). In addition, the average number of working hours is extremely high, with many factories making their workers work for an average of 16 hours. This leads to exhaustion, low work productivity, and even increases their chances of incurring work related injuries.

Analysis and Evaluation

The issues of the sweatshop industry can be analyzed from a business as well as an ethical point of view. From the economic perspective, this textile market is extremely profitable particularly in the industrialized countries as well as their producers. Production costs are significantly low, and the costs of sale are high. There are a large number of well-known clothing and footwear companies which are linked to this industry. These include GAP, Levi’s, Nike, and Converse. In addition, the low skills of the manufacturing sector make it very easy for manufacturers to find low wage labor within these countries, even from children under the age of 15years (Zwolinski, 2007). Another business perspective of this sector is that it promoted employment in the local community. Large proportions of the employed workers live below poverty levels and do not have much educational backgrounds. As such, being employed within the sweatshops is one of the very few ways through which they will be able to earn a living.

The other more important perspective of viewing this industry is the ethical perspective, which has been challenging to achieve over the years. Poor working conditions, low wages, child labor, and abuse of workers has often sparked worldwide protests especially from the developed countries. Despite this, very little has been done to mitigate these issues. In India, the number of children laborers has reached more than 50 million, with many of them having been sold into labor by their parents. Children as young as 5 years work in a sweatshop daily and for full shifts. They are thus unable to achieve the basic education rights.

Personal Reflections

It remains highly unfortunate that ethical standards have been cast aside in this industry. Manufacturers, clothing and footwear companies in America have been able to benefit from the toil of poorer and more vulnerable people in the society (Boylan, 2014). What is even more shocking is the neglectful attitude that Asian labor regulations have adopted in caring for the welfare of their own citizens. I believe that one of the ways through which this system van is altered for the better is through mobilizing the end consumer in the industrialized nation. Through creation of awareness that the products they purchase are a result of underpaid and child labor, they are less likely to buy these items. In addition, it is important that labor regulations within these countries are strictly enforced to ensure that workers are paid their deserved dues.

Conclusion

The sweatshop industry is one of the most controversial markets in the world. Large profits are generated at the expense of the factory workers, who are subjected to long working hours, poor work conditions, and underpaid labor. As such, it has become important to disseminate knowledge to the end consumer to become more conscious of what they purchase. What is more crucial is for the laws to become stricter within the Asian countries in order to improve workers’ conditions.

References

Boylan, M. 2014. Business ethics. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Carson, T. 2012. Free Exchange for Mutual Benefit: Sweatshops and Maitland’s “Classical Liberal Standard”. J Bus Ethics, 112(1), pp.127-135.

Esbenshade, J. 2008. Going Up Against the Global Economy: New Developments in the Anti-Sweatshops Movement. Critical Sociology, 34(3), pp.453-470.

Ingram, D. 2009. Of sweatshops and subsistence: Habermas on human rights. Ethics & Global Politics, 2(3).

Kates, M. 2015. The Ethics of Sweatshops and the Limits of Choice. Bus. Ethics Q., 25(02), pp.191-212.

Seedeen, R. 2013. Bangladesh and the Ethics of Sweatshops. [online] In Our World. Available at: http://www.inourworld.org/bangladesh-and-the-ethics-of-sweatshops.html

Sollars, G. and Englander, F. 2007. Sweatshops. Business Ethics Quarterly, 17(1), pp.115-133.

Sollars, G. and Englander, F. 2016. Sweatshops: Economic Analysis and Exploitation as Unfairness. J Bus Ethics.

Wong, A. 2013. Two Faces of Economic Development. Global Ethics Network.

Zwolinski, M. 2007. Sweatshops, Choice, and Exploitation. Business Ethics Quarterly, 17(4), pp.689-727.