MAN 329: Journal #14: Sweatshops
The difference between an ethical an unethical "sweatshop" is a blurred line. Certain actions can immediately identified as unethical. An unethical sweatshop is as the author describes; dismal grim factories where brutal managers housing workers in firetraps, exposing children to dangerous chemicals, denying bathroom breaks, demanding sexual favors from workers, forcing people to work double shifts or dismissing anyone who tries to organize a union. These actions violate basic human rights. The article describes one factory where the 100 employees that make wallets were happy to be working at. The day starts at 6:30am and goes to 7:00pm, with a half hour for lunch at 12:00pm. Some workers regarded the long work hours as a plus, as it allowed them to earn more. For a sweatshop to be ethical, it workers would have to be housed in buildings that are hazardous to their lives and proper safety precautions, equipment, and process used when handling dangerous chemicals. Allowing reasonable breaks for workers to attend to bodily functions such as urinating would be had. Workers would be expected to complete specific work-related activities and not feel pressure to engage in sexual acts to maintain their employment. The workers’ right to organize as a union is a law in the United States. An ethical factory or sweatshop would make efforts to hear the thoughts of their workforce and adjust operations to enhance the productivity and conditions of the workers; by dismissing workers who seek adjustment to the work environment, workers may fear speaking up about other topics.
But the term “sweatshop” carries with it a meaning that prevents it from being an ethical entity. The supply of cheap Asian labor, some of the cheapest in the world, can only stay competitive if the volume of goods produced is also cheap at scale. The overall cost of materials and labor is kept as low as possible and if there is any way to reduce those costs, it is with sweatshops. There surely are factories and workshops in the world that are ethical, but it is the combination of an incredibly lower input of labor cost to produce incredibly high levels of output that swings a factory away from ethical practices to those unethical practice of what Westerners would term a “sweatshop”.
Companies doing business with subcontractors in developing nations, must monitor and audit their supply chains in order to be ethical. The fringe ethics of “sweatshops” and other suppliers that cut corners to save on costs not only negatively affect the producers of the goods, the workers, but also can put the end consumer of the product in danger. Unfortunately, the continued purchasing of products from companies and subcontractors that behave and act unethically, while helping workers have jobs, also condones the subjugation, acts of physical/sexual violence, and violation of human rights.