Marywoeste wrote:Are you serious? Buying stuff in sweatshops is actually helpful? I'm not asking that sarcastically, I'm actually surprised and curious. I was always under the impression that buying stuff made in sweatshops was supporting the unfair wages and working conditions. Can you please explain to me more specifically how I'm wrong?
People who have moral issues with sweatshops in poor countries are usually comparing conditions in them to conditions in first world factories. That's a false comparison, though. The alternative to working in a non-air conditioned sweatshop in Madagascar for 14 hours a day 6-7 days a week at 20 cents an hour isn't working at a Honda plant in Ohio for 40 hours a week at 30 dollars an hour. It's working on a subsistence farm plowing with an ox, planting and harvesting by hand for 16 hours a day hoping you'll get enough to feed your family and maybe have some left over to sell for a couple of bucks a week. Or worse, prostitution is a pretty common alternative. Those are also usually the same options for child laborers. They aren't typically working at a factory instead of going to school, they're working at a factory instead of working at home or on their backs.
Whenever you see an expose on exploited workers, always ask yourself "Did these people choose to work here of their own free will? If so, why?" Often times, while the situation may truly be horrible for the workers that you see, the alternative is even worse. Women from Rural China, for example, are flocking to cities to work in terrible conditions. But they're getting paid a cash salary that they can save and make a better life for themselves later. If they're coerced or forced into that condition it's different and deserves very close scrutiny.
It takes a lot of hubris to tell someone that they're making the wrong decisions about how to live their lives from an air conditioned house halfway around the world. Also remember that things like safety standards and better work conditions cost money, so they come at a tradeoff in lower pay. Don't assume that other people are wrong because they don't make the same tradeoffs you think you would choose.
Sweatshops aren't enough to bring a country out of poverty, but they're a start. The government of the poor country has to follow up and improve infrastructure and legal institutions that encourage more foreign investment, the people need to follow up and educate themselves so they can work in more modern, productive settings. Foreign governments need to follow up and not destroy other countries chances through export, import and diplomatic policies that prevent their own firms from investing in the poor nations. Places can easily stagnate at the sweatshop stage, and that's a bad thing. But they need to have the sweatshop phase to move on to the factory and call center phases of development.
Back on topic, I was pretty harsh initially on the concept of donating money to fix the world's ills. I want to clarify that my point is that fighting poverty is not a trivial task that simply requires enough money. As bystanders, the best thing individuals like you and I can do is donate money to causes we choose to support. That does provide help, but don't get full of yourself or over angsty by thinking that everything could be fixed if we just gave up that extra latte every week and sent the cash to Ghana.
Money is a tool, a very useful tool, but like any tool it needs to be carefully and thoughtfully applied to produce anything meaningful. And by itself it won't solve anything.