ethical xkcd clothing?

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would you be interested in seeing fair-trade organic xkcd clothing for sale?

no, i think that's dumb.
11
13%
i don't care.
30
35%
yes, i'd buy it if it were the same price.
20
24%
yes, i'd pay more for it.
19
22%
yes, i would only buy this stuff.
5
6%
 
Total votes: 85

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ethical xkcd clothing?

Postby le_sacre » Thu Jun 21, 2007 5:40 am UTC

i'm wondering if there might be an option at some point for sweatshop-free enviro-friendly merchandise in the store? american apparel makes an organic cotton t-shirt that's quite cheap and made in the u.s. i would totally buy some xkcd t-shirts if given this option, but otherwise not.

i guess i'll try the poll thing and see if it works...

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Postby Marbas » Thu Jun 21, 2007 5:44 am UTC

I...I don't care about exploitation.


I'm a terrible person.


Oh well!

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Postby une see » Thu Jun 21, 2007 5:49 am UTC

Marbas wrote:I...I don't care about exploitation.

I'm a terrible person.

Oh well!

Ice cream!


I, also, don't care.

But I do wish I had ice cream...

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Postby le_sacre » Thu Jun 21, 2007 6:44 am UTC

i thought i posted this in general... did it get moved here because this is the appropriate place for the topic, or did i screw up?

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Postby GhostWolfe » Thu Jun 21, 2007 6:45 am UTC

It got moved.
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Postby RealGrouchy » Thu Jun 21, 2007 6:49 am UTC

I'd like to see it available, but I wouldn't buy one for many reasons.

I heard somewhere that about 5 lbs of pesticides go into the production of a single t-shirt. I'd love to see a source on that.

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Postby TheTankengine » Thu Jun 21, 2007 11:39 am UTC

I would be in favor of hemp t-shirts, but that is probably not going to happen.
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Postby le_sacre » Thu Jun 21, 2007 2:19 pm UTC

RealGrouchy wrote:I'd like to see it available, but I wouldn't buy one for many reasons.


i'm curious -- what are some of them?

RealGrouchy wrote:I heard somewhere that about 5 lbs of pesticides go into the production of a single t-shirt. I'd love to see a source on that.


i've heard 150g per t-shirt. not sure how accurate that is, though it's mentioned a lot. wouldn't necessarily be surprising. cotton production accounts for about 1/4 of total world pesticide use; cotton is very sensitive to bugs.

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Postby TheTankengine » Thu Jun 21, 2007 3:06 pm UTC

le_sacre wrote:
RealGrouchy wrote:I heard somewhere that about 5 lbs of pesticides go into the production of a single t-shirt. I'd love to see a source on that.


i've heard 150g per t-shirt. not sure how accurate that is, though it's mentioned a lot. wouldn't necessarily be surprising. cotton production accounts for about 1/4 of total world pesticide use; cotton is very sensitive to bugs.


That's one of the many advantages of hemp. Extremely resilient, requires very little pesticide and practically no herbicide (since it grows so tightly grouped).
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Jun 21, 2007 3:43 pm UTC

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Postby LE4dGOLEM » Thu Jun 21, 2007 4:36 pm UTC

Gelsamel wrote:"lol"


I see what you did there.
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Postby le_sacre » Thu Jun 21, 2007 4:42 pm UTC

TheTankengine wrote:
le_sacre wrote:That's one of the many advantages of hemp. Extremely resilient, requires very little pesticide and practically no herbicide (since it grows so tightly grouped).


waaaaay less water usage, too. i was just thinking hemp might have even less chance of happening. but then i'm not sure how this custom t-shirt business works. do you need to have some critical mass of orders for a given shirt-type to be screened? or is it you just order whatever you want?

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Postby Hawknc » Thu Jun 21, 2007 4:44 pm UTC

Sweatshop-free, yes; organic or fair-trade, perhaps. That said, it's all hypothetical as I don't even have a credit card.

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Postby le_sacre » Thu Jun 21, 2007 4:44 pm UTC

so far, carers and non-carers are tied! (counting dumb-thinkers as non-carers for the moment) :)

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Postby Vaniver » Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:19 pm UTC

I, also, do not care about "exploitation".
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Postby MFHodge » Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:25 pm UTC

To me, options 2 and 3 are pretty much the same. No one is going to offer an "ethical" and and "unethical" version of the same shirt for the same price. If Randy were to switch his shirts from one supplier to another, it seems that over 2/3 of us would not notice or care. And I suspect that the number is actually a little higher than that.

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Postby Phenriz » Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:45 pm UTC

marked: i don't care.
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Postby le_sacre » Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:53 pm UTC

VTHodge wrote:To me, options 2 and 3 are pretty much the same. No one is going to offer an "ethical" and and "unethical" version of the same shirt for the same price. If Randy were to switch his shirts from one supplier to another, it seems that over 2/3 of us would not notice or care. And I suspect that the number is actually a little higher than that.


except that they're explicitly not the same. the question is worded "would you be interested..." so there are a bunch of people (option 3) who think it would be a good idea to offer these options but won't/can't afford to pay more for them. that's different from not caring, so don't put words in poll respondents' mouths! those separate options were composed specifically to find out more precisely how people feel about it.

also, american apparel (arguably all "ethical" since they are sweat-shop free) offers their organic shirt for the same price as the conventional; the extra cost is just that the organic only come in white at this time.

of course like all polls of this type, it's probably inaccurate like you say, because only a self-selecting population will notice it and want to volunteer an opinion (probably poll-lovers and people with strong opinions either way). but i still am interested in the results. like in the organic/fair-trade market in general, business-wise the decision to offer these options would not have to be based on a plurality of demand, but on there being just a sufficiently large market to offset any costs associated with providing more options.

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Postby arbivark » Thu Jun 21, 2007 8:02 pm UTC

is there a way we can send in extra blank t-shirts to get screenprinted?
or is that just impractical?

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Postby Vaniver » Thu Jun 21, 2007 8:02 pm UTC

who think it would be a good idea to offer these options but won't/can't afford to pay more for them.
Generally, though, a preference only matters if it is enough to change behavior (be it buying instead of not buying, or buying at a higher price). Only 21% (at this time) of those polled would see a switch to 'ethical' production worth paying more for or as an impetus to buy shirts they would not have otherwise.

If the entire populace said to RM "hey, switch to X, but we won't give you anything for the effort that takes," it wouldn't mean all that much (although, since he is a webcomic artist, he might be more responsive to requests like that than the general businessman).
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Postby le_sacre » Thu Jun 21, 2007 8:13 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:Generally, though, a preference only matters if it is enough to change behavior (be it buying instead of not buying, or buying at a higher price)...


right, from a business point of view i think that's mostly true -- except that of those theoretical 21%, probably at least some of them would be more inclined to shop the xkcd store knowing that they are ethics-sensitive enough to offer the stuff, even if they themselves might not be able to afford it. i admit though that the difference in those poll options was written more for my curiosity to find out people's motivations.

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Postby SpitValve » Thu Jun 21, 2007 9:31 pm UTC

I care!

But in some sense, I'm not sure if just changing to western-made clothing is the best thing to do: Is it better to underpay poor people, or pay more money to well-off people?

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Postby le_sacre » Thu Jun 21, 2007 10:27 pm UTC

SpitValve wrote:I care!

But in some sense, I'm not sure if just changing to western-made clothing is the best thing to do: Is it better to underpay poor people, or pay more money to well-off people?


the issue is, it's not solely about wage. it's about workers' rights. it seems like any time anyone investigates the factories operated by these big corporations in underdeveloped nations, they find that workers have been fired if they try to unionize, mistreated, and otherwise muscled into submission. by not giving your business to these companies, you're telling them that you think their actions are wrong. the second they start to think that it will hurt their bottom line in terms of lost business/poor image, they will begin treating their workers better. they can damn well afford to.

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Postby hermaj » Thu Jun 21, 2007 11:17 pm UTC

Uh, guys, do you even know whether Randy's stuff is not already American made, sweatshop free stuff? Otherwise this all seems like you're kicking up a fuss over something pretty hypothetical and pointless.

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Postby Belial » Thu Jun 21, 2007 11:19 pm UTC

I'm pretty sure the printing is done in america, at least.
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Postby SpitValve » Thu Jun 21, 2007 11:47 pm UTC

le_sacre wrote:
SpitValve wrote:I care!

But in some sense, I'm not sure if just changing to western-made clothing is the best thing to do: Is it better to underpay poor people, or pay more money to well-off people?


the issue is, it's not solely about wage. it's about workers' rights. it seems like any time anyone investigates the factories operated by these big corporations in underdeveloped nations, they find that workers have been fired if they try to unionize, mistreated, and otherwise muscled into submission. by not giving your business to these companies, you're telling them that you think their actions are wrong. the second they start to think that it will hurt their bottom line in terms of lost business/poor image, they will begin treating their workers better. they can damn well afford to.


I see your point. However, that relies on a very large number of people refusing to buy sweatshop clothing: otherwise if you don't buy it, they can just sell to somebody else. Maybe international sanctions would work better? I really don't know.

The other thing: is it more important to make a moral statement, or to help those in need. Is it more important to give a little bit of money to people who are poor, or to tell their bosses that their actions are wrong?


Edit: as this gets more hypothetical, I might move it to Serious Business?

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Postby le_sacre » Fri Jun 22, 2007 12:18 am UTC

hermaj wrote:Uh, guys, do you even know whether Randy's stuff is not already American made, sweatshop free stuff? Otherwise this all seems like you're kicking up a fuss over something pretty hypothetical and pointless.


wow, what kind of agitator do you take me for? of course i checked this: when i thought to myself, "i'd love an xkcd t-shirt... i wonder where they're made." it's linked right from the store. the regular t-shirts are from gildan. just google "gildan sweatshop" and you will see what i'm talking about.

the screening company they are using (brunetto) offers both american apparel and bayside as t-shirt sources (both u.s.-made, sweatshop-free), although i don't immediately see whether brunetto allows orders of american apparel's organic shirts. so it looks to me like theoretically it would be pretty easy to have these options available, though the cost would go up by a couple dollars, and it might be dependent on reaching a certain number of people (12?) to fill an order for a given design on a given shirt. but then, i haven't done this before and it's not my site, so i'm just speculating.

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Postby RealGrouchy » Fri Jun 22, 2007 1:08 am UTC

le_sacre wrote:
RealGrouchy wrote:I'd like to see it available, but I wouldn't buy one for many reasons.

i'm curious -- what are some of them?

Mostly personal, for example:

- I get free t-shirts more than I wear them
- I have much higher spending priorities at the moment than t-shirts
- If I were to spend money on a shirt, it would probably have a collar, buttons, and sleeves, etc.
- If I were to buy a t-shirt, I'd prefer to buy one that is (a) made locally (there's a guy in town...), or (b) more appropriate. I just don't like the t-shirt as a medium for xkcd's style of humour and artistic style.

That's about it really. Oh, and I'm really stingy.

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Postby Solt » Fri Jun 22, 2007 3:06 am UTC

If we force a sweatshop out of business (out of ethical concerns, of course) I wonder what happens to the people for whom that sweatshop was the best or possibly only means of income.
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Postby Gelsamel » Fri Jun 22, 2007 3:11 am UTC

Or the only decent walls they've ever had around them.
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Postby le_sacre » Fri Jun 22, 2007 3:43 am UTC

Solt wrote:If we force a sweatshop out of business (out of ethical concerns, of course) I wonder what happens to the people for whom that sweatshop was the best or possibly only means of income.


let's be realistic here... there's no way we could do that. first of all, as has already been pointed out, this movement is still a drop in the bucket. mega-clothing companies worry about the potential tarnish on their images much more than they worry about losing our comparatively few dollars.

secondly, even if we did make a dent in the company's bottom line and force them to make a change, all they'd have to do is start treating the workers fairly. it would still be far far cheaper to do that and stay put than move to a new factory in the u.s. where the cost of living is so much higher. us closing down the sweatshop would just be ridiculous. when sweatshops close it's because the company finds a different location where they can get even cheaper labor and treat the workers even worse, to lower their prices here by another cent and increase their shareholders' and ceo's profits by 10%. not because of us complaining that they can afford to afford basic labor rights to their workforce.

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Postby SpitValve » Fri Jun 22, 2007 3:46 am UTC

le_sacre wrote:secondly, even if we did make a dent in the company's bottom line and force them to make a change, all they'd have to do is start treating the workers fairly. it would still be far far cheaper to do that and stay put than move to a new factory in the u.s. where the cost of living is so much higher. us closing down the sweatshop would just be ridiculous. when sweatshops close it's because the company finds a different location where they can get even cheaper labor and treat the workers even worse, to lower their prices here by another cent and increase their shareholders' and ceo's profits by 10%. not because of us complaining that they can afford to afford basic labor rights to their workforce.


It'd be even cheaper to just sell to another company or even another country instead...

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Postby RealGrouchy » Fri Jun 22, 2007 5:42 am UTC

When you buy from the sweatshop, you are not only depriving the slave of a living wage, but people who refuse to work for slave wages get nothing at all.

When you buy fair trade, at least one of these two is getting treated fairly.

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Postby SpitValve » Fri Jun 22, 2007 6:44 am UTC

RealGrouchy wrote:When you buy from the sweatshop, you are not only depriving the slave of a living wage, but people who refuse to work for slave wages get nothing at all.

When you buy fair trade, at least one of these two is getting treated fairly.

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Is there fair trade clothing? We have fair trade chocolate and coffee but not the clothing.

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Postby Hawknc » Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:51 am UTC

There's fair trade options available for a lot of things. The Oxfam stores here sell a bit of clothing as well as random things like soccer balls, tribal drums, weird things like that. There's a question of whether setting an artificial price floor is good for these people in the long run, but I think there's a whole SB topic about that. In the meantime I support it generally, provided it's legitimately Fairtrade and not just profiteering off the concept.

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Postby Vaniver » Fri Jun 22, 2007 3:21 pm UTC

When you buy from the sweatshop, you are not only depriving the slave of a living wage, but people who refuse to work for slave wages get nothing at all.

When you buy fair trade, at least one of these two is getting treated fairly.
But, when the difference is between a wage of $2 a day and $10 a day, you're not comparing one person and one person. If, say, the company gets $3 (minus ten cents for each additional worker) of value from each worker they employ, you're comparing 11 workers (from the one where the company gets a surplus of $1 for hiring them to where the company breaks even by hiring them) with 0 workers. Hm.
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Postby le_sacre » Fri Jun 22, 2007 4:35 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:But, when the difference is between a wage of $2 a day and $10 a day, you're not comparing one person and one person. If, say, the company gets $3 (minus ten cents for each additional worker) of value from each worker they employ, you're comparing 11 workers (from the one where the company gets a surplus of $1 for hiring them to where the company breaks even by hiring them) with 0 workers. Hm.


i think i see where you're going with this, but i think it's just very far from reality. the wage for these workers would have to be soooooooooo much higher for the companies just to "break even." the primary contention here is that these companies could easily afford to treat the workers ethically (especially when it comes to not union-busting, which is inexcusable). a secondary contention is that the company should make workers' rights a priority, even if it means they can't charge an unnaturally low price for the product in the u.s., like $3 for a t-shirt. the first example is more of a GAP issue, while the second is more of a walmart issue. at least, this is how i see it. either way, they are doing so much better than "breaking even" with their labor force it's just ridiculous. that's why they're there.

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Postby Vaniver » Fri Jun 22, 2007 4:47 pm UTC

the wage for these workers would have to be soooooooooo much higher for the companies just to "break even."
Do you have access to their income statements, or are you just assuming that they're making scads of profit?

One of the fun things about free market competition is that if Alice has profit margins of 20%, Bob will start a company in that same industry to take some of her profits. [edit] The only time when you see rampant profiteering on a sustained level is when the government favors one group over another (like, say, labor).

the primary contention here is that these companies could easily afford to treat the workers ethically (especially when it comes to not union-busting, which is inexcusable).
Could and should are incredibly different statements, and I will contest your contention that they could easily afford to.

unnaturally low price
Wrong. The current price of the shirt reflects the price of labor obtained on the free market (i.e. the natural price). You want an unnaturally high price for labor, which will correspond to an unnaturally high price for the t-shirt.

the second is more of a walmart issue. at least, this is how i see it. either way, they are doing so much better than "breaking even" with their labor force it's just ridiculous. that's why they're there.
Walmart's profit margins are 3.6%. [1] That's not really "so much better than breaking even."
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Postby le_sacre » Fri Jun 22, 2007 6:02 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:Do you have access to their income statements, or are you just assuming that they're making scads of profit?


gildan, the company that makes the t-shirts xkcd uses for screening, is doing very well (http://finance.google.com/finance?q=GIL), posting $252 million gross profit last year, with a profit margin of 14%. analysts say their performance is good because they were able to keep down the cost of the goods sold. in finding this information, i also came across the news that they were laying off employees in north america to increase production in honduras and the dominican republic.

Vaniver wrote:One of the fun things about free market competition is that if Alice has profit margins of 20%, Bob will start a company in that same industry to take some of her profits. The only time when you see rampant profiteering on a sustained level is when the government favors one group over another (like, say, labor).


i'm not an economist, but i would say it seems more like a race to the bottom for the workers rather than for the profit margins. the degree to which they can diminish operating costs is what the companies are fighting with each other for, with small fluctuations in prices here as they continually optimize their exploitation strategy within what regulatory constraints exist. show me a company where the upper management volunteers a pay cut in order to lower prices. no, the upper management deserves to be rewarded for delivering such low operating costs to the shareholders.

besides which, in this market, competition is based more on marketing than on price in many cases. case in point: why would Gildan not say, "ok, we'll give up three quarters of our profit margin so we can cut prices to compete with walmart"? because they're doing quite well in their niche.

unnaturally low price
Wrong. The current price of the shirt reflects the price of labor obtained on the free market (i.e. the natural price). You want an unnaturally high price for labor, which will correspond to an unnaturally high price for the t-shirt.


perhaps this is overly philosophical, but i think it makes sense to define "natural" in terms of what would exist in the "original" community-based business model, not the current tiered system where companies outsource production to use people who live in poverty without government protection from exploitation, in order to outsell their more ethically-operated competitors. they've found the loophole. american workers are protected from mistreatment, so they find the areas of the world where that's not the case. to me, that seems unnatural.

i don't think this is an inevitable consequence of the global market. but i do think it's an inevitable consequence of a global free market--this translates always into the freedom of the powerful and wealthy to increase their power and wealth at the expense of the poor. probably an ideological difference that could not be resolved in this forum... but yeah, i think the reason we have a government in the first place is to look out equally for all citizens and prevent the powerful from hoarding all wealth and influence. thus labor unions and regulation saved our poor workers (by and large) from unsafe working conditions and unethical practices (like child labor, union-busting, etc) that the unchecked free market never would have. now, we owe it to the foreign citizens we're taking advantage of to provide those rights which we in america decided were of paramount importance.

the "fair-trade" movement is a great answer to these objections (as opposed to the "buy american" movement endorsing american apparel), where production still occurs in poor nations, but a living wage and strong labor rights are afforded expressly by charging a higher price in developed nations. it's gaining a lot of ground, particularly in coffee, but expanding into other goods as well. i just thought for xkcd moving away from sweatshops would be the best first step in terms of offering more choices.

sorry for the long post! i should stop procrastinating...

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Vaniver
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Postby Vaniver » Fri Jun 22, 2007 6:59 pm UTC

gildan, the company that makes the t-shirts xkcd uses for screening, is doing very well (http://finance.google.com/finance?q=GIL), posting $252 gross profit last year, with a profit margin of 14%. analysts say their performance is good because they were able to keep down the cost of the goods sold. in finding this information, i also came across the news that they were laying off employees in north america to increase production in honduras and the dominican republic.
Someone who does their research is always a pleasant person to meet (although you missed an M after $252). I personally don't see a 14% margin as exorbitant, although it's certainly far better than average.

i'm not an economist, but i would say it seems more like a race to the bottom for the workers rather than for the profit margins.
This is the case when there is are less workers than there is work that is profitable to do (like there are in many skilled trades). When we're talking about markets where labor is abundant (like low-end manufacturing), it's more a competition for customers- if someone new were to enter the t-shirt market, they wouldn't have to be worried about having to steal away Gildan's workers, they would only have to worry about stealing away Gildan's customers. When there's no one willing to pay you more (except as a PR stunt) for the same work, that's a sign you're not being underpaid.

i think it makes sense to define "natural" in terms of what would exist in the "original" community-based business model, not the current tiered system where companies outsource production to use people who live in poverty without government protection from exploitation, in order to outsell their more ethically-operated competitors
So, you think that in places where people live on an average of $1 a day, companies should only have to pay them an average of $1 a day? Or do you think that a community should be protected from unnatural medicines and products that they could not produce themselves?

If you think that wages should be equal across communities, despite significant differences in costs and value between those communities, how is that preferring the community-based model?

Whenever someone points to a point in time and says "this is when things were natural," I find it interesting to note whether they were better or worse off during that time. Invariably, things were better off for them, and often, it was the richest they had ever been. Unlike governments, the blind free market is not subject to the lobbying of special interests. If the day of the hand-spun cloth is over, it's over and the free market quickly sweeps it out of the way in favor of looms. Governments cannot be trusted to stand up for progress.

See, my problem is that I see providing the poor with work as giving them a way up, to produce things of value and receive things of value for it. If someone is willing to make t-shirts for $2 a day, I think it's unethical on the part of the business to pay someone $50 a day for the same level of work (keeping in mind we're talking about low-end, or nearly unskilled, manufacturing; high-end manufacturing is rather different). When the choice is picking which one of them starves, I can see no compelling reason to default to picking the $50 a day person, especially when those $48 of savings might open up more positions for more people.

this translates always into the freedom of the powerful and wealthy to increase their power and wealth at the expense of the poor.
First, value can be *created*. If you don't believe that, ask yourself why there are so many more things and ideas around now than there were two thousand years ago. The wealthy rarely *steal* from the poor, and when they do, it's always because of government intervention (i.e. robber barons that are actual barons); generally they trade with the poor, and employ the poor, and give loans to the poor. Both sides benefit; generally the wealthy benefit more, in a strict dollar sense, but that's because they generally have more at risk. The wealthy tend to benefit less when it comes to the sense of a ratio- let's say I employ someone who was working at $1 a day for $2 a day, and he makes me $3 of value (be it in t-shirt form, or whatever). He's just received a 100% increase in daily pay (and thus, over the long term, wealth) from this; what's my increase? For simplicity, let's pick Gildan's profit margins- 14%. That's a rather different ratio, even though both of us profitted a dollar. Generally, this ratio for the rich will be more along the lines of the average profit margin, or the interest rate, both of which hover in the few percent, and will be considerably lower (but still much higher than the rich's) for the poor.

probably an ideological difference that could not be resolved in this forum... but yeah, i think the reason we have a government in the first place is to look out equally for all citizens and prevent the powerful from hoarding all wealth and influence.
I think the reason we have a government in the first place is to protect the rights of citizens. Equality, except in the sense that men were created (read: not guaranteed to finish) equal, has little to do with it.

the unchecked free market never would have.
The free market actually supplies rather nice working conditions for workers who are in demand, and gives less or no bargaining power to those that are not.
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