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  • The New York Times recently reported on the case of Nokuthula Masango, an employee at

  • a clothing factory in New Castle, South Africa. Masango works long hours in tough conditions

  • all for only $36 per week. If that sounds low, it is, even by South African standards

  • where the legal minimum wage is $57 per week. Many people would describe Masango's factory

  • as a sweatshop, and many would say that the owners of the sweatshop are treating Masango

  • and their other employees unfairly. Now in this video I don't want to try to fully

  • settle the question of whether sweatshops treat their workers unfairly or not. Let's

  • grant for the sake of argument that they do. The point I want to make here is that even

  • if sweatshop workers are treated unfairly, there are three points to be made in defense

  • of sweatshops.

  • First, it's important to remember that the exchange between the worker and her employer

  • is mutually beneficial, even when it's unfair. Sweatshops make their employees better off

  • even if they don't make them as much better off as critics think they should. Consider

  • sweatshop wages. As you might recall, Masango earned $36 a week at her sweatshop job. Compare

  • this with her friend, who lost her job at a sweatshop after it was closed for violating

  • minimum-wage laws and had to find work as a nanny. That friend wound up earning just

  • $14 a month, less than 12 percent of what Masango earned. And this wage gap is typical

  • of sweatshop jobs relative to other jobs in the domestic economy. Studies have shown sweatshop

  • jobs often pay three to seven times the wages paid elsewhere in the economy.

  • So even if we think the conditions of sweatshop labor are unfair, relative to their other

  • alternatives, sweatshop labor is a very attractive option for workers in the developing world.

  • And this is why those workers are often so eager to accept so-called sweatshop jobs.

  • Now no one on either side of the debate defends forced labor, but so long as sweatshop labor

  • is voluntary, even in a weak sense of being free from physical coercion, workers would

  • only take a job in a sweatshop when that job is better for them than any of their other

  • alternatives. This is true even if we grant that sweatshop workers' freedom is often

  • limited in a variety of unjust ways by their government or by the so-called coercion of

  • poverty.

  • Coercion constrains options, but as long as workers are free to choose from within their

  • constrained set of options, we can expect them to select those jobs that offer the best

  • prospects of success. And when given the choice between working in a sweatshop or working

  • on a farm or working elsewhere in the urban economy, workers consistently choose the sweatshop

  • job.

  • The second point to be made in defense of sweatshops is this: Even if you think sweatshop

  • labor is unfair, it is a bad idea to prohibit it. Think of it this way: People only take

  • sweatshop jobs because they're desperately poor and low on options. But, taking away

  • sweatshops does nothing to eliminate that poverty or to enhance their options. In fact,

  • it only reduces them further, taking away what workers themselves regard as the best

  • option they have.

  • Now, of course, most anti-sweatshop activists aren't trying to shut down factories, but

  • sometimes well-intentioned actions have unintended consequences. The layoffs faced by Masango's

  • friend are a stark demonstration of this. That friend was fired because the owners of

  • her factory decided it would be better to stop doing business altogether than to pay

  • the legal minimum wage. And while you can make it illegal for factories to pay low wages,

  • you cannot make it illegal for them to pay no wages by shutting down altogether.

  • The third and final point is this. It's better to do something to help the problem

  • of global poverty than it is to do nothing. And sweatshops are doing something to help.

  • They're giving people jobs that pay better than their other alternatives, and they're

  • contributing to a process of economic development that has the potential to affect dramatic

  • increases in living standards. Most of us, on the other hand, do nothing to improve the

  • lives of these workers, and that includes American companies that don't outsource

  • their production at all but instead give their jobs to U.S. workers, who by global standards

  • are already some of the world's wealthiest people.

  • So take the perspective of one of the world's poor for a moment and ask yourself which looks

  • better to you: The American company that outsources to a sweatshop or the American company that,

  • because of its high-minded moral principles, doesn't? Maybe the sweatshop is run by people

  • who are greedy and shallow in their motivations and maybe the other company is run by people

  • with the purest of intentions. But good intentions don't get you a job and they don't feed

  • your family. So which looks better now?

The New York Times recently reported on the case of Nokuthula Masango, an employee at

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Top 3 Ways Sweatshops Help The Poor Escape Poverty

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    James posted on 2015/07/14
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