Does the anti-sweatshop movement help or harm workers in low-wage economies?

The movement against sweatshops has drawn attention and dividing opinions about how the major companies involved in the case have been dealing with, since their exposition in the media by some movement groups due to several disasters involving workers in developing countries.

The argument is that multinational companies from developed countries use sweatshops as a way to reduce manufacturing costs and increase their profit margins by outsourcing services and denying them from any responsibility about the workers conditions. It is possible due to a lack of legislation and the low cost of life in these countries, as seen in Bangladesh and India, where the cost is far less than in the developed countries, which has stricter legislation and better infrastructure.

As a result, many anti-sweatshop movement, as NoSweat (Uk organization), emerged claiming for better condition by forcing manufactures to raise their wages and improving security standards, despite keeping their profits without any return to the workers. However, campaigners don’t seem to have enough knowledge about the reality factory workers live. The effect of raising wages and safety standards is contradictory for businesses, since the only reason they use sweatshops is the low cost of production. Consequently, the production could be moved to another cheap country, taking away workers their most rational choice. Coming back to subsistence agriculture would be the same as accepting extreme poverty.

On the other hand, pro-sweatshops, argues that there is suitable reason for this to happen. As Matt Zwolinki (2007, p689-727) state: “For the most part, individuals who work in sweatshops choose to do so”. But more than this, Government and garment business in the production countries take part in this. Corruption and funds for political campaigns prevent legislation to improve workers conditions and regulate the factories at all. The companies from developed countries are not being ethical, because they have power to press both govern and business for improvements, but they don’t.

As a way to prevent this, the movement must be counterproductive, appointing solutions that are beneficial to both sides, workers and manufacturers. Contacting human rights entities as UN, would be a first step, by creating an intergovernmental working group, as the “26th regular session of the Human Rights Council”, occurred by 10 – 27 June 2014, which approved a resolution to regulate the activities of transnational corporations.


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