Sweatshops are good employment opportunities for laborers in developing countries because they are paid relatively higher income, they work in a relatively good working environment, and they view the work as a means to alleviate the impact of poverty on their homes and their families. Despite the benefits, advantages, and contributions of sweatshops to people in third world countries, various groups offer a different opinion. Opposing viewpoints include the idea that sweatshops exploit people who are desperate for jobs by hiring them to do work at minimum wage, which is unfair considering the amount of job that laborers have to put in. Moreover, opposing arguments emphasize that the work conditions in sweatshops are poor. The arguments, however, are unfounded. The constant criticisms against sweatshops are exaggerated and the contributions of sweatshops to people in poor countries are ignored. The succeeding discussion will be an attempt to discuss the two opposing views followed by arguments supporting that idea that sweatshops are advantageous considering their benefits and contributions to people in developing countries.
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Sweatshops are clothing factories where laborers work to do manual jobs. Although there are sweatshops in developed nations like countries in North America and Europe, a greater number of factories were built in developing countries, mostly in Asia and South America over the last decade. Companies in the clothing industry saw an opportunity to increase productivity and save on cost by building sweatshops in foreign countries. Through outsourcing, companies invest in foreign countries where they can hire a number of people to do manual labor for minimum wage. Since the advent of sweatshops, more companies followed suit, which significantly changed the dynamic of employment and economics around the globe. As more companies built sweatshops, more people in poor countries obtained jobs. Consequently, the jobs enabled individuals to have a source of income so they can support their families and fund for the education of their children until they earn a degree so they can obtain better jobs in the future. Sweatshops helped solve unemployment rates in poor countries. In addition, sweatshops also helped companies increase their productivity since they would be able to hire more people to reach target production rates and deadlines. While they can employ people at minimum wage, companies also save on production cost (Bhagwati).
We should acknowledge the important contributions of sweatshops because they benefit both laborers and corporations. However, human rights activists protest against large-scale corporations because according to them, businesses reap most of the benefits of sweatshops. Some groups believe that outsourcing significantly benefit corporations while these companies cheat laborers because they do not receive the proper amount of salary that they deserve for the kind of work they do in sweatshops. Activists argue that while large-scale corporations can hire individuals to do manual labor for minimum wage, it does not mean that these companies should. Companies should be responsible enough and make sure that the laborers who for them are compensated accordingly, especially since they earn significant returns for the sales of clothes that they distribute, which were manufactured in sweatshops. Moreover, activists and special interest groups argue that the amount of labor that individuals do in sweatshops gives them the right to be paid higher than minimum wage.
Aside from debates concerning the wages that laborers receive, arguments against corporations that rely on sweatshops also include human rights issues. Various criticisms about sweatshops surfaced because laborers are reported being treated unfairly. For one, the working conditions in sweatshops put laborers at risk. Reports reveal that ventilation in sweatshops is poor and the number of workers makes the situations worse. Moreover, sweatshops are overcrowded so laborers have to endure twelve to fifteen hours of work in cramped and heated spaces for minimum wage. According to Mooney, Knox, and Schacht (212), inspections of sweatshops in China revealed that those factories, which are being run by large American companies like McDonald’s, Kmart, and Mattel, not only violate labor laws but also human rights. Majority of sweatshops inspected are overcrowded with poor ventilation while the laborers are required to work for more than twelve hours a day for thirty-three cents an hour. Thus, the income of a laborer for a day’s work is around four dollars a day. Activists argue that a dress that these laborers make cost even more than their salary for a month. For these reasons, activists are arguing that companies who tolerate injustice and unfairness in sweatshops should be sanctioned and that conditions in sweatshops should be improved in order to provide laborers with better working conditions.
Another human rights violation that activists fault sweatshops and companies in the clothing industry is child labor. Based on previous reports about working conditions in sweatshops, sweatshops not only force their laborers to work for more than twelve hours on minimum wage and poor conditions, but also employ children. While women are commonly employed in sweatshops, reports say that children are also allowed to work in factories. Apparently, poor families who need more money allow their children to work in factories so they can earn more for their family. Activists argue that companies should not let this happen because child labor is illegal. Part of the responsibility of companies is to make sure that no labor and employment laws are violated in sweatshops and to protect the rights not only of laborers but of children as well.
The reports may be true in some cases; however, these are not valid reasons enough for people to neglect the benefits and contributions of sweatshops. Over the years, many companies have made efforts to improve the conditions of sweatshops, and because of this, laborers express satisfaction and gratitude for employment opportunities that they gain because companies decide to establish their business in their countries. Aside from several changes that companies implemented to improve working conditions in sweatshops, not all factories treat their laborers unfairly to begin with. Therefore, the idea of sweatshops should not entirely be dismissed. Considering these points, the objective of this discussion is to point out various reasons why sweatshops contribute significantly to the alleviation of poverty and the economic conditions in foreign countries.
Benefits and Contributions of Sweatshops
Many people in the developing world are thankful for the continuous development and expansion of sweatshops in their countries. The work and hours they need to put in as employees in workshops may be difficult but the majority of laborers are more than happy to do their jobs. Many laborers say that doing difficult work is much better than being unemployed and leaving their families, especially their children, hungry and unable to attend school. Sweatshops may not directly and significantly alleviate poverty but in many ways, it provides opportunities for people to improve their socio-economic conditions (Rosen, 5). According to columnist Paul Krugman, sweatshops have benefitted millions of poor families not only in the U.S. but also in other countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In overpopulated countries where there are millions of people but only thousands of jobs, the high rate of unemployment is expected. However, when companies choose to expand and outsource in their countries, these companies provide people with more jobs. Sweatshops provide them with a job opportunity and it is better than not having a job at all, which means no income for people to support their families (Pollin, 156).
The opportunities that sweatshops offer are the main reason why these workspaces should be acknowledged for their benefits and contributions. Sweatshops offer a choice, which is better than not having a choice at all. In other cases, sweatshops offer a better choice than the other kinds of jobs that people in poor countries are forced to do because of their socio-economic conditions. Out of desperation, for instance, people resort to prostitution, human and organ trafficking, drug dealing, and stealing. McMinn and Neff (109) argue that although people may find that drug dealing and other dubious jobs offer higher salary, their safety and well-being are at higher risk. Men and women can contract sexually transmitted diseases as prostitutes while those who sell their organs are at high risk for contracting different diseases due to complications during surgery. For people who resort to drug dealing, they are faced with the threat of spending the rest of their lives in jail if they are caught. However, sweatshops provide them the opportunity to work safely without worrying about health risks and other dangers when they choose prostitution, drug dealing, or trafficking.
As previously discussed, inspections in some sweatshops revealed that laborers are being forced to work in factories under poor conditions. While workspaces are overcrowded, sweatshops are also poorly ventilated and laborers are fed the lowest quality and cheapest kind of food. However, not all companies treat their laborers that way. Some companies set rules and standards that contractors and managers in sweatshops should follow. According to Boradkar (92), many sweatshops provide clean and well-ventilated spaces for their laborers. Furthermore, laborers are provided with allowances for transportation and food expenses. Some companies also offer good health care packages for their workers. Unlike some sweatshops that violate labor and employment laws, some companies abide by those rules and make sure that laborers are treated fairly. These companies understand the value of their employees and are aware that without laborers, they would lose production as well (Bhagwati; Rothstein, 41-44).
Aside from providing good working conditions, companies also pay their laborers appropriately. Most companies understand that laborers cannot survive under minimum wage. For this reason, companies adjust salary rates based on the needs of employees. The payment schemes implemented in sweatshops vary. While some companies offer minimum wage, other offer fixed higher rates or evaluate the needs of their laborers and base income on the result of evaluation. For instance, managers ask their laborers if they are married and have children. The number of people, especially children, in their families provides the managers reason to increase their salary. This rule is implemented mostly in countries in Latin America and Asia, especially overpopulated countries like Mexico and Indonesia (Moran, 55). Aside from providing higher fees and adjusting salary rates based on the number of people that laborers support, some companies also make negotiations so they can fix the taxes of their employees and provide them the opportunity to earn more benefits. Sweatshops also provide health and insurance benefits for their employees.
Sweatshops also contribute to economic development in the host country. Economists emphasize that sweatshops contribute to improved employment rates, and therefore, economic growth. Essentially, foreign companies that establish sweatshops in foreign countries have to pay for trade taxes. Consequentially, sweatshops also provide thousands of jobs for people in host countries. As a result, more people are employed and thus, more people pay their taxes. The tax payments that the host country obtains from both foreign companies and the local workers boost the local economy. According to Hart (162), “Poor third world countries need such sweatshops as a critical first step in climbing the ladder of economic development.” Economic development then leads to an improvement in lifestyle and quality of life in poor countries. Furthermore, the increase of employment rate due to sweatshops also meant that people could purchase necessities, while in the process, being provided the opportunity to gain work experience, learn new skills through continued work, and contribute to economic growth in their country (Baatsell; Finn, 45).
Overall, the advantages and benefits of sweatshops outweigh the disadvantages and criticisms against it. While reports may be true that some sweatshops treat their laborers poorly and that some factories also violate human rights and labor laws, it should be noted that not all sweatshops tolerate poor employment. Some, if not most, sweatshops also provide good working conditions that benefit and satisfy workers. Therefore, people must not discount or neglect the contributions of sweatshops. First of all, the contributions of sweatshops to employment are undeniable. Millions of people are out of jobs not only in the U.S. but in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latina America as well. Sweatshops help alleviate poverty because they provide opportunities for gainful employment. Moreover, sweatshops provide people with the opportunity to work and help their children go to school and finish college so they can work in better companies in the future. Another important thing to note is that sweatshops provide people with the opportunity to increase their skills in labor and to gain valuable work experience, which they can utilize so they can work in other jobs. Aside from the contributions of sweatshops to both laborers and companies alike, these work opportunities also contribute to economic development in host countries.
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