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Do Sweatshop Protesters Help or Hurt?

A true sweatshop is a bad thing and immoral. There’s more to being one than just long hours, hard work, and low pay. Those things are sometimes necessary to make a living, or as much of a living as possible. These protesters are against Nike for running sweatshops. Though they likely  mean well, their actions can have negative consequences for the very people they are trying to help.

I just want to work

This is a repeat of Nike in the 90’s when they were accused of the same thing. In Hondorus Nike ended their contract there. I can’t help but think that the person they interview for this article, one of the protesters, doesn’t quite get the impact of what that means.

“We heard about how this had devastated the local economy there and how those workers were fighting for production–and their livelihoods–to come back,” Simonds-Malamud says. “Hearing about that firsthand had a big impact on me.”

What was that impact? “I’m down to support any campaign that will improve people’s lives and show solidarity with people who are being exploited.” I kind of which he’s instead seen how important that job was to the people. This idea of “crap work” or the work “white people won’t do” has got to go away. Protesters like these perpetuate that concept by saying certain kinds of work are bad. Again, I’m not for sweatshops, but I have a feeling that word can be defined differently. The story mentions locking exits and people passing out due to no breaks. Clearly, that’s not okay and that’s also not beneficial to the business. I doubt seriously that Nike had anything at all to do with that management style but rather someone who took their little bit of authority or desire for cash and let it go to their head.

I once had a job that paid just $2.51 an hour. I worked hard at it too. I got tired. I smelled bad by the end of shift. It taught me a lot. The low pay motivated me to move on, then on, then on. Each new job teaching me something and offering me a higher wage for the things I had learned at the other jobs until I was marketable. I think we’ve lost that kind of ethic in America. Partly due to the way people have come to think about low wages and hard work.

Like the speaker in the video above, I’m not arguing that sweatshops are good or that they don’t take advantage of their workers. They most certainly do take advantage of them. Taking advantage of things is something humans do the best. Taking advantage of opportunities and exploiting resources is to humans as eating termites is to an anteater. It’s just what we do. We have to really fight our natural instincts. That we can do this is why humans have morality and animals don’t.

I like what he says in the video. He says to put yourself in the position of a foreign worker. Which American company would you feel better about, the one that outsources to your country at low wages, or the one that, because of high minded principles stays in America? He posits that the worker in a foreign country is made better off by at least some wages than by none. That, to me, is very hard to argue against.

“Correct morality can only be derived from what man is, not from what do-gooders and well-meaning aunt Nellies would like him to be.” – Robert A. Heinlein

Most certainly there are companies that cannot pay higher labor costs, though many could. They don’t want to because their in the business to make money. That’s not terribly high minded, but, neither is it immoral. Making money to benefit oneself is how humans survive in our modern world. Certainly we have our moral limits, and that’s a good thing, I think we should stick to them. Slavery, indentured servitude, cruel or dangerous labor practices, these are things I think we all agree should not exist. However, there is an argument to made for low wages. It is better to have some wages than none, it is better for a company to remain open than shut down because it can’t pay labor costs.

In the video below the speaker offers some examples of just what does and might happen to a country from which America would accept no products made in sweatshops. Keep in mind again that not everyone agrees just what constitutes a sweatshop. We use that term but many of the workers would not. Part of the reason for the disparity in meaning is addressed in the below video. It’s because the standard, the yardstick by which we are measuring is a western one. Low wages by American standards, poor working conditions by American standards, long hours by American standards and so on. We are the wealthiest nation that has ever existed on the earth and therefore, our standards are very high. For those who eat lobster, crawdads don’t appeal. But for those living on the creek in poverty, the mudbugs are quite a treat.

Before we proudly take away someone’s livelihood because their working conditions don’t meet our standards we should pause to think what we might be taking away from them. There are ways to help people in need that can still protect the business and the worker at the same time. We see so often though that the result of western protesting is, especially when the business is a western business, closure or loss of contractual arrangements that help those in poor counties.

Because someone is in a third world country and because they are poor, does that mean they are not able to decide the course of their own life? To take what they can get and not have someone from a wealthy country take it away from in the name of protecting them? I suppose I understand the desire to see other people have more, do better, and of course, not starve, but I don’t understand how people think that means they get to control those people’s lives or mess them up inconsequentially.

I suggest that low wages and long hours aren’t always abusive. Sometimes, they are all a business can give and all a worker can receive. I understand how one can look at people in these conditions and feel terrible for them. But I urge everyone to understand that turning to socialistic practices as an attempt to do away with them just makes things worse. Everyone except those in charge are worse off in such systems. That’s how it’s always been with socialism and that’s how it will always remain because that’s built into any system that seeks to control a system as complex as an economy. It simply can’t be done and every attempt fails, always. Do gooders seldom do any actual good. Rather the law of unintended consequences interjects.

sewing sweatshop

College students protesting outside Nike stores around the country. Workers recently laid off at a factory in Honduras holding a rally to condemn the sportswear giant’s treatment of employees. Activists in a group called United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) organizing a “Global Call to Action Against Nike” to draw attention to allegations of mass fainting, wage theft, and padlocked exits at factories.

Source: Escalating Sweatshop Protests Keep Nike Sweating

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