Sweatshops and even Sweatier People
by hotcoco on February 11, 2017 - 6:29pm
Products including coffee, clothing, toys and shoes are typically considered normal goods in our western consumerist society however in developing countries, these products are often the reason children and adults are put to work in sweatshops. The workers are subject to unfair working conditions that are harmful to their health and well being. The work conditions are but not limited to unfair salaries, long hours, and unsanitary environments. Major companies such as La Senza, Nike and Wal Mart still use sweatshops despite the negative consequences of it. Often, people argue that sweatshops give people in developing countries work opportunities and that the reason products in the western world are affordable is because of the cheap labour in developing countries. According the utilitarian ethical framework which is the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, sweatshops are justified because they bring affordable products to the larger consumer population.
The making of a sweatshop typically stems from a large corporate firm looking to save money on operational costs by outsourcing the fabrication of their products. North american countries typically have labour laws and higher minimum wages causing these firms to turn to developing countries for cheap labour and consequently creating harmful work conditions. Deontology argues that good and bad is based on the action and not the outcome since one cannot be knowing of the outcome. Kant argues that humans know right from wrong simply by virtue of being human. However, large firms knowingly use sweatshops even though they have knowledge of the horrible working conditions for so many people. Therefore, firms are not respecting the moral maxims imposed on society. For example, a moral maxim is to not kill each other but a sweatshop fire in Bangladesh killed 112 people. Although large firms do not directly kill workers, they do so indirectly by creating sweatshops with poor working conditions and putting workers inside of them.
Utilitarianism is the ethical framework that applies best to this situation. Utilitarianism functions on the idea of the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people. Following that principle, sweatshops can be justified because they deliver the greatest happiness to the greatest amount of people. Sweatshops deliver the ultimate summum bonum which is delivering goods to consumers. Since sweatshops deliver goods to the larger population of consumers, they are justified and considered moral. Merrill discusses a crucial aspect of utilitarianism when she mentions how easily the harmful effects on the minority can be forgotten (Meril 32). In this case, those harmful effects are the working conditions sweatshop workers must endure. Some solutions to this are buying products from fair trade organizations, joining protests to implement laws in developing countries, and boycotting major companies who are guilty of severe sweatshops. By simply raising the prices of products by 1.8%, workers can be paid better and live healthier and happier lives while continuing to produce goods for the western world. By raising the prices of products by such a small increment, society can promote the development in countries and give its people fair work opportunities.
John C. Merril, “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethic,” 3-32 in A. David Gordon, John M Kittross, John C Merrill, William Babcock, and Michael Dorsher (eds.) Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd edition (New York: Rutledge,2011).
Gaille, Brandon. “36 Shocking Sweatshop Statistics”. Brandon Gaille, Marketing Expert and Blogmaster. http://brandongaille.com/36-shocking-sweatshop-statistics/. Assessed February 11 2017.
Neuman, Scott. “Bangladesh Factory Owners Surrender In 2012 Fire That Killed 112”. NPR News. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/02/09/274095885/bangladesh-f.... Assessed February 11 2017.