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Sweatshops are a good thing

In reading Jeffrey Sachs book, The End of Poverty, he points to how sweatshops can be a good thing in developing countries. He says that the majority of workers are…

  • Rural women
  • Illiterate
  • Now living in the cities
  • Given an opportunity to marry who they want to (if they had stayed behind, they would have been forced to marry in an pre-arranged marriage by their father)
  • Able to have children later in life
  • Able to manage their own income and save money (which they do)

He feels that these sweatshops are an important first step in economic development. What starts as factories that just cut and stitch later become places where designs are created and new and better jobs are slowly created. Yes the working conditions are bad (12+ hour days) but the jobs allow the women to escape extreme poverty, no rights as a baby factory, and in the case of crop failures, often death.

He feels that we need to be pushing for reform (more breaks and safer factories) rather than pushing them to be shut down. He feels that that first step is allowing those women’s children to take the next step towards prosperity and helping the nation as well. In calling for the elimination of such garment factories, we are condemning many of these women back to the rural countryside to a far riskier and lower standard of living than they make in the city.

He argues that many nations started this way (Canada and the U.S. included) and this is an important first rung of the ladder towards economic development.

At first when I read it, the idea of sweatshops are a good thing was repulsive but as he points out, it is far better alternative that what waits for them in an impoverished rural countryside. For many, it also gives them a chance of saving money which later gives a chance to leave the sweatshops and start their own companies which also happens all over Asia.

I think we need to define what a sweatshop is to. Some as Naomi Klein describe are horrible death traps with inadequate safety measures where people can and do die if things go wrong. I think that all of us would agree that companies that use those places are totally wrong. What Sachs is describing are garment factories that do use cheap labour and pay them little compared to what an American worker makes and they work long hours. That is what Sachs is referring to.

Comments? Death threats?

Tags :: Make Poverty History :: Jeffrey Sachs :: Sweatshops :: Asia :: Africa

5 Comments

  1. Mike Todd says:

    This one is a huge issue… I remember talking about it at World Vision. Some of the most well-intentioned people have deprived families of their only income. No easy answers.

  2. Linea says:

    Sounds like this would be a good thought provoking book. Does he say anything about labor on plantations, etc?

  3. Chester says:

    I agree…something is better than nothing.

  4. dave says:

    Good stuff here…I think that the anti-sweatshop groups and Sachs are in reality arguing the same thing. Sachs says that the sweatshops need reform, which is true. But in reality, if the sweatships get reform, they are no longer sweatshops. They then turn into low-waged factories that treat their employees well.

  5. Rick says:

    To say that sweatshops are a good thing because some are better than a horrible alternative is like saying that blowing up a London bus is better than the alterntive of flying a plane into a skyscraper.

    One bad idea is superior to another bad idea. But, they are both bad ideas.

    Yes, a sweatshop is not as bad as some things. But, the companies can have a factory in this country paying a fair living wage with good conditions and still make a profit.

    So, rough work in a factory that doe not pay large sums, but is fair could be good start. But, sweatshop is never a good idea. To say something different is disingenuous.