Sweatshop is defined as a factory or workshop, especially in the clothing industry, where manual workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under poor conditions. Sweatshops also referred to as the “sweat factory”, creates a hazardous and unhealthy working environment for employees such as the exposure to harmful materials, dangerous situations, extreme temperatures and abuse from employers. Sweatshop workers work for long hours, sometimes without taking any breaks, and these workers are not paid for any overtime hours or the minimum wage, although it is mandatory by law. These conditions are considered risky for any person, but the worst part is that in many countries, children are being forced to work in these sweatshops. The term sweatshop is mostly associated with underprivileged developing countries especially in Asia, but sweatshops did exist at some point in United States and Europe. For Americans, sweatshops are history, but in a South Asian country, Bangladesh, people are still working in these horrible conditions, especially children. Child Labor has always been a part of developing countries and a current article about child labor in Bangladesh shows that it is never going to end.
Recently, British Broadcast Corporation, also known as BBC, sent one of their newsperson, Alastair Lawson, to a safety pin factory in Bangladesh where many under aged children are employed. Lawson interviewed a ten-year-old girl named Asma, who works in that factory along with ten other children who are about her age. Asma’s job consists of “sitting on a bench alongside her co-workers, Asma operates a powerful cutting device in the poorly-lit premises for up to 12 hours a day.” The machine that Asma operates cuts the metal for the pins very thinly and if Asma makes any mistakes then she could lose her fingers on that cumbersome, heavy and dangerous machinery. When Lawson further interviews Asma, she tells him that the workers in the factory are not given any lunch breaks and there is no first aid in a case of an emergency. Asma, like other 13 million children in Bangladesh who work full time to support their families are forced to work because of the unfortunate circumstances of which their families are in. Asma tells Lawson that she does not know who she is employed by and all she knows is that she earns about two dollars a day for working twelve hours.
Lawson, disturbed by the environment of the sweatshops and the unsafe condition for not just children but any human, writes, “I don’t think she [Asma] understands the safety part of her work – neither she nor her workmates wear any safety gear and she seems totally unaware of the hazards.” Many of the sweatshop workers work full time to support their families and provide food for them, which causes them to work in poor surroundings in which their lives are at jeopardy. Many of these workers are victims of what, according to James Rachels, the author of The Elements of Moral Philosophy, describes as “the minimum conception of morality”, this concept states that “morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason—that is, to do what there are the best reasons for doing—while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual affected by one’s decision” (Pg. 13). The reason why these workers might be in this state because they think of what the effect of their unemployment would be on their families who are depending on them for food and shelter, these workers think first about their home and then about themselves and what dangers they are facing when they go out to work in those hell holes called sweatshops.
Although working in sweatshops and facing the conditions that are provided for workers there is morally wrong, but it is would not be considered ethically incorrect, because these workers are mostly uneducated and for that reason they can not find jobs in offices or other places where education is required. Another reason for why sweatshop should not be considered ethically wrong because these workers have a choice whether they should work there or not. If a worker does feel that the conditions in the sweatshop is too inconsiderate for them, then they can quit at any time that want, because they are not signing any legal documents that forces them to work there for a certain period of time. Also, many people in developing countries prefer to work in sweatshops because in such countries, there are many products produced from farming therefore, these workers could either become farmers or they could work in factories and build products such as cell phone component, clothing, furniture, shoes or toys. Sweatshops are especially beneficial for people who are handicapped and uneducated because if a person were both handicapped and uneducated then they would not be able to work on a farm. Therefore it is easier for them to just sit on a bench and manufacture products
. Although the conditions in sweatshops are unsafe and unhygienic, but it would help handicapped people feel like they are helping their families instead of being a burden on them. Sweatshops are not just beneficial to handicapped and uneducated people, but it is also advantageous for the unfortunate developing countries. As the number of sweatshops increase the country can become more industrialized and there would be less farming and more technological advances. Many economists who are pro-sweatshops believe that if a country is more industrialized then the conditions of the sweatshops will improve and the wages will increase therefore the workers should assist their countries to become more developed. These economists also believe that when the conditions of sweatshops are described they are often compared to the factories in developed counties, which should not be the case because the developed countries have better laws and these laws are better enforced on business.
Other than laws, it is also believed by many economists that sweatshops are better for the society in a developing country because people would work for money rather than stealing, which would create chaos and more problems for a country. Another reason is that women would get an equal opportunity to work and instead of going into stone crushing or prostitution, these women are working hard with their dignity. If there were no sweatshops in developing countries then people would not have any job opportunities and they would eventually starve themselves and then die. The cons of sweatshops can be that sweatshops and child labor, deprives children of their moral rights, Rachels talks about what morality really is and how it is related to our lives. Rachels devotes the entire first chapter of his book to What Is Morality? Rachels refers to Socrates, a classical Greek philosopher, who defines morality or moral philosophy, as “how we ought to live.”
Considering Socrates definition of morality, it is seen that child labor in sweatshops deprives these children of how they want to live. These children are thrown into this dangerous and unhealthy work force as soon as they are able to understand the meaning of work. The meaning of morality shows that child labor and conditions in sweatshops are immoral because according to Rachels “the nature of morality has two main points…moral judgments must be backed by good reasons; and second, morality requires the impartial consideration of each individual’s interests.” Child labor and the conditions of sweatshops are not backed by any good reason; the only acceptable reasoning can be the poor condition the family of the worker is in. Also, the rising of unemployment rates in these disadvantaged countries are causing these workers be scared to lose their jobs (Rachels, Pg.10).
Sweatshops not only deprive people of their rights to overtime payment or minimum wage, but they are not given any lunch breaks or in many cases bathroom breaks. Along with the horrible psychological conditions, these workers are also facing physical risks because of the harmful materials that they use during production of products that are made for rich or more developed countries. The argument that sweatshop workers should support their country into becoming an industrial is not really fair to the workers because the supervisor of the sweatshop earns the profit, but they refuse to share that with the workers.
Critics of sweatshops say that the supervisors deliberately lower wages and make the hours longer because that would give them a greater profit margin, which is not beneficial for the workers at all, for long or short term. If the managers of the sweatshops keep this routine then the country would not get anywhere and there will be no industrialization. Some economists who are also the critics of sweatshop believe that better paying jobs, more investments and national possession of resources will improve the economics of a developing country rather than having sweatshops.
All though there are economists who are pro-sweatshops, it is determined from the environment and the situations described by Lawson in a factory in Bangladesh, show that sweatshops are immoral because they deprive the human being of their rights such as children are robbed of their right to go to school and earn an education also their childhood is robbed of all the happiness of playing outside with their friends, but these children are forced to sit in a room for long hours and manufacture products by using machinery that is hazardous. Other than children, women also face immoral circumstances where some pregnant women are forced to have an abortion so they can continue working, which is the most corrupt thing that could happen to a woman. Many feminist organizations have campaigned against sweatshops because almost 90% of the laborers in sweatshops are women and children.
Overall, the conditions of sweatshops and the treatment of workers demonstrates that the concept of sweatshops should not be used by any developing country to help them industrialize, because it is important for a country to be compassionate towards their people rather then becoming a well developed country which has been built on the poor workers sweat. People in industrialized countries like the United States believe that sweatshops are history but for poor developing countries, there are still sweatshops that have horrific working conditions in which mostly children and women work long hours to support their families. Some countries that have sweatshops are, China, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Vietnam and Honduras.
These countries should begin to invest more in better factories with machinery that is safe for human use and strict laws should be passed out that prevent children under the age of sixteen to work in these factories. Along with better factory conditions, overtime pay, lunch breaks and vacation and sick leaves should be provided to the workers. There should be better laws that enforce minimum payment and employs laborers with equal employment opportunity. These improvements would have a better affect on the economy of these countries, because people would most likely be satisfied with their jobs and they would be more willing to help their country become industrialized. Sweatshops are not the last hope for a developing country to become industrialized and anything that begins with immorality does not stand for long, but something that has been made with enthusiasm lasts longer and is much healthier.
Courtney from Study Moose
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