Obstacles

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The anti-sweatshop movement must face and overcome many challenges if it is to be successful. Though it is tempting to frame the issue as a battle between “good” and “evil,” in reality it is more complex than that. Entrepreneurial greed does play a role, but it is not the only cause of sweatshops. [i] For example, it seems obvious that one of the goals of the movement should be for every worker to receive a living wage, however if a living wage were suddenly to be required in an area the result would likely be that the factories in that area would simply shut down and move elsewhere in the “race to the bottom .”[ii][iii] Not only would this not benefit the workers but it would actually harm them because they would suddenly be out of work. This Catch-22 is known as the “Perversity Thesis.”[iv] Because of this, it is absolutely necessary that the movement include not only western activists but also the workers themselves because it is their lives which will be affected by actions taken in the name of the movement.[v] [vi]

Another factor that adds to the complexity of the situation is that not everyone involved in the movement has the same motivations or ultimate goals. It has been suggested that workers from developed countries who support the movement do so for their own good rather than in the interest of third world workers. The reasoning is that if wages rise in the third world there will be less incentive for corporations to go abroad and more jobs will stay in, or return to, America and other developed countries.[vii] It would be unfair to arbitrarily assign this motive to all workers in developed nations; however it reminds us of how careful we must be to think through to the long term consequences of any actions which are undertaken in the name of global workers to make sure that they will truly be benefiting third world workers rather than ourselves.

Similarly, the movement has to overcome the reality that the interests of the consumers and the workers are often in opposition. It is easy for people to pay lip service to the movement but when it comes to actually paying more for products people become less willing to make sacrifices. [viii] Everyone can agree that workers should be treated more fairly, but few people are willing to back that principle up with action.

The United States has a reputation for egocentric activism[ix] and international interference that makes it challenging to develop relationships and earn trust in many areas of the world. [x]  This reputation should serve as a warning to activists in the US to be careful to always act culturally sensitive and aware. It is necessary that we include groups and people in developing worlds so that we can fight this fight with them rather than for them[xi]. It is also imperative that we not impose our own beliefs on others by creating global labor standards without the consultation of people from other cultures. Allowing consumers to have all the power to set the global agenda is a form of cultural imperialism and does nothing to empower the workers themselves. [xii]

In the end, the only permanent way to get rid of sweatshop labor is economic development in the poorest areas of the world. If economies improve, wages and working conditions will be forced to improve in order to compete against better alternatives. This has to happen globally, not just in certain areas, else wise companies will simply move to less developed areas.[xiii]

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] {Mandle, 2000}

[ii] {Rivoli, 2003}

[iii] {Cravey, 2004 }

[iv] {Rivoli, 2003}

[v] {Cravey, 2004 }

[vi] {Rivoli, 2003}

[vii] {Mandle, 2000}

[viii] {Mandle, 2000}

             i.     Minimum wage vs. Living wage--- also, it’s more complex than just looking at whether they pay a decent wage, do they give unexplained or arbitrary fines/ deductions? Do they implement a “training wage”? delays in compensation? [i]

           ii.     Sometimes people want to declare victory on specific campaigns while others feel like more still needs to be done in those areas[ii]

    1. International assistance requires ongoing support—leadership training, tactical support, etc. battle isn’t won once a union contract is signed[iii]
    2. Workers have so very little power:

             i.     “Little choice in deciding what to do and how to utilize their productive capacities” [iv]

           ii.     “have no say in who benefits from the use of the athletic shoes that they produce and in what manner” [v]

         iii.     “have found themselves decided, especially when they found that Reebok and Phoenix were shifting the subcontract order fulfillment to factories where there were no effective trade unions” [vi]

          iv.     “losing a sense of their potential as a collective of human beings” after being punished for organizing as a union by factory closing, loosing jobs [vii]

 

Monitoring and enforcement: who monitors factories—is it internal or external using independent non profit NGOs or professional (for profit) monitoring services of consulting and audit firms (ex: PriceWaterhouse Coopers)? What are the process/mechanisms of monitoring? Are visits unannounced? Is sampling enough, or should every facility be monitored? How is that sample selected, how large is it? Who bears financial responsibility for monitoring costs—should it be corporations’ responsibility? Maybe, but then is there a conflict of interest since they are employing the monitors? [viii]

Point for consideration: greater disclosure could lead to less in-depth monitoring—afraid of what they might find?[ix]



[i] {Rivoli, 2003}

[ii] {Bullert, 2000}

[iii] {Cravey, 2004 }

[iv] {D'Mello, 2003}

[v] {D'Mello, 2003}

[vi] {D'Mello, 2003}

[vii] {D'Mello, 2003}

[viii] {Rivoli, 2003}

[ix] {Rivoli, 2003}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             i.     Women make more the younger they are b/c they are less likely to be “preoccupied” with children (or elderly) [ix]

1.     Union women in US earn 40% more than non unionized women

    1. Principle employer countries for women: China, Indonesia, Mexico, Italy< Portugal, US, Korea [ix]

 

             i.     Began with the slave labor system—raping (or threatening to rape) slave women made them the productive and reproductive property of the male master, denied the strength and legitimacy of the slave family, represented them as immoral, a justification for treating them badly and demanded more sexual behavior[ix]

           ii.     student Strategies

1.     Topic introduced in campus newspaper as part of article on corporate greed and irresponsibility

2.     Topic then made local by connecting to university (localization)

 

    1. Requires an alliance between producers and consumers[ix]

             i.     Corporations are marketing organizations- NOT production organizations, for that they depend on local subcontractors[ix]

 

[ix] {Russel, 2004}

[x] {Cravey, 2004 }

[xi] {Russel, 2004}

[xii] {Russel, 2004}

[xiii] {Mandle, 2000}