Sweatshops benefit poor, provide employment; American humanitarianism does more harm than good


Sweatshops located in developing countries vastly benefit their employees and stimulate the host nation’s economic growth. The popular trend to join the anti-sweatshop craze that has infested the U.S. is a ridiculous, backward attempt to benefit the poor in ways that will actually hurt their physical and mental well-being.

The dreary arguments that fuel this statement are usually concerns for low-paying jobs with poor working conditions for workers abroad. The only problem with this logic is that it is only true if compared to American standards.

A June 1997 article from the New York Times by Allen Myerson, says that, according to economists Jeffrey D. Sachs of Harvard and Paul Krugman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “low-wage plants making clothing and shoes for foreign markets are an essential first step toward modern prosperity in developing countries.”

Current nations that are attractive locations for sweatshops to open up are those that are, or have been, afflicted with a case of crappy government. They need jobs in order to eventually overcome their developmental deadlock.

For example, according to the CIA World Factbook, the projected unemployment rates for Nicaragua, Haiti, Bangladesh, Honduras and the Commonwealth of Dominica were 7.4 percent, 40.6 percent, 5 percent, 4.5 percent and 23 percent, respectively. These gaping holes in the population’s workforce mean that factories will employ hundreds of workers in a safer-than-the-alternative setting. This eliminates the public perception that people are coerced to work there against their will, even if the benefits they provide are not as good as they could or should be.

You can complain all you want, but the fact remains that these firms improve the quality of life for their employees just as much as they unabashedly reap the benefits of the dirt-cheap labor. In developing countries where the police are just as dangerous as the criminals they pursue and cocaine is an acceptable form of bribe payment to politicians, job alternatives to the helplessly poor are narrow.

According to a Jan. 13, 2012, article in the Dartmouth by Jayant Subrahmanyam, Suffolk University economics professor Benjamin Powell agrees that even if a salary from working 12-hour shifts in the hot sun is higher than doing menial labor indoors, workers usually prefer the “sweatshop” option where lunch breaks, bathrooms and safer work environments are available.

“It is important to keep in mind that a lot of the alternatives they face are worse than sweatshops, and there is even a status difference of moving inside compared to working outside in the sun,” Powell said. “These aren’t the jobs that are jeopardizing the country, these are the good jobs.”

Felipe Romero, a sweatshop employee, agrees. Romero is an employee of Rio Garment S. de R.L., a full-service apparel manufacturer that qualifies as a “sweatshop,” located in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Romero said that securing a job with this company, which produces brands including Aeropostale and Phillips-Van Heusen and supplies retailers such as Macy’s, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and Target, altered his lifestyle for good

“It’s almost insane on how this [job] changed the way I live,” Romero said. “Granted, there are an innumerable amount of things I would like to see changed, but the moment those [Americans] shut us down, I may have to resort to things I’ve done in the past that I’m not proud of.”

The mentality that reprimands these industries is the product of a skewed and ignorant observation that fails to acknowledge that life in other countries is not as sweet and fair as it is in the U.S. The misguided feeling of humanitarian responsibility that has afflicted Americans in recent years shows that their intentions are as painfully moronic as they are well-intended.

When protests and public pressure from politicians and blinded individuals push retailers and manufacturers against the wall, those corporations are forced to take action. The sad part is that they are not going to increase wages and pretty up their premises — they will simply pack their stuff and move, leaving thousands unemployed.

With their first and best option gone, these unemployed workers turn to less desirable jobs like subsistence farming, stone-working, janitorial work and prostitution. According to UNICEF’s report “The State of the World’s Children 1997” by Carol Bellamy, the executive director of UNICEF at the time of publication, sometimes these newly turned prostitutes are children who see no other choice but to sacrifice their innocence to make a living.

So the next time you feel that blind impulse of consumer responsibility to stand up for those who cannot, think of all of the children whose lives you’d be permanently scarring.

David Mejia-Zaccaro is a sophomore in marketing. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com