Random fashion thoughts - Page 4869
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I recently looked up a few of Nicholas Kristof's sweatshop pieces again and thought I would post a couple here in case people haven't seen them. Kristof regularly praises sweatshops and thinks they should be promoted rather than maligned. Have a look here and here, for instance.The TL;DNR version is this: sweatshops are good for people in developing countries because the work is much better (steadier, safer) than doing things like sifting through garbage dumps.
The argument always struck me as simplistic. Maybe working in a sweatshop is better than collecting trash to recycle, but factory workers in the developing world are often mistreated in other ways and the work still isn't good in and of itself (there are plenty of takedowns of Kristof's argument, like this one).
I started thinking about this because I'm reading Half the Sky, by Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, his wife. It talks a lot about the sex trade in places like India, and while many girls are kidnapped and trafficked into the sex trade, many others choose to become sex workers because they're just plain desperate. It's that or starve. And when you read about the psychological and physical abuse these women endure, you start to wonder if a sweatshop might not be better. Yes, plenty of sweatshops do awful things to their "employees" (that word is a euphemism here), like beat them and force abortions on pregnant workers. But plenty also just pay badly and make their employees work long hours. In a case like that, it's hard not to think it would be better for a woman to work there than deal with bad pay/long hours but doing so as a sex worker subject to regular violence and disease. Lesser of two evils, but it's still hard to justify.
Of course this would all be moot if sweatshops paid fair wages and offered healthcare and generally treated their workers like humans, but that's obviously not happening anytime soon. I don't know. In the meantime is it still better for a person to work for 15-hour days for $1.50 in a stifling but shaded room rather than sell their bodies or have to climb through rotting garbage in full sun all day? Sucks.
edit: I assume it's obvious why this is relevant to the forum. I imagine 99% of the people looking at this own/are wearing an article of clothing that was made in the developing world, and that implies a strong likelihood that it was made at a sweatshop. So when you see that "Made in India" tag or "Made in Thailand" tag, is it more ethical to buy or not?
Having been to a few manufacturing facilities myself, I would say the mental aspect of the work is much more crippling than the physical. You essentially perform the same mind numbing task repeatedly every day for long hours. An example would be sitting on a chair and applying a barcode onto a box for 10 hours a day. Like LAGuy mention, the structure of processing is piecework and you're just a small cog within the machine. Witnessing this really makes you appreciate how lucky you are and what life you're born into.
Incidentally, you don't have to leave the US to see crappy factories. It's easy to find them in LA.
And it's not just cheap goods either. A lot of high end clothing is made using piecework. Do you know how long it takes to make a handknit sweater? Or shape an finish a hat? And how much do you think knitters and hatters are making per piece? And btw, those workers get no healthcare either. And if they make enough mistakes, or don't work fast enough, they are making minimum wage or less, sometimes.
Same in NYC. Though I think the "crappiness" is on a whole different level in a sweatshop in a developing country compared to a factory in the US. But then that's assuming the US factory we're comparing to is legit, not some underground joint set up in Chinatown where it's basically slave labor, which of course also happens.