Overseas Sweatshops Are a U.S. Responsibility

American businesses should be more careful about making sure sweatshops and child labor aren’t used to fill manufacturing contracts. Pro or con?

Pro: Good, and Good Business

To begin, a fundamental fact: Most of what we buy from developing countries is grown or manufactured by workers whose rights are ignored in important ways. Cell-phone components from China, fruit grown in Mexico, and the Indian cotton in your shirt are commonly processed by workers who were not paid minimum wage, who were exposed to hazardous chemicals or dangerous machinery, who were forced to work overtime, or who were prevented from organizing to negotiate changes in such conditions.

From an ethical perspective, the answer seems obvious. But from a business standpoint, we still need to ask: Why should U.S. companies care?

First, avoiding sweatshops is good business. Not only do poorly treated workers typically make poor-quality goods, but U.S. companies that aren’t careful about sweatshops could face the costly job of reputation repair if a watchdog group links their brands to workplace abuses. Furthermore, desirable employees want to work for companies whose values they share, just as consumers want to buy from companies that put values into practice.

Second, respect for human rights leads to social and economic development. Some business advocates say that labor standards raise costs and thus limit the number of jobs that would otherwise be available to poor people. But fair work is a critical underpinning of social stability. Businesses that respect labor rights put more money in the hands of workers, helping them to educate their children, live healthier lives, and eventually, inevitably, buy American brands. Americans in general benefit when U.S. businesses act to enhance the rule of law in China, to be a model for anti-discrimination in the Middle East, to find education for child workers in India—all of which result from efforts to prevent sweatshops.

So the question becomes not if U.S. businesses should clean up their supply chains, but how. From 11 years of social monitoring, our organization knows where and when problems exist—and the companies do, too. The task at hand is investing in solutions, which are complicated but urgent and ultimately good business for everybody. To get there, companies have to measure themselves—and consumers, investors, and advocates have to measure companies—on how they meet this challenge.

Con: Already Doing Their Best

By BW.com Staff

The overwhelming majority of Americans are horrified by reports of inhumane conditions in overseas factories. The U.S. itself has a proud tradition of unions and oversight boards that work to prevent such abuses as child labor, denial of overtime pay, exposure to toxic substances, and stiflingly hot working environments. Every day, immigrants cross the border for an opportunity to work hard in return for fairer, better-paying employment than they can find in their homelands.

Nonetheless, even in the U.S., many violations slip past authorities. Remember the controversy about some Wal-Mart (WMT) stores locking in employees—a fire hazard—to make sure they didn’t steal? It’s no secret that illegal aliens, under the threat of deportation or violence, have been forced to toil at agricultural or sweatshop jobs. Just this May, it came to light that a number of families living in the U.S. were forcing immigrants into slavery, making them perform household chores for up to 16 hours a day without pay.

That’s right, slavery on American soil, 144 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. With so many unscrupulous (and some downright evil) employers able to perpetrate injustices in the U.S., how can anyone expect American private enterprise to prevent them in foreign lands thousands of miles away? The Internet, video conferencing, and ease of trade rules notwithstanding, no one’s eyes can see that far.

And the fact is, U.S. corporations are already making a noble effort, with minimum-wage and overtime agreements with overseas companies to which they outsource business. Nike (NKE), for example, recently made headlines with its pledge to crack down on abusive levels of OT at the 700 factories the shoemaker contracts with worldwide. And many other U.S. corporations set guidelines for humane working conditions, and conduct factory inspections.

But the manufacturers, particularly those in China, know how to skirt regulations, whether by keeping multiple sets of books, hiding cramped worked quarters, or contracting consultants to help them pass surprise inspections (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/27/06, "Secrets, Lies, and Sweatshops"). Clearly, the local governments tasked with enforcing labor regulations have fallen down on the job; otherwise, abuses wouldn’t happen.

Overseas factory workers deserve fair treatment 100% of the time. But the revolution must come from within. Corporate America simply cannot take responsibility for injustice taking place in other lands across the seven seas.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Trina Tocco

I have just returned from a trip to Bangladesh and would like to respectfully disagree with the BW.com staff perspective. I met with a few factory managers who all agreed it was the companies that have pressured them to change, and it will continue to be the large buyers like Wal-Mart that must enforce standards that Americans expect their products to be made under. It is the American companies that order the products and put so much time and energy into quality control. It is the American companies that approve the samples the factories produce. It is the American companies that monitor the factories. It is the American companies that determine the price they pay the factory in return for the products. It seems to me that the American companies have clearly made a commitment to their suppliers, and it is imperative that they continue to push for the enforcement of their standards regardless of whether the local governments can adequately enforce their laws. Ultimately, U.S. companies must be held to the same standards no matter where they do business, because that is what customers expect. It is the American companies (and U.S. consumers) that have created the incentives for sweatshops to exist, because of our desire for cheap products available whenever we want them. American companies can do more and should. After all, it seems that even factory managers would agree it is the American companies that have the power to make significant changes throughout their supply chains.

William Jorgensen

Neither position is of any consequence now. It would have been good business to have always insisted on a minimum standard from the manufacturing base, but it is too late for exported business to change direction. Inflated bubbles across all sectors are about to implode, leaving a crippled global economy that will care not one whit for the niceties of human rights.

Even as I write this, I watch fearfully as yet another possible trigger nears. The European Central bank is expected to raise official interest rates. Could this begin the cascade? Maybe not, but some small swing in one direction, caused by an overreaction, and the results will be astonishing to see.

Freddie Mac and Fannie May are getting kudos for cornering the buyback of bad mortgage securities. Let's hope they have very deep pockets indeed.

Maybe one day in some distant generation, equity for all will become a universal standard, but as long as there's a profit to be made from the blood, sweat, and tears of a bunch of foreign losers, this discussion will lead to nothing but subliminal guilt.

anuj

Just because sweatshop owners have devised ways to go around regulations does not mean that we should stop scrutinizing them.
It's like saying we should stop catching criminals because they are undertaking more planned, hi-tech crimes.

In today's world, where big corporations are trying to build an image as community givers, scrutinizing outsourcing that exploits workers and employs children should be one of the first steps in advocating social welfare. Such actions will inevitably result in higher costs to the companies, which in turn will be transferred to the consumers. I think this is a small price to pay compared with the greater good that will result. But are American consumers ready to pay this extra price for the underprivileged workers in developing countries?

Wanderer

I'm an MBA student, and many a time in class we've had discussions on sweatshops in Asia. My answer to my colleagues in class was they've never seen what its really like to just make a living. Sitting in the so called "developed countries," it is easy to make comments about sweatshops and how they should be banned. But the problem is not so much with the U.S. corporations--it's a social problem that needs to be dealt with by the governments of those countries. Coming from India, I know it's not an easy task to change centuries of social disparities.

Peg Seriani

I am an MBA student, and my class just returned from a trip to China. While in Xian, we visited a textile factory and saw the conditions of a sweatshop firsthand. Our short tour through the factory floor was just unbearable. I can't imagine working there every day for the rest of my life. The data point that I walked away with was that the documentaries and news articles about sweatshops are nothing compared to visiting them in person. The noise from the hundreds of 50-year-old spinning and weaving machines was so loud we could not have yelled to each other over the noise. It was deafening. The workers did not wear any hearing or breathing protection. The air was thick with cotton fibers. Our faces and eyes were irritated from the floating fibers. Visually, it was the most depressing place I have ever seen. I will never forget that tour and the vacant look of all the workers there. I absolutely think American businesses have a responsibility to make sure that their suppliers' working conditions are humane, just as we expect them to be here. American companies should not put unreasonable price pressures on their foreign suppliers, because the savings will only come off the backs of the disadvantaged workers. Based on what I saw, I'd sum it up by saying that, saving an extra $5 on a T-shirt probably costs a worker 10 years of his or her life from a lifetime of working in a horrible environment.

Terrie

What I want to know is, where are the Harriet Beecher Stowes, the Ida Tarbells, the Thomas Bells, and Upton Sinclairs of the societies where sweatshops proliferate? Why don't these cultures produce their own voices to speak for those who are exploited? Perhaps those voices exist, but are not heeded. I don't know enough about those cultures to advance a theory, but in the U.S., change came from within. I have to believe that it's possible in those societies as well, and it will be more meaningful and long-lasting than what can be produced by some paternalistic oversight by American corporations.

Shakir Rahim

The con article implies corporations are incapable of placing priority on working standards domestically and abroad. This is a half-truth. In fact, the article contradicts itself a few sentences down. It states that "corporations are already making a noble effort," so clearly the capability exists to try to ensure working standards are followed. Furthermore, though infractions occur in the United States, the severity and number of these infractions pales in comparison to the situation in other countries. To make the point that the U.S. is in some kind of working-standards crisis that prevents companies from improving conditions in foreign factories is not only exaggerated but also disingenuous.

The second question addressed in this article is interesting, in the fact that it suggests U.S. companies are trying their best to adhere to regulations, but those who manufacture their products simply do not comply. A previous response correctly identified why this is the case--companies put extraordinary pressure on suppliers to have very low production costs (to the extent that some companies are already leaving China for cheaper manufacturing bases). If a company listed compliance to certain standards as a fundamental component of a contract (and actually meant it), it's far less likely a supplier would risk maintaining poor standards. Furthermore, many companies aren't taking the proactive steps outlined by the article. Nike made headlines, because it was responding to dozens of campaigns that exposed its egregious human rights violations. Unfortunately, Nike didn't take the aforementioned actions out of sheer good will.

The problem with this is obvious, and it's the proverbial elephant in the room of this entire analysis. If you're going to respect human rights and reasonable working standards, it's going to cost you more. Unfortunately, the pro article attempts to create an economic case for avoiding suppliers who aren't going to adhere, but it's weak at best. Certainly, there can be, and are, economic consequences, but practically speaking, they do not outweigh the benefits. Nike didn't collapse, even after jokes about its sweatshops became the norm in popular culture.

The most worrisome component of the con article is its conclusion that Corporate America can divest itself from responsibility for the human rights violations of its suppliers. You pay for the product, employ the worker, and keep the supplier in business. So, yes, you do have some element (note: element) of responsibility. The revolution can come from within (if by that you mean some kind of legal enforcement), but there is no question Corporate America is comfortably absent from those discussions and certainly is not at the forefront of ensuring workers' rights.

Does it make economic sense for business to turn a blind eye to working standards? Yes. But maybe it's time that one-dimensional judgments were not all that was employed in regard to this issue. Perhaps the extraordinary suffering documented above by readers' responses has relevance--out of sheer ethical conscience and not just the bottom line. The difficult question is how do we work toward ensuring at least a semblance of reasonable working conditions (i.e., removing health risks and paying for adequate food and shelter) while keeping Philip Knight, consumers, and shareholders happy. It's a hard one to answer.

James Li

I am a Chinese businessman who works for a foreign-trade company in China. I could not agree more with Peg Seriani that lots of U.S. importers are putting too much price pressure on us. Every time I am negotiate with our American customers, all they keep stressing is lower prices. To force us to cut prices, very often they say they can get much cheaper offers from other Chinese suppliers. Inevitably, we have to cave in, because we need the orders to keep our factory running--and in the meantime, we have to cut down our cost, affecting the workers' salaries and working conditions because of the low margin we make.

Malaveeka

Maybe the U.S. has strong unions, but it is indeed a fact that most of the workers in sweatshops to whom the work is outsourced have work conditions contrary to the labor laws of any country, and union laws don't extend to them.

I strongly disagree with the view that countries who have ways of escaping regulatory measures are the prime cause of this situation. If it really mattered to them, the American authorities would crack down on abuses faster than you can say "Nike."

Raechel Thomas

As an Indian American, I must say some of the cons mentioned in the article are not valid anymore. How can a U.S. company do business with an international company and claim absolute helplessness in regard to the business practices? Of course the eyes cannot see that far to watch unfair treatment on a daily basis, and maybe it is difficult to see inside tax documents. But does that mean a walk-through of the factory would not reveal at least some of the abusive conditions and disregard for the business agreements?

My thought is in line with the comments from Mr. Li: Some of the American companies cannot admit to the fact, because they are the ones driving the cheaper prices.

Smiley

Is that really the best con argument anyone could come up with? Essentially, the position states that because enforcing human rights in these industries might be hard, it shouldn't even be attempted.

A better argument would be that American companies have no choice but to purchase sweatshop goods, because the American public can no longer afford anything more expensive after the aforementioned American companies has sent their jobs overseas to sweatshops in Asia.

Chris M

As for American companies that outsource to companies that don't provide the minimum of health and safety standards that we Americans believe all of humanity deserves, they get what they deserve: bad press and F ratings from watchdog groups--and worse yet, poor service and low-quality products that cause a loss of business.

American companies are still responsible for closely watching the companies they outsource to.

Brandon Schwartz

After reading the article, I think sweatshops are even worst now--the chemicals that people are exposed to and all the dangerous machinery. Workers are not getting paid enough. If something happened to them, they may not be able to pay. Work should be fair for anyone, not just one group. The USA should try to do something to fix the problem. We need the manufacturing, though, so we can't get the countries mad.

Ben Greeno

No one should have to work in an environment described in this article without an above-average compensation for making a product while working in a hostile environment. Factory conditions can be excruciating--especially without proper protective equipment, i.e. earplugs, goggles, etc. A few years ago, I took a temp job for some extra money. Now this job paid well, and that's the reason I took it, but it was in a factory that puts labels on various bottles. After two days of the three-day job, I was going to go crazy. It was the loudest, most exhausting working experience I've ever had, and I had proper ear, eye, and hand protection, and all I had to do was stand there and feed tubes through a machine. I cannot imagine what people who work overseas in environments much less luxurious than my environment must feel, not to mention that they, on average, make about $12 less an hour that I was making. Work environments like these are not ideal, but if someone has to work in them, the work environment should be as comfortable as possible. No one should put up with any less, and for those overseas who are considered lucky to have factory jobs, it's up to the company to make sure these environments are as good as they can be.

Ashish

Everyone in a "business" tries to make money. The consumers in the U.S. make money by buying cheap goods. The company that manufactures cheap goods makes money by putting price pressure on companies in China. The owner of the manufacturing company wants to make money, so he exploits workers by forcing them to work in hazardous work environments. The workers have no choice. They have to accept whatever salary and benefits are offered to them.

If American consumers stop buying cheap goods made in China, there is no way that American companies will try to improve the working conditions in China. Instead, they will go to Africa. Ultimately, the Chinese workers will be unemployed, which will be even worse than what is happening right now. I'd like to comment on what Peg Seriani said, "Saving an extra $5 on a T-shirt probably costs a worker 10 years of his or her life from a lifetime of working in a horrible environment." I feel that not buying the T-shirt will result in the worker being unemployed, his family starving, and ultimately dying of hunger. This is worse than working in a hazardous environment. If the workers quit their jobs, they won't have anything else to do. In countries like China and India, there are many more workers willing to work in hazardous conditions to live let alone live "with quality."

I feel that the governments in these countries should be the ones to enforce regulations, not the American consumers, and not the American companies.

nanheyangrouchuan

Outsourcing is a way of life now, but what we outsource and what country we outsource to is a matter of national security.
Outsourcing to China is not in our national security interests or in our diplomatic interests--many much poorer and more deserving countries would benefit from U.S. outsourcing, and the U.S. would have a lot more friends. China is and was neither a friend nor a partner of the U.S.

Bill Jacobs

In 1989, China sent troops to gun down democracy protesters.

Today, they use strong-arm tactics to shut down credible labor organizations for fear of losing out to more desperate nations. It is no coincidence that China, rather than democratic India, is Corporate America's partner of choice. Fascism and dictatorship are more compatible with the top-down management style of CEOs and boards of directors.

Business, by its nature, is indifferent to justice, compassion, and decency--everything but profit. Don't hate a cobra for being a dangerous snake. You simply understand what it is, and take measures to avoid getting bitten.

Jeff Russell

As an employee of a multinational company that served a variety of U.S.-based Fortune 500 companies, I have toured more than 100 factories in Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Tanzania, Korea, and more while living in SE Asia. I have seen rough working conditions that don't match U.S. standards. However, I have also toured the rural countryside and seen the absolute poverty associated with many of these countries. At a huge footwear factory in Indonesia that employs 30,000 people, I saw nearly 3,000 additional people at the gates each morning hoping for a single day's work. Those 3,000 people had children to feed and bills to pay. That factory--driven by U.S. demand--provides employment to thousands of people who might otherwise still be living in absolute rural poverty.

It is hypocritical/idealistic to suggest that developing countries should be able to meet U.S. standards today. Fifty years ago, our U.S. factories weren't so great either. Go back 100 years and they were abysmal. We have learned a lot, and it is my hope that our brothers and sisters around the world won't take 100 years to improve. But let's give them some time and use the lessons we have learned to help them in the process. (I have seen firsthand a major footwear company virtually shut down a factory for violations it made. We need both a carrot and a switch to stimulate change.) As their economy improves, as they create a domestic economy, workers will have more choices, and conditions will undoubtedly improve.

The question of sweatshops, in my mind, is a macroeconomic one. Let's work to improve the wealth of all nations--not just the U.S.--and we will see a vast reduction in poverty (and the working conditions associated with poverty) in our lifetime.

Nick Ryan

I don't think companies want their names on products made in sweatshops. Even though that may be all they can afford, when it becomes known the products were made under such conditions, the public may use another product. Some companies don't really care, but if the public finds out what they are doing, it could be devastating to the corporation. I do think it is up to the U.S. If it is their company and they are sending business overseas, it should be up to them to make sure this is not happening.

Veera Senthil Athiban

Imperialism was so destructive to Asian economies--that they have remained so-called "low cost."

Sweat shops? Please check on the conditions of workers in Manchester or London slums during the industrial revolution. Conditions for most of these people would be much harsher outside of these "sweatshops." Calling them sweatshops itself is quite an exaggeration most often. Man for centuries has toiled so that his children can live better. As unfortunate and cold as it might sound, it is a normal process of development.

I understand the loss of jobs is very bad for any nation--even the U.S. with a powerful social security net. But please understand capital will flow wherever there is efficiency. Hundreds of millions of people are still living in abject poverty in Asia.

Governments around the world should sit up and make policies to remove conditions that create social inequality in the first place.

Bill Lowden

Good to see a source about the phantom cost-reduction strategy of "off-shoring" and what it's done to the U.S. What's next? Nationalization of off-shores site by site? Doubt that will happen? Look at ARCO, Anaconda, and Kennametal to mention but a few. CFOs have to start blowing the horn and stop the exodus of false profit and start counting the real thing.

JDman

The ease with which capital is able to move, the relaxation of controls by governments and their inability to prevent industries from moving in search of improved profitability, and the lack of a conscience among us consumers to consider the conditions under which the wares we purchase may have been produced all lead to one conclusion--that offshoring is unstoppable.

The tokenism of governments in the globalization debate is just another symptom of how impotent they have become in recent years. Under the cloak of being responsible world citizens, there is deep self-interest, and between these two positions we can only expect governments to be in a perpetual state of inaction.

Grassroots movements need to have a coordinated approach to the issues and address them in a global context. They must be pragmatic about the need for jobs and industries in the developing world, and at the same time expose ill-treatment and unfair work practices on a global scale if we are to civilize capital.

Michael Grady

Let the countries of the world compete. We of the U.S. can compete. We simply have to have Free Trade Agreements such as NAFTA. We have to penalize countries such as China for copying our intellectual property and for trade restrictions. Why should low-cost China put huge tariffs on the import of automobile parts? Let efficiency and hard work and the best ideas determine who wins in world economics.

It is impossible to repair the damage already done. Certain businesspeople, investors looking for quick returns, and politicians have helped make this mess. Consumers have finished the job by purchasing with ignorance.

What we have to do now is close the loopholes that allow the rape of the U.S. while we rebuild the economy for the future generations. The task will be difficult. We can do this, or we can follow Italy's example of what happens to a former world power.

Our forebears worked hard to build the U.S. Unions were established (although unions are currently detrimental to productivity). People worked for workers' rights. Now we throw it all away. Now we have to be ready to work by the rules of the people with money. We have to abandon America's lofty workers' rights systems; at least until we re-establish U.S. strength in economic terms.

This is the fault of ignorance of the American people. This is zero-fault of the free-trade system. We have allowed free trade for imports and have been burned by lack of free trade for our exports.

We have to keep free trade going and avoid closing the borders. Closing our borders will cause a depression. We have to keep free trade going by trading with nations who allow bilateral free trade.

westland

Congratulations to Jeff Russell (June 8 comment) for putting the value-laden term "sweatshop" in perspective. I have also spent time in both rural China and in Chinese "sweatshops." Neither type provides a pleasant environment in my opinion, but a sweatshop environment is infinitely preferable to the diseases, looming starvation, and personal cruelty of subsistence farming. Low-cost, low-tech factories handling outsourced jobs for rich economies are a necessary stepping stone on the way to letting the rest of the world share the American dream. To deny emerging economies this step would be cruel indeed.

Douglas W Smith

Blind, stupid, and short-sighted arguments. "Well it's either this, or a rice paddy. "No it's not! "It's the consumers fault!" No, it's not. "It's the unions' fault." Again, no, it's not.

When and if the boss wants to go back to work, and not offshore his problems, the entire economy will recharge itself. Until then, expect more closed factories, unemployment of skilled labor, service industry jobs, and etc. We once had a proud tradition of captains of industry. Now we have over-compensated ship's bellhops posing in their predecessors' uniforms.

professional

Offshore manufacturing has its benefits, both economic and social. Offshoring professional work is a severe loss to our intellectual capital. Why should anyone enter the science and engineering fields, when the job will simply be sent overseas? I think it would be wise to outsource all the economists--our country could not do any worse.

Austin Lee

The USA achieved world leadership because of our determined efforts to maintain liberty and justice for all and because of our patriotic willingness to stop any entity threatening that concept, foreign or domestic. We manufactured goods that the rest of the world clamored after, enjoying a balance of trade that ensured prosperity. We no longer embrace those doctrines. There is a lessening "mystique" in our products for the rest of the world; people know that they're not made in the USA. We are perceived as having become weak as a superpower, no longer considered the 800-pound gorilla. So, while we continue to "fiddle around" with changing that which made this nation great, Rome is burning, baby.

Ray O

I agree with the professional, offshore the economists.

Jen

I'm currently working in Chennai, India, for a U.S.-based BPO, and as a Westerner, I'm thinking that if the work environment we're facing here is this bad, I can't even imagine what others are facing in labor factories. I would even say that this company I work for and those in the more privileged BPO industry are borderline sweatshops simply for the exploitation of the employees--working them to the bone, their superiors and Western clients treating them like dirt and providing minimal, if any, reasonable recognition and compensation, and then pushing them to reduce costs even more. I mean, at the end of the day, I have to ask: What happened to basic human decency?

Rick

There is a relatively simple solution to much of this: Boycott China.

1. You can buy apparel made in the United States. Blue jeans and underwear are available through the Internet. The selection is admittedly not as large as imports, but nevertheless it is available. The costs are a bit more but not excessively so.

2. When a society loses the ability to make tools, it loses the ability to innovate and create material goods. It loses the ability to make the next generation of tools and so on. Human history is a testimonial to one cruel truth. The best toolmakers defeated those with inferior technology. Have we "advanced" so much that this will not hold true in the future?

3. Having lived in Detroit during much of my life, I witnessed the continued decline of the U.S. automobile industry. We were bemoaning the decline of the U.S. industry in the 1980s. This is when GM's market share was 45%. It is now in the mid-20s. I won't buy American cars these days, because they remain inferior technical products. I had purchased a new Pontiac Phoenix in 1980. It was an absolute disaster. The 1st- and 2nd-gear forks were replaced twice due to inferior quality steel. I was blamed for driving too hard. I will buy, and have recently purchased, Japanese, because they are superior technical products.

4. Why the difference in quality? Persistence on the part of the Japanese. It is a culture that does not reward excessively short-term thinking or gains. Having lived there for 11 years, I respect their values. they are as human as we are and have their failures as well. However, when they do something well, it is the best.

We have evolved into a society that pursues too much immediate pleasure and fails to reward long-term planning and hard choices.

The real difficulty will come in five to 10 years as the boomers retire. Maybe we can outsource our national defense to the Chinese. I'm sure they'll accept the money.

Jhoffa_

"Sweatshops" and poor working conditions will prevail in places like China, because you simply have too much labor chasing too few jobs.

As long as these conditions exist, the result is inevitable, because there is no incentive for change.

That said, I reject the notion that Americans are responsible for employing the whole planet and lifting everyone out of poverty. Further, speaking of such things in moral terms is ridiculous.

When a company destroys the livelihood of one of its own employees in Detroit to "save" an overseas stranger from poverty, it's because it wants to make more money.

It's a financial consideration, but it's framed in moral terms to make the people involved feel like good global citizens and emphasize the positives instead of just calling it greed.

It's probably a good thing the Chinese man "rescued" from his poverty by the sweatshop company works for less money than his American counterpart. Because the man from Detroit can no longer afford high-priced goods.

After a time, his neighbors won't be able to either. That's what a rising tide feels like.

dilbert

What idiots like Jhoffa don't realize about Chinese sweatshops is that many of them are in "free trade zones" that don't return a tax to the local community. The net effect is that the only thing the sweatshop returns to the community is a job that is a better than normal wage and brutal work conditions that regularly get people killed.
http://www.china.org.cn/english/MATERIAL/21966.htm

Sarbajit Deb

Why was there less concern for the poor and downtrodden across the world before the “sweatshops” came up?

We cannot sustain a progressive world where only a few countries or people are rich and there is no free movement of labor.


Jhoffa_

"What idiots like Jhoffa don't realize about Chinese sweatshops is that many of them are in 'free trade zones' that don't return a tax to the local community."

Nor do I care about this "tax" you're rambling about.

Americans and other First World countries are not only supposed to export our jobs and destroy large sectors of our national economy, but also now we're supposed to pay a "tax" for the privilege of doing so? LOL.

Further still, doesn't the Chinese man's community benefit from his increased wages? I mean, he has to spend them somewhere, right?

Your "tax" nonsense is exactly that. Nonsense.

If there is a tax owed to anyone, I say it's owed to first World nations in return for access to their markets and to allow them to compete effectively against these gigantic pools of (sometimes subsidized) third world labor.

In fact, one might compare these gigantic, unregulated and sometimes subsidized, pools of labor to "dumping" and consider off-shoring to these sorts of places as an unfair trade practice.

In my mind, this constitutes an unfair advantage which will eventually drive large sectors of the first world economies either overseas or our of business.

If you listen to people like Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina "No American has a God-given right to a job."

I'd counter that likewise, No company has a "Divine Right" to our market.

Let the third world off-shore crowd pay any tax and compete on level footing with first world companies that don't want to sell their countrymen down the tubes for a buck.

Christine M

Pros and cons? I'm not sure what I missed, but it seems like both the pro and the con side are arguing that the U.S. should either not use sweatshops or create better conditions in those sweatshops. I don't see a line between one side and the other.

Pros: Some sweatshops help the local economies and help raise the standard of living in their area.

Cons: Some sweatshops are truly driven by the greed of a company.

If American companies continue to find ways to make their products for less money, why do we get charged more every day?

Teodor G

From this story, we should understand one thing: Outsourcing business to other countries is not done for the benefit of us as buyers/consumers. We pay the same price whether the product is made by an American worker paid $20 an hour or a Chinese worker paid $2 an hour. Products will not be sold to us at a lower place. The profit goes in the company's pockets. As long this is the case, there always will be somebody who will have the desire to outsource the business. The profit is enormous, and the temptation is too big. Unfortunately, this is a time bomb that will work against us. Losing jobs here means losing skills in the long term. We will end up with a country full of people incapable of developing something, and obviously, we will become dependent on the countries producing for us.

It is a false impression that we are wealthy and smart and rich with advanced technologies. The mass media does not inform the public properly, and even if it does, people do not understand, because the schooling system we have does not teach much (see Chinese system vs. the American one). Just wait another 10 to 15 more years, and you will see how dearly we pay for what we do today.

National Insecurity

Is off-shoring a sustainable business model for an entire nation and society?

There are some mature industries that were easy to off-shore, and we didn't see the negative effects on our economy. Textiles and clothing were quick to shift. One might think that Americans would wear more suits as a result of lower prices, but instead more and more people can only afford T-shirts and cheap jeans or formless pants. Perhaps there's a lesson here: We need to keep manufacturing here because it, and all the surrounding benefits, creates prosperity.

Henry Ford was no socialist, but he vertically integrated and paid his workers enough to buy their own product, because it made economic sense.

This month I'm analyzing how my company should choose between developing, manufacturing, and assembling a high-tech product in Silicon Valley, Taiwan, Mexico, and mainland China. The microprocessor chip is no longer made in the U.S., but in Taiwan. I can probably second-source it from Shanghai. We can contract-manufacture in San José, Hsinchu, Shanghai, or Mexico. Our profits vary, but not until we hit high volumes due to the travel/startup costs. However, I can assure you that we'll create a lot more jobs for Americans if we do it here.

Weaver

Jhoffa wrote:

"No company has a 'Divine Right' to our market."

Jhoffa's statement is almost brilliant. America has the right to tariff any product that is being dumped or produced in a sweatshop. Until that happens, American consumers can choose not to purchase.

I think that America should try a boycott of a different type. There are billions of dollars' worth of used product(s) sitting in garages all over the nation.

Start your holiday shopping early this year: Buy Dad that Marantz stereo he could never afford--secondhand. Why buy a new computer when a secondhand computer will get the job done with old software? We can limit access to our market by purchasing second-hand goods. Let's show business that we can also cut costs.

xxx

What I don't understand is how prices are increasing in the U.S. and people are finding it difficult to buy goods by importing dead-cheap goods from China.

alison

I was shopping last week, and to my amazement, I found a set of plastic cups made in the U.S.

I bought them and gave them to a friend as a gift. It made me feel good that someone got to keep a job in the U.S., even if for a few seconds in the business world.

I like Weaver's idea of buying something secondhand. If it does the job, why not? And why support the practice of a sweatshop cranking out ever more goods that we don't necessarily need--or if you really knew how they're produced, you might think twice. Companies moved operations overseas purely because CEOs and executives wanted more money and didn't want to be hassled with the thought of having to treat workers in an ethical and humane manner. It's a matter of squeezing as many dollars as they can to buy the pricey mansions and cars and still have a morbidly obese salary. I got mine Jack; screw the rest.

China Watcher

If the USA got its domestic policies right, a lot of this debate would be rendered irrelevant. America's tax, health-care, and infrastructure policies drive manufacturers offshore--artificially and unnecessarily. This has less to do with labor costs and more to do with uncompetitive public policies.

Imagine how offshorers would react in their own commercial self-interest if the USA implemented an effective countervailing duty remedy to foreign-currency misalignment and a 15% to 20% consumption tax while reducing the income-tax and health-care burdens on U.S.-based production. These steps are within the international rules and within the sovereign power of the USA. No permission is needed from any trading partner--just an act of Congress or two.

At the same time, the global economic infrastructure is in urgent need of remodeling. Since the end of the Bretton Woods system, the de facto monetary system is a dollar-deficit one. That is, the world stays liquid as it grows, thanks to the U.S. trade deficit. The dollars transferred abroad have helped to finance an impressive growth around the world, especially in Asia. Alas, this system is at the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced. At a minimum, we need a new reserve currency and some global mechanism to prevent credit bubbles like the ones that burst in Japan and SE Asia in the 1990s and the current, massive one in China.

As Herb Stein said, "If a thing cannot go on forever, it will stop." The current madness will come to an end one way or another--whether by brute market force or by intelligent cooperation among the major economic powers, including China.

If the USA would start to get its policies right, others would have to adjust. That would buy time to work out new institutional arrangements. There's still time to do this, but perhaps not a lot. The world runs on confidence in the dollar; once the overseas holders lose faith in the ability of the USA to pay off its $3 trillion debt (which increases by several billions each day), the end will be nigh.

If the USA were itself a more responsible stakeholder in the global system, it might be in a position to demand a better performance from others.

National Insecurity

China Watcher:
U.S. federal debt is not $3 trillion--it's $9 trillion. More than $3.5 trillion of that is debt accrued during the [projected] eight years of the W. presidency alone. During the end of the Clinton era, we were paying down the debt.

As to your other points, during the past two decades, I trace it to 1985, when U.S. policy started to be "free trade at all costs."

If you want a concrete example, study Wal-Mart. Mr. Sam was proud to sell American-made products, and his commercials emphasized this. But at some point his management convinced him to buy offshore, shipping away the jobs of his best customers.

And yes, I've worked in China. Shanghai is the most amazing city on the planet.

Timothy

Companies like Dell who use good, competent tech-support people in foreign countries like India willingly triple the cost of supporting their products:
1. Customer buys extended warranty.
2. Customer has incident and calls company.
3. Well-trained and -educated foreign tech worker responds.
4. Customer, as an end user, fails to understand questions or instructions from foreign tech worker.
5. Customer calls stateside service provider to execute warranty service for a fee.
6. Stateside service-provider interprets and executes instructions by foreign tech worker.
7. Problem is either resolved, or equipment is replaced.
The result: Dell pays for warranty service from foreign tech worker.
8. Customer pays for warranty service to stateside service provider.
9. Customer also paid for warranty service to Dell.
10. Therefore, in the global economy, a service has been paid for three times. Multiply that by one or two million, and guess who paid twice? The customer.

RPannier

It seems that Westland and a few others are trying to find ways to justify getting massive amounts of wealth at the expense of people.

I have lived in east Asia for a decade. I have been to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, etc., and I have seen the squalid conditions these people work in day after day.

The governments of China and other countries have no interest in improving the livelihoods of these people. In fact, as China's economy boomed, the government cut the safety net from under its own people.

The only way to change these conditions is for consumers and governments to stop buying products produced in these regions.

FIFA announced before the '02 World Cup it would use only one brand of soccer ball (I think it was Mitre), because it was the only company paying decent wages and providing good working conditions. Suddenly, other manufacturers decided they would raise the standards at their work places and allow FIFA free reign to visit their businesses, even without warning.

It can be done. You just have to ignore the lazy, illogical, servile defenders of these businesses, like Tom DeLay.

China Watcher

Another way to curb purchases of Chinese goods is to ensure they are fairly valued--countervail the unfair currency subsidy to U.S. importers. Another way is to tax imported goods equally with domestic goods, just as 143 of our trading partners (including China) do. Do both, and you'll see a major rearrangement of trade flows and ultimately investment flows.

National insecurity is justified in regard our total debt. What I refer to is the net amount of our debt owed to foreigners--$10,000 for every man, woman, and child in the USA and growing by the minute. That's what Americans would have to pay somehow after liquidating all their foreign assets and collecting (if they could) on what foreigners owed them. That net liability is the legacy boomers are bequeathing to the next generations. There's no extra capacity to produce a surplus of goods for export, thanks to a tax system that discourages investment and production in, and export from, the USA. So, if we don't rebuild America, we'll have no choice but to inflate our prices in a big way (and simultaneously devalue the dollar).

al

McDonald's is considered a manufacturing job here. Hate to quote Clinton, but he did say "When's the last time you got tough on your banker?" referring to Communist China. That stock market glitch we had a couple of months ago came on the heels of Cheney's tough comments about China. China is our banker, to be sure, but we're its best customer. NAFTA was supposed to fix all sorts of things, but if Mexico can't compete with China, what chance does the American worker have? Millions of illegal immigrants are brought in to cheapen the cost of labor in a feeble attempt to save a few manufacturing jobs. Wages go down, taxable income is lowered, tax-funded programs are cut, etc. Wal-Mart is down; Prada is up. If you factor in the cost of Iraq, gas is $1 a gallon. The easiest thing to do is to put a tariff on all goods imported from China--15% the first year, then an additional 5% per year until it reaches 30%. While the States moan about loosing jobs, they have the power to impose sales taxes should the Fed not do so. Next, seal the boarders. I could go on. Am I wasting my breath?

Newton

People in developing countries work in sweatshop conditions, because they live in abject poverty and the sweatshops are the best thing going. That said, one notices with very few exceptions that poverty is least extant in stable democracies such as Japan, the USA, New Zealand, France, etc. Likewise, with very few exceptions, poverty is most extant in non-democracies such as China, Pakistan, North Korea, etc., or unstable democracies such as Nigeria, Russia, Haiti, etc. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, there is probably enough historical evidence to conclude that a functioning democracy does more to alleviate poverty than any other single factor. Therefore, to truly eliminate poverty and the sweatshop jobs that go with it, the U.S. should support democracy and human rights. Do not construe this statement as support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as war and foreign occupation usually leads to chaos, which is often worse than any dictatorship.

The U.S. can support democracy in many ways. First and foremost, the U.S. government should more strongly enforce laws prohibiting bribery of foreign public officials by employees of U.S. corporations. Nothing destroys a democracy as insidiously as corruption, and whenever you have a wealthy corporation entering a poor country, opportunities for corruption are aplenty.

Second, the U.S. must stop undermining democratically elected leaders and governments. Throughout the 20th century, the executive branch of the U.S. government (via the CIA) has paid for or orchestrated the assassinations or overthrows of dozens of democratically elected leaders. The examples include Mossadegh in Iran, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, and Allende of Guatemala. It is no coincidence that these three countries currently suffer from mass poverty and corruption.

Third, the U.S. government should tax all imports from non-democratic countries. Taxed imports should include toys from China, oil from Arab countries, and gold from Russia. The amount of the tax on any particular product should correspond to the relative lack of freedom in the country from which that product originated. So, for example, oil from Saudi Arabia, which has no religious freedom, no freedom of the press, and where women are second-class citizens, should be taxed at say, 100% of retail value. Toys from China, which has some religious freedom, some freedom of the press, and does have equal (if however few) rights for men and women, could be taxed at say, 50% of retail value. In this way, foreign governments will have the best incentive in the world--money--to be free and democratic.

Smiley

A better argument would be that a clear system of property rights is necessary for a higher standard of living. The governments you mentioned are not only autocracies but also kleptocracies.

As far as your plans to influence democracy, for a century idealistic fools have failed at getting people and governments to follow the whims of the U.S. The rest of the world doesn't care what we want, and I for one don't blame them.

dorothy

I solved my problem with this mess by refusing to buy from foreign companies. I use Bi-Mart, not Wal-Mart. I buy groceries from a company owned by American workers. I also try to buy local produce--as local as I can get in my state. Oregon has many small businesses, especially agricultural. I buy from them.

Vicky Davis

Part of me wants to cheer, because you finally get it. The other part of me wants to spit in your face and tell you how stupid you were for believing and promoting offshoring when it was obvious--just based on common sense analysis--that offshoring was going to destroy our economy. And it is destroying our economy.

And it's a lot worse than what you are reporting and the government is hinting. On Oct. 6, 2004, the Congressional Budget Committee had a hearing to talk about federal tax revenues:

John Spratt (D-SC) said that as of the end of fiscal year 2003, revenues were at their lowest point since 1950. The revenues were only 16.2% of GDP.

Rep John Linder (R-GA) said there have been eight quarters in a row of declining revenues since 2001 and that there is $6 trillion offshore.

In one of the hearings of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Alan Greenspan told the Senate (paraphrasing) that what was happening to our economy was the same thing that occurred during the period in our history when we were moving from an agrarian society to an industrialized one--except that it was across national borders. Am I the only who remembers that rural towns became ghost towns during that period? Greenspan was telling the Senate that our country would become an economic ghost town--and yet there was no response.

And Greenspan redefined inflation to mean a rise in worker wages rather than the true definition of inflation, which is rising prices. Apparently, your business analysts missed that fact? I guess since it didn't come in a corporate press release to your "news" bureau, they missed it.

And when you report the jobs statistics, there is never an indication of the quality of jobs lost vs. the quality of the new jobs created. One engineer job exported doesn't equal one Wal-Mart greeter job created.

And didn't it strike you as odd that in a "booming" economy, 24,000 people in Oakland, Calif., applied for about 400 Wal-Mart jobs? And didn't it strike you as odd that 8,000 applied for a similar number of jobs in Phoenix, Ariz.? And didn't you notice when there were record bankruptcies and foreclosures being reported? No, you didn't.

There is a group of programmers, engineers, and professors who work together in a loose group that includes the Programmers Guild. We have been working for years to try to get you people (meaning media and the public) to understand what was happening. We were called losers, whiners, incompetents, crazies, etc. We persisted because we knew that eventually we would be proven right, because there is only so long that a fraud like this can be perpetrated. Now I'm going to tell you something else--and you can call me names again--but I will be proven right for the same reasons as above.

What is happening to our country is economic warfare being waged on us from traitors within. "Free trade" is about Communist redistribution of wealth from our country to the Third World. In the circles of power, the information in your report is not a surprise. It was the planned outcome. Our country is being transformed into a Communist country. The evidence is all around. In fact, it's in your face right in front of your eyes. Now let's see if you can find it.

Lovin' it

Thank you so much Vicky!

I can't wait until the United States has 50% of its workforce employed at McDonald's and Wal-Mart. Current trends would hint at that. Open your eyes and demand good quality jobs. I also can't wait until the U.S. "suddenly" decides to reopen trade with the Cubans--that will solidify the fears of the few against the ignorance of the many.

irene

I say we boycott all businesses that hire these workers. I'm sick and tired of supporting these countries.

Stop buying the stuff put out by these companies even if it means we go into a recession. I myself already have too much stuff in my house.

If you have any further concrete suggestions we Americans can follow, please post them here.

Tim

I saw 20 people lose their jobs today--including myself. Destination? Mumbai.

Ace

If you wanted to make a cake, and you could buy eggs for $4 from brand X and $1 from brand Y, where brand Y is a brand you never heard of, which would you choose?

The majority would buy brand Y.

If you are a company, you will never choose brand X unless there is an extremely compelling reason--specifically, that your customer is willing to pay a premium for using the more expensive ingredient.

How many people are willing to pay the large premium for products and services made from 100% U.S. components? Not too many, because they do not feel it is worth spending their hard-earned income on the premium.

This is a democracy in which we can buy what we want--businesses can choose to build what they want and how they build it. If you as a consumer don't like the fact that the product is not made in the U.S., don't buy it--simple.

If no one makes the product you want to buy from U.S.-sourced components and labor and you think people want that, great--you've uncovered a market need. Go start a business and thrive.

Sweatshops aside (we've had our share in the past), the reality is labor in other countries can be just as good as U.S. labor--something people in the U.S. are afraid to admit. These overseas workers are willing to work for a lot less since they need a lot less to live on.

All these reported legal loopholes, increased levels of outsourcing, and job migration are simply a function of businesses sourcing arbitrage--something that will continue (since they are driven to make a profit) until U.S. labor provides compelling economics for business (we used to make it easy for businesses to just buy--I mean bring--the best brains from overseas and make them Americans).

This is the dynamic we as a country need to work through.

We should make sure we focus as a country on innovation and productivity--retrain our workforce constantly and make sure U.S. labor still yields the highest output per hour. That is the only way U.S. labor can win the business of work from our competitors--foreign labor.

Ian MacLeod

I have, perhaps, a perspective that is unique here. I am a veteran, now disabled. My wife was working full time, and we did okay, what with the old house she grew up in and inherited. Then she got pneumonia, a complication that almost killed her and left her disabled, and it changed everything.

Now, we buy what we need. Even with our whole $10 a month Food Stamps, she's 40 pounds underweight, I am 70 under. The Internet has become all but indispensable, but we will lose it, if not when a buyout by another corporation happens and the prices go up yet again for inferior service, then when the computer dies. We can't buy another. We can barely afford the phone line, and that's with help.

We buy the cheapest food available, which is generally the unhealthiest. Trouble is, I can't stand long, or bend at all, to cook and wash, and she can't at all. She's on O2 24/7 and mostly stuck in bed. Clothing? We don't go out, I do, for needed errands, and most of my clothes are falling apart. It's nice there are yard sales now, because a new T-shirt or button-down is out of the question. My socks are mostly strings surrounded by space, and even Wal-Mart socks cost too much. Even the big-box stores have high prices compared to what they were in relation to our income when this began two years ago. Still, with all this money someone is making, insurance doesn't like to pay for anything but basics, and social services don't have the funds and can't take on new patients or whatever. This says to me that, while these people are buying low, they are indeed selling high.

As long as nothing but profit margin drives America, there will be people like us, who have to buy the cheapest everything possible or do without--or land in the street sooner than we will anyway.
--Ian

Marsha

What does free flow of capital do for energy efficiency, logistics, security, traceability of sources, general fault tolerance, and redundancy and safety of the world economy if the result is a complex, convoluted supply chain with too many concentrations, choke points, long long supply lines, chaining of dependency--in general too many opportunities for single point failures and vulnerability to threats of all kinds? What sort of "efficiency" is free flow of capital supposed to accomplish? Is it miles per gallon? Is there a physical measurement standard?

It seems that the entire business model of China (as the most glaring example) is to be the world's cheap labor pool and toxic waste dump. It is hard to understand how such a business model can be sanitized by any pretense of following labor/environmental standards in trade agreements or whatever. China has just passed the U. S. in CO2 (greenhouse gas) production. This is not, of course, homegrown. It is everybody else's outsourcing. Oh, by the way, China is a social powder keg. There is a recent slavery scandal involving ceramic kilns. There are pollution riots all over. I cannot find a pair of shoes or a thingamajig at the hardware store that is not made in China. Now there is a single point failure waiting to happen. It is time for the Great Firewall.

Ajit Kapoor

These debates, while philosophical, serve no concrete purpose in making our world a better place. The fundamental idea of globalization is not only to "make money" but to assist in "creating wealth" for all. The U.S. certainly has a responsibility to lead in this endeavor, but not until our business leaders get away from the affliction of hoarding wealth at all cost and calling it "business." We are hypocrites when we have dual standards, one for home and another for foreign lands. We all know the children and adults are exploited under the cover of American business requirements, and if we keep on pointing fingers at local government and suppliers looking for a scapegoat, we will continue to exploit. Yes, things are bad in developing countries, and the local government along with the UN and World Bank should work with the suppliers to fix the problems. If child labor is required due to culture and traditions, the suppliers need to develop schools where this line of poverty can begin to erode. This is just as an example--we can do a lot more if we are willing to. But when the goal is to make money, illegal and unethical means often will be used, and we can debate ad infinitum looking intellectually superior.

K. Potter

I believe Vicky's comments are most factual.

I am in a situation now as an information technology employee watching Tata consulting send in its army of workers. I feel our jobs will be eliminated in the months to come. By helping other nations expand their economies, we are quickly losing our ability to compete in the workforce. They can send four workers to our one for the same price. I can tell which writers are CEOs or managers.

I don't always buy the cheapest item, but I may do so when my job is offshored. As for the working conditions in foreign countries, the governments are just turning their heads so they can make a buck. Give them time to clean up their act. Yes, good idea--that will cost money. The prices of the goods will go up, and then what is the point of offshoring? So, we'll spend years improving other countries' economies while the United States loses jobs and tries to pick up the pieces, and Americans retrain for other careers. And that is absurd. Some of the Americans who are losing their jobs are in their 40s. To find an equal-paying job mid-career is impossible.

What are we doing to the American dream?

Deepak

Before worrying about the off-shore sweatshops, we need to worry about the in-shore sweatshops. INS and U.S. corporations are to be blamed for this. U.S. companies hire H-1B consultants through small head-hunting companies by giving very low hourly rates. These small companies, in turn, abuse and enslave these workers because of their H-1B visa status. If the U.S. gave green cards to these workers fast, rather than taking 4-6 years, a lot of the abuse would go away.

Jack Lohman

"I don't always buy the cheapest item, but I may do so when my job is offshored."

Unfortunately, many will, and that builds the problem. It will not stop until we get legal bribery out of the political system. Only public funding of campaigns will get politicians voting in the best interest of the people.

Had we had that years ago, GATT, NAFTA, and the others would not have passed, and we'd have fixed our health-care system decades ago. At $5 per taxpayer per year, it's a low price to retain our nation's strength.

Jack Lohman
www.WiCleanElections.org

jf

My firsthand experience with offshoring tech jobs:
1. Costs are not less; consider always pairing with onshore due to high turnover rate.
2. Have cost of services gone down in the past nine years?
3. Social Security is in trouble. It seems sending jobs overseas to the extent we are now only adds to that problem.
4. Offshoring skilled labor--so what should U.S. citizens retrain as?
5. No incentive for younger generations to go for high-skilled jobs. They see their parents with PhDs losing their jobs.
6. Many of these countries have feudal human rights.

Jack Lohman

You are absolutely correct, jf. They say health care is safe, and nursing is a safe but difficult career. Radiology is even being sent by the Internet to be read overseas, and businesses that are self-insured are sending employees to India for heart bypass procedures. And what they don't offshore they hire foreigners to do.

No, the real solution is political. We have to vote every senior Congressman out of office to send a message that the corrupt system of political cash is not acceptable. The newbies will get the message and will pass campaign reform.

Only then will you see politicians pass laws that protect American workers. Right now their only interest is protecting American CEOs, because they give all the cash.

Jack Lohman
www.WiCleanElections.org
jlohman@execpc.com


david ellis

When it comes to money, there is no conscience. The hypocritical American society is a true reflection of this. Companies, CEOs, and shareholders want big profits to sustain their sky-high pay and rising share prices. Consumers look for cheap prices for their buys and try to maximize the value of their dollars.

The net result is that every order placed by American companies is written with sharp blades, and you can see blood underneath every word and figure. To win these orders, a factory needs rock-bottom or even below rock-bottom prices. If those factories want to make a decent profit like the American companies did, they will have to go beyond child labor, sweatshops, OT, and any means one can think of. There will not be a quick solution to this.

The Americans will talk very loudly but will do very little or nothing as it is not the Americans who suffer. The unemployment rate is very low in the USA, so pressure is not there for those lost jobs. It is a good time to talk like a gentleman and simply pass the buck back to those Third World countries and ask them to look into it (preferably with the additional comment that the Americans are very concerned about the situation), but a solution is not imminent as it is not in the Americans' interest to correct it so soon.

Peter

It is a shame the way Corporate America does business. I am really concerned about Corporate America's mentality.

Robert Adshead

Exploiting another's weakness for personal or national gain and subjecting others to standards that you would not want for yourself is not loving thy neighbor.

Withholding technological knowledge and expertise for selfish personal motivations when many fellow humans are really struggling is not being a good Samaritan.

Supporting work standards that many of our ancestors struggled against is disrespectful to our forebears.

If we can mobilize an army to fight two world wars, we can raise a third to end humans' living in absolute squalor. It really is worth the cost.

Henry Ford created wealth for his organization and its employees by paying a little extra to his employees than the market norm. This apparent generosity in fact enabled Ford workers to be able to buy a Ford car that they would not have been able to afford otherwise. Henry Ford thus created a larger market (medium- to long-term) at the expense of short-terms profits in his pocket. Metaphorically and literally starving workers doesn't create disposable income that can lead to further economic activity.

Support fair-trade schemes where abuse is known to exist--we must reward hard work by paying an honest and fair price.

We all can and must take responsibility for our actions--we shape the world.

What goes around comes around--when our nations become the poorer ones, what will the future rich ones have learned and how will they treat us if we have squeezed them to the bone?

PEdwardMurray

I just can't believe the utter arrogance here for the most part.

I wonder how most of you would feel if you had to >pay for the right to offshore?

Don't worry....it's coming.

Luis

Sweatshops don't seem to be good indeed, but if they didn't have them, they would be without work, and they would not be able to earn a living. I have been studying the case of a woman in Manila, that if she didn't have that sweatshop to work in, she wouldn't have got a job and she would have been starving in her village. So I thin that, overall, that sweatshops are a good thing, but they should have better conditions for the workers.

Pallavi

Boy, the term "fair" is the most skewed and abused word of all in history.

We are yet to become a truly globalized world with "one common wage" applicable across the board.

So my point is--sweatshop or no sweatshop--if the worker gets the conditions and wages that enable him to make a decent living in his country, there is nothing unfair about it.

Being fair should not be equated to being incompetent.

Suja

Part of the sweatshops phenomena could also be due to the return of immigrants to their native lands (e.g., Indians Returning to India from West http://www.garamchai.com/Return2India.htm)

They return with a renewed sense of capitalism and import Western capitalism.

harbinger

Below is a link to a video that shows the cordial relationship between the leaders of Tata and a Mr. Narendra Modi. The same Mr.Narendra Modi that has been called "notorious Indian human rights abuser" and denied a visa to the U.S. The Coalition Against Genocide said Mr. Narendra Modi "is a member of a violent and chauvinistic Hindu nationalist organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS - National Volunteers Corps). The RSS is a shadowy all-male organization drawing inspiration from Hitler and Mussolini that trains militia-like groups of men and indoctrinates them into ideologies of racial/religious cleansing. Mr. Modi currently faces two law suits for crimes against humanity in India, and is in violation of international laws and conventions including Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93DyGD6GBHA
http://coalitionagainstgenocide.org/press/victory.pr.php

The RSS has been accused of the murder torture and rape of Christians in Orissa.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article4964742.ece
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Girl_mistaken_for_Christian_gangraped_killed_in_Orissa/rssarticleshow/3559641.cms

http://stopfundinghate.org/faculty/facletter020603.htm

Amanda

For a class debate, I am gathering information on sweatshops. I used to think that sweatshops were absurd and should be banned entirely and the company that owns the factory is responsible for all working conditions and wages, etc. However, most articles that speak out against these "unfair" conditions mention the wages that the employee is paid, which according to American standards are extremely low. However, every article fails to directly mention what the standard of living compared to this wage is. Also, are these people being forced to work in these factories at gunpoint? It is my impression that this is a choice each employee is making. If the American-based company is following the standards of the country in which the factory is located, this is all that should matter. Companies are providing jobs overseas to stimulate their economy. It is a win-win situation on both sides of the coin.

Phillip C Reierstad

It would be interesting to study the consumers' response (in terms of units purchased) if the vendor had to disclose detailed information about the product they were merchandising, i.e:, working conditions, profit margin, etc. I make a decent living in my trade as a plumber/gasfitter here in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Phillip C Reierstad

I find a lot of the comments are quite well thought-out and informative. However, one crucial point seems to have been overlooked, since when did capitalism have some sort of moral obligation to the people that it serves? Just a thought to add to your forum.

cait

I don't get it.

Charlie

When I worked for a Southeastern Blue Plan's outsourced call center, the high point of my work day was to transfer a call from a guy with a fake American work name to someone with another fake American work name in Mexico.

It took an hour of squinting at Lowe's to find a faucet not made in China. One has to scavenge hard for First World goods amidst all this offshoring/globalization madness. I was shocked to find a prescription made in India.

It's time to "take back the night"...and our country.


daedalus

In this time of world financial crisis, the world sees massive layoffs and companies shutting down. Outsourcing is not responsible for these.

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