Free Sweatshops In Developing Countries Research Paper Sample
Sweatshop is a term used to describe a manufacturing establishment where workers are subjected to poor working conditions, long working hours and very low wages (Zwolinski 1). Historically, sweatshops are prevalent establishments in Britain and America’s textile and clothing industry. According to Powell, sweatshops first appeared in Britain in the late eighteenth century and continued to operate until the twentieth century (Powell 110). The emergence of these sweatshops has been attributed to the surplus workers that flocked towards the urban areas during the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution, which started in Britain in 1800s, encouraged workers to migrate in to the cities to look for jobs. In the United States, for example, the 19th century was characterized by a tremendous increase of its urban population due to migration (Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History 1). This sudden increase in population created a myriad of social problems. Some families find themselves packed in urban slums while women and children were forced to find jobs in order to amend the family’s income. Subsequently, the surplus in labor force drastically lowered the quality of compensation. As some historians observed, “If looked from another aspect, Industrial Revolution also would mean misery of the working people, including women and small children, laboring from early morning until night” (Yavuz 3). However, British, American and other developed countries’ labor significantly improved over the years as their economic conditions greatly improved as well. On the other hand, the sweatshop phenomenon has shifted to developing countries. For the same reason, this paper would like to examine the sweatshop operation in developing countries, its social impact and the reason why they still persist.
Several factors may have contributed to the emergence of sweatshops in developing countries. Some scholars believe that globalization and free trade has allowed companies to exploit the cheap labor of other countries (Aditya 1; Balko 1). According to Balko, this phenomenon is considered as “a race to the bottom” wherein big corporations take advantage of the open and unfettered trade to establish their factories and manufacturing plants in countries with poor labor standards (Balko 1). Also known as labor outsourcing, the establishment of manufacturing hubs in developing countries for types of industries has been the modern trend of businesses today. Companies see it as a utilization of external resources and are seen as a necessary business strategy in order to maximize profits. Researchers estimate that about 70% to 80% of manufacturer’s product and processes is being outsourced (Corbett 1). Most of these companies that outsource their production are well-known international companies such as Nike and Gap. But instead of paying their workers a wage that can compensate for a decent living, the wage that these multinational companies provides in their outsourced facilities are not even one third of the estimated living wage (Ethical Trading 54).
Gildan Activewear Inc, a North American apparel maker, for example, is a company whose headquarters is based in Canada but has extensive production facilities in developing countries of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean Basin (Maquila Solidarity Network 10). According to reports, Gildan employees in these countries accused the company of worker rights abuses such as quotas that are excessively high; eleven hour work days; wages that does not meet the standard costs of living; strictly monitored bathroom breaks; exposure to hazardous working environments; union busting activities as well as forcing women to have pregnancy tests while firing those who are found to be pregnant (Maquila Solidarity Network 3). It should be noted that the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) defines a sweatshop as “a business that regularly violates both wage and child labor and safety or health laws” (United States General Accounting Office 1). Basing on this definition of the GAO, Gildan’s activities, if proven true, would fall under the definition of being a sweatshop. While developing countries do have labor legislations that are somehow similar in context with developed countries, implementation is another thing. In Gildan’s case, for example, the implementation of labor practices in developed countries are not as extensive as well as sanctions could not be imposed because of corrupt government practices. With the tax companies are paying, the concern of the working classes in third world countries are easily ignored by the government.
Women and Children Labor
In her book, ‘Factory Girls; From Village to City in a Changing China,’ Leslie Chang, a Chinese-American journalist once studied the life of women in China back when it was still a struggling economy. As she observed, migrant workers from the countryside would travel to the cities to find work in factories (Chang 100). Majority of these migrant workers were women because they are regarded as a second rate child as compared to male children who are regarded as heirs of the family’s meager property and agricultural land. Most often, these girls are too young to work in the factories but no one bothers to question. Because of their young age, lack education as well as lack of city life experience, some Chinese girls who ventures out into the city ends up in prostitution dens (Chang 45). Some who are luckier end up in Chinese factories were they are housed in crowded dormitories. Chinese factories during the time characterize the imaginable definition of a sweatshop. With an average pay of 200 Yuan a month which is around $35 to $40, the girls are exposed to extreme working conditions working for an average of 12 hours a day. Most of them don’t take their days off for the sake of earning for themselves and most especially for their family. In their hometown, people expect them to send money back to their families. Factory girls also enjoy a higher class status as compared to those who stay in the agricultural countryside. For the same reason, despite these intolerable working conditions, most girls hold back because they are ashamed to go home.
Why Sweatshops Still Persists In Developing Countries?
Most people agree that sweatshops are morally and ethically wrong (Mayer 605). However, labor is also a commodity that follows the rule of supply and demand. As observed by Powell, it is not only the international companies that take advantage of the developing country’s cheap labor but also the host country as well (Powell 116). Powell also implied that sweatshops are a developmental stage that developing countries has to go through before they become developed; referring to sweatshops as “an important part of their recipe for development” (Powell 116). According to Powell, sweatshops will eventually disappear as developing countries economy improves just like what happened in Britain and the United States. It is generally understood that when supply is high and demand is low, the price will go down but if the supply is low and the demand is high, the price will go up. So does labor follows a similar pattern not only in developing countries but also in developed countries. The difference though is quite obvious; unlike in developed countries where the demand for labor exceeds what the country can supply, labor supply in developing countries are excessive as compared to demand and so the price or compensation for such labor has remained low. Consider the case of China, for example. Several years ago, the Chinese labor institution has been the subject of criticism because of the poor labor conditions and low wages. But as China continued to industrialize, its industries required excessive demand for labor, which has somehow become scarce. Gradually, Chinese industries improved their working conditions as well as the salary they offer in order to attract and retain employees. Today, observers believe that the era of cheap labor has ended in China and a rising middle class has characterized the economic growth of China’s labor force.
According to economic analysts, developing countries are characterized by two labor sectors; the low-productivity with excessive labor and the high-productivity sector (N’Diaye & Das 1). The low-productivity with excessive labor sector characterizes the agricultural industry where labor is abundant and cheap. The high-productivity sector, on the other hand, characterizes the developing country’s industrial sector. According to Arthur Lewis, the high-productivity sector continues to be profitable because it benefits from the excess labor that comes from the low-productivity sector (N’Diaye & Das 1). However, if a country rapidly industrializes as in the case of China, a point in time will come when the number of surplus workers will dwindle. As a result, a country passes the ‘Lewis Turning Point’ where wages in the high-productivity sector begin to rise; profits are squeezed; and investment falls (N’Diaye & Das 1).
Sweatshops are commonplace in developing countries. According to scholars, sweatshops are developmental stages that a third world country would have to go through as it moves on to economic prosperity. However, the inclusion of women and children in sweatshops is highly probable because most of these establishments require less physical strength. Most often, sweatshop conditions are found in factories that engage in repetitive production methods that require human labor such as apparel manufacturing and other many others. Women and girls are also preferred by manufacturers because of their calm temperament and high tolerance to boredom especially in repetitive factory work. Evidently, the prevalence of sweatshops in developing countries is not only an issue of external influence but also of internal influence as well. As observed, governments of developing countries indirectly support the emergence of sweatshops by lowering their labor standards in order to attract foreign investments. Knowing how tightly knit the sweatshop phenomenon is to the development of developing countries as well as to the profitability of businesses, it can be deduced that sweatshops will continue to be practiced so long as there is a surplus of labor and lack of political will.
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