Vox Nova at the Mall: Brands and Sweatshops

Vox Nova at the Mall: Brands and Sweatshops August 6, 2008

Quick research trip to the mall

Policraticus and I went yesterday to a new outlet mall that recently opened outside of Houston just to check it out and to walk a little bit. We usually don’t go to malls, period, but sometimes you just happen to need clothes or something else, so we decided to go. We stopped by the Ann Taylor outlet store, because that used to be my favorite brand, but recently I have been reading that the brand has been having problems with sweat shops and child labor abroad and has not done much about it to resolve them; they seemed to have turned a blind eye to the problems. After reminding myself of that, we decided to make our mall visit a bit more fruitful, so we started checking out the labels on some of the clothes in the biggest stores at the mall to see where they were made. The countries that dominated the labels in all the stores were China, obviously, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, and India. Kenneth Cole and Calvin Klein had clothes made in Jordan, which was not a common country in the rest of the stores. The only store that had a piece of clothing made in the U.S. was Kenneth Cole and it happened to be only one dress in virtually the entire store. Reebok had soccer balls that stated on the side of the box that they were guaranteed to not be manufactured in Pakistan by children as it had (apparently) been the case traditionally. We did not go into the New Balance store, but we have learned that a quarter of the shoes they make are made in the U.S.

The UN Global Compact

I have done research for some time about which brands it would be ethical or “more” ethical to buy, but my findings have not been very clear or consistent. It seems that in 1998, a report by the National Labor Committee came out with sweatshop profiles that manufactured products for large U.S. corporations that caused a great uproar, but the internet search results seem pretty quiet after 2001. In my personal internet research, GAP Inc. comes across as the company that has done the most in terms of trying to ensure that human rights are not violated in their manufacturing facilities overseas, but given the lack of law enforcement in developing countries, who knows to what extent these efforts remain fruitful. Nike and Ann Taylor seem to have either delayed or taken no action whenever human right violations were discovered in their manufacturing facilities, but that information was as of 2007. I could not find much on these two companies that seemed definitive or more recent.

I did find out about the UN Global Compact, which is according to their website a “framework for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. Companies who participate in the UN Global Compact do so in a voluntary manner and pledge more cooperation with international authorities and transparency in their business dealings with manufacturing facilities abroad. The UN Global Compact, however, is not a regulatory agency, so just because a company decides to participate in it, does not guarantee that human rights are not being violated. Regardless, I do think that since the participation in this UN framework is strictly voluntary, companies that do choose to participate in it show somewhat of a good will to clean their act in their operations overseas. Among some of the U.S. clothing companies that are currently participating in the UN Global Compact are: Gap Inc., Levi’s, Nike Inc., and Timberland.

The solution

I have not bought any clothes from Ann Taylor since I became more familiar with the labor issues the company tends to ignore. In fact, I have not bought anything from that brand ever since. Still, some of us have jobs that require us to wear a certain kind of clothing or you just need the clothes, period; thus, we need to buy clothes from somewhere. In my case, for instance, the problem is even worse, because I am a petite extra-small size, so the choice of brands for me is even narrower than for most women. Same goes for tall women and so on. Buying vintage or second-hand clothing is another option, but even if you go to Goodwill, the brands there are the same as those that you would buy in a department store. Another option would be to make your own or buy handmade clothes, but the latter option tends to be really expensive or, if you are like me and need a special size, then this option may not be very feasible. So, what to do? I really don’t know. I am still doing more research and trying to find more ethical options when shopping for clothes. I did find a fair trade clothing brand called Fair Indigo, which looks very nice; they also have jewelry and more. No Sweat Apparel is another option, but choices are rather limited. Other websites are: Pristine Planet, Marigold Fair Trade, and Peace of My Heart. Any others?

Resources

Here are some resources that I have found in the research I have done on the internet. Please feel free to share any other sites you are aware of:

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  • My New Balance were made in the USA, as were my Danner boots, my Birkenstocks in Germany.
    Of course, you can find illegal alien sweatshops in the USA, their exploitability by employers being substantial.

  • My New Balance were made in the USA, as were my Danner boots, my Birkenstocks in Germany.
    Of course, you can find illegal alien sweatshops in the USA, their exploitability by employers being substantial.

  • blackadderiv

    I would take issue with the assumption that it is more ethical not to buy clothes made in sweatshops for two reasons. First, not buying a particular brand or from a particular company won’t have any effect on that company’s labor practices. If you stop buying Anne Taylor because their dresses are made in sweatshops, they won’t even know you’re gone.

    Second, and more importantly, if you were able to shut down a particular sweatshop, this would only end up hurting the poor people who work there. Sweatshop jobs are not great, but they are better than the available alternatives (if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to attract employees). On the latter point, see this article by Paul Krugman.

    It’s admirable to want to improve the conditions of these workers, but taking away their jobs is not the way to do it.

  • blackadderiv

    I would take issue with the assumption that it is more ethical not to buy clothes made in sweatshops for two reasons. First, not buying a particular brand or from a particular company won’t have any effect on that company’s labor practices. If you stop buying Anne Taylor because their dresses are made in sweatshops, they won’t even know you’re gone.

    Second, and more importantly, if you were able to shut down a particular sweatshop, this would only end up hurting the poor people who work there. Sweatshop jobs are not great, but they are better than the available alternatives (if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to attract employees). On the latter point, see this article by Paul Krugman.

    It’s admirable to want to improve the conditions of these workers, but taking away their jobs is not the way to do it.

  • I bought some dress pants not to long ago made in a plant in Georgia. It $100 or $125. Good wool pants. Many moons ago my half-brothers had suits custom tailored in New York for a wedding. I think they might have cost upwards of a $1000 a piece. The suits however were very good and very comfortable. Point being, you have to spend money if you want to know where your stuff comes from and for it to be quality.

  • I bought some dress pants not to long ago made in a plant in Georgia. It $100 or $125. Good wool pants. Many moons ago my half-brothers had suits custom tailored in New York for a wedding. I think they might have cost upwards of a $1000 a piece. The suits however were very good and very comfortable. Point being, you have to spend money if you want to know where your stuff comes from and for it to be quality.

  • Following on MZ, if you want to support serious clothing craftsmen, you need to buy bespoke clothing. Shoes start around $500 a pair. Shirts around $300 and suits around $3000. I’ve only read about men’s clothes, though. So you could get Poli tricked our pretty nicely, but I’m not sure about women’s clothes.

    Another point, however, (expanding on Blackadder’s) is that it’s not necessarily fair to assume that all plants in the developing world are “sweat shop” facilities. One of my co-workers is from Indonesia and visited several garment factories there on his last visit home. (Basically with the concerns that you have — and having lots of friends from business school who were back in Indonesia, he made some phone calls and scheduled some visits.) I think he said the factories he visited were making Ralph Loren and Banana Republic stuff.

    Despite coming in expecting to find all sorts of abuses, he said that the couple of factories he visited were amazingly modern, clean, safe and comfortable — better than the US based factories that our company has for consumer electronics. So there is, clearly, a lot of varience.

    If you simply treat all labels that say India, Philippines, etc. as if they say “sweat shop” the message that you are sending is not “I won’t want clothes made in sweat shops” but “I don’t want clothes made by people in the developing world”. And as Blackadder points out, one of the reasons that people sign up to work in factories that we think of as “sweat shops” is that this still represents a massive step up from the peasant subsistance lifestyles that were common in those countries a generation ago.

  • Following on MZ, if you want to support serious clothing craftsmen, you need to buy bespoke clothing. Shoes start around $500 a pair. Shirts around $300 and suits around $3000. I’ve only read about men’s clothes, though. So you could get Poli tricked our pretty nicely, but I’m not sure about women’s clothes.

    Another point, however, (expanding on Blackadder’s) is that it’s not necessarily fair to assume that all plants in the developing world are “sweat shop” facilities. One of my co-workers is from Indonesia and visited several garment factories there on his last visit home. (Basically with the concerns that you have — and having lots of friends from business school who were back in Indonesia, he made some phone calls and scheduled some visits.) I think he said the factories he visited were making Ralph Loren and Banana Republic stuff.

    Despite coming in expecting to find all sorts of abuses, he said that the couple of factories he visited were amazingly modern, clean, safe and comfortable — better than the US based factories that our company has for consumer electronics. So there is, clearly, a lot of varience.

    If you simply treat all labels that say India, Philippines, etc. as if they say “sweat shop” the message that you are sending is not “I won’t want clothes made in sweat shops” but “I don’t want clothes made by people in the developing world”. And as Blackadder points out, one of the reasons that people sign up to work in factories that we think of as “sweat shops” is that this still represents a massive step up from the peasant subsistance lifestyles that were common in those countries a generation ago.

  • Katerina

    Darwin,

    Yes, not all manufacturing facilities are necessarily sweatshops right now. There has been enough pressure on companies to supervise their contractors more closely that sweatshops are becoming less and less common. However, this is not to say that there is not more room for improvement. There is. Wal-Mart is one of those companies that keeps turning a blind eye to their contractors and how they handle their factories overseas. They have almost a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which is why I refuse buying at Wal-Mart.

    I’m not saying that I treat all labels that denote a developing country as bad. We do have the responsibility though to know what is behind the label. Even with a Made in the USA label, we don’t know for sure if there are sweatshops behind it. As Gerald rightly pointed out, we have sweatshops in the US as well as some recent discoveries have showed where literally slaves from developing countries have been found in factories within our borders.

    Blackadder,

    You’re right in pointing out that it doesn’t necessarily help if I, as an individual, decide to stop buying at Wal-Mart or Ann Taylor. However, collectively, there can be enough pressure put on a company that it would be forced to improve its labor policies abroad. So it has been the case with Ann Taylor and Levi’s (I think) that they stopped dealing with some subcontractors in India that had factories in which human rights were violated. They were not too happy to do it, but they still did it. I’m sorry, but I just refuse to buy a $40 blouse that probably cost a fraction of that in terms of money and that it cost much more than that in terms of human suffering. I have read many journal articles and books that talk about the kind of abuses that go on in these sweatshops (including deaths resulting from exhaustion and sleep deprivation) that you wouldn’t want to wear those clothes either knowing that goes on.

    The truth of the matter is that Ann Taylor will not lay off these workers in sweatshops just because Katerina decides not to buy at their stores anymore. Even if a significant number of us decides to boycott the company for ignoring inhumane labor practices abroad, the company is not going to leave those countries, because it simply doesn’t have any other (cheaper) option. Historically, even under a lot of pressure by activist organizations, companies have not laid off their workers. They do either one of two things: ignore the activists or improve regulation of their overseas factories. Hopefully, by creating awareness we can achieve the latter.

  • Katerina

    Darwin,

    Yes, not all manufacturing facilities are necessarily sweatshops right now. There has been enough pressure on companies to supervise their contractors more closely that sweatshops are becoming less and less common. However, this is not to say that there is not more room for improvement. There is. Wal-Mart is one of those companies that keeps turning a blind eye to their contractors and how they handle their factories overseas. They have almost a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which is why I refuse buying at Wal-Mart.

    I’m not saying that I treat all labels that denote a developing country as bad. We do have the responsibility though to know what is behind the label. Even with a Made in the USA label, we don’t know for sure if there are sweatshops behind it. As Gerald rightly pointed out, we have sweatshops in the US as well as some recent discoveries have showed where literally slaves from developing countries have been found in factories within our borders.

    Blackadder,

    You’re right in pointing out that it doesn’t necessarily help if I, as an individual, decide to stop buying at Wal-Mart or Ann Taylor. However, collectively, there can be enough pressure put on a company that it would be forced to improve its labor policies abroad. So it has been the case with Ann Taylor and Levi’s (I think) that they stopped dealing with some subcontractors in India that had factories in which human rights were violated. They were not too happy to do it, but they still did it. I’m sorry, but I just refuse to buy a $40 blouse that probably cost a fraction of that in terms of money and that it cost much more than that in terms of human suffering. I have read many journal articles and books that talk about the kind of abuses that go on in these sweatshops (including deaths resulting from exhaustion and sleep deprivation) that you wouldn’t want to wear those clothes either knowing that goes on.

    The truth of the matter is that Ann Taylor will not lay off these workers in sweatshops just because Katerina decides not to buy at their stores anymore. Even if a significant number of us decides to boycott the company for ignoring inhumane labor practices abroad, the company is not going to leave those countries, because it simply doesn’t have any other (cheaper) option. Historically, even under a lot of pressure by activist organizations, companies have not laid off their workers. They do either one of two things: ignore the activists or improve regulation of their overseas factories. Hopefully, by creating awareness we can achieve the latter.

  • blackadderiv

    Historically, even under a lot of pressure by activist organizations, companies have not laid off their workers.

    Not true. When it came out that clothes from the Kathy Lee Gifford line, for example, were made in sweatshops the contract for the clothing was canceled and the workers lost their jobs. The introduction of the Child Labor Deterrence Act in Congress led to approximately 50,000 young girls losing their jobs in Asia, with the result that many ended up becoming prostitutes or were forced to take jobs that were even more hazardous and didn’t pay as well.

  • blackadderiv

    Historically, even under a lot of pressure by activist organizations, companies have not laid off their workers.

    Not true. When it came out that clothes from the Kathy Lee Gifford line, for example, were made in sweatshops the contract for the clothing was canceled and the workers lost their jobs. The introduction of the Child Labor Deterrence Act in Congress led to approximately 50,000 young girls losing their jobs in Asia, with the result that many ended up becoming prostitutes or were forced to take jobs that were even more hazardous and didn’t pay as well.

  • Policraticus

    I would take issue with the assumption that it is more ethical not to buy clothes made in sweatshops for two reasons.

    I read out of Katerina’s post an ethical concern that is not reducible to the economical. It’s a question of participation as a consumer. Irrespective of whether or not Nike or Levi’s misses my business, I still have to choice to either participate in the structure or not. That, I think, is the heart of Katerina’s post: how ought I to respond?

    Emanating from the same concern is the question over whether the acknowledgment that sweatshops in India, Cambodia, Vietnam or wherever provide jobs (“better” is too relative and too uninformative to be useful here) to people ought to condition individual or collective protest over unjust or inhumane structures. In other words, do I take solace that “at least these people have jobs,” or do I admit as much but then recognize that the jobs are units within a structure of sin (if, indeed, rights are violated). John Paul II developed this moral viewpoint of justifying participation in unjust structures by clinging to a sense that “some good” comes out. In the end, it’s consequentialist, placing the economic above the moral.

  • Policraticus

    I would take issue with the assumption that it is more ethical not to buy clothes made in sweatshops for two reasons.

    I read out of Katerina’s post an ethical concern that is not reducible to the economical. It’s a question of participation as a consumer. Irrespective of whether or not Nike or Levi’s misses my business, I still have to choice to either participate in the structure or not. That, I think, is the heart of Katerina’s post: how ought I to respond?

    Emanating from the same concern is the question over whether the acknowledgment that sweatshops in India, Cambodia, Vietnam or wherever provide jobs (“better” is too relative and too uninformative to be useful here) to people ought to condition individual or collective protest over unjust or inhumane structures. In other words, do I take solace that “at least these people have jobs,” or do I admit as much but then recognize that the jobs are units within a structure of sin (if, indeed, rights are violated). John Paul II developed this moral viewpoint of justifying participation in unjust structures by clinging to a sense that “some good” comes out. In the end, it’s consequentialist, placing the economic above the moral.

  • David Nickol

    Regarding another topic, which I will not mention here, there is so much focus on remote material cooperation with evil which, if valid, would seem to apply here also. It seems to me if the concept is not applied to all aspects of contemporary life–instead of just that one–there’s a lot of hot air being blown that needn’t be taken very seriously.

  • David Nickol

    Regarding another topic, which I will not mention here, there is so much focus on remote material cooperation with evil which, if valid, would seem to apply here also. It seems to me if the concept is not applied to all aspects of contemporary life–instead of just that one–there’s a lot of hot air being blown that needn’t be taken very seriously.

  • Katerina

    The introduction of the Child Labor Deterrence Act in Congress led to approximately 50,000 young girls losing their jobs in Asia, with the result that many ended up becoming prostitutes or were forced to take jobs that were even more hazardous and didn’t pay as well.

    Modern slavery takes many different forms: prostitution is one of them but working at sweatshops for slave wages is another. I really don’t want to get into the consequentialist argument here. I would just hope that you wouldn’t want to cooperate with evil and that’s ultimately the point of my post.

  • Katerina

    The introduction of the Child Labor Deterrence Act in Congress led to approximately 50,000 young girls losing their jobs in Asia, with the result that many ended up becoming prostitutes or were forced to take jobs that were even more hazardous and didn’t pay as well.

    Modern slavery takes many different forms: prostitution is one of them but working at sweatshops for slave wages is another. I really don’t want to get into the consequentialist argument here. I would just hope that you wouldn’t want to cooperate with evil and that’s ultimately the point of my post.

  • SB

    Which is cooperating with evil? Buying goods that may have been made in situations that workers in America would find inadequate but that Third World workers might see as an improvement (along with agitating to have companies not buy from sweatshops)? Or taking a stance that directly causes some of those Third World workers to be thrown into even more destitute poverty? The world is full of difficult tradeoffs, and you may have to pick one or the other; either way, you’re going to be doing something that makes you feel better but that could be construed as “cooperating” in a less-than-ideal system.

    I don’t see how invoking “consequentialism” makes it OK to choose the option that does more evil.

  • SB

    Which is cooperating with evil? Buying goods that may have been made in situations that workers in America would find inadequate but that Third World workers might see as an improvement (along with agitating to have companies not buy from sweatshops)? Or taking a stance that directly causes some of those Third World workers to be thrown into even more destitute poverty? The world is full of difficult tradeoffs, and you may have to pick one or the other; either way, you’re going to be doing something that makes you feel better but that could be construed as “cooperating” in a less-than-ideal system.

    I don’t see how invoking “consequentialism” makes it OK to choose the option that does more evil.

  • Katerina

    Buying goods that may have been made in situations that workers in America would find inadequate but that Third World workers might see as an improvement

    SB and BA, I would strongly recommend you doing more research on what you are calling an “improvement” and learn more about the real working conditions of these people. I am assuming that you don’t know what you mean by “improvement”, otherwise, if you know, I would find your assertions rather troubling.

  • Katerina

    Buying goods that may have been made in situations that workers in America would find inadequate but that Third World workers might see as an improvement

    SB and BA, I would strongly recommend you doing more research on what you are calling an “improvement” and learn more about the real working conditions of these people. I am assuming that you don’t know what you mean by “improvement”, otherwise, if you know, I would find your assertions rather troubling.

  • blackadderiv

    Modern slavery takes many different forms: prostitution is one of them but working at sweatshops for slave wages is another.

    I wouldn’t characterize either prostitution or working for low wages as slavery necessarily. They may involve slavery, as in the case of forced prostitution, but they do not always do so. That’s not to say that either is a good thing. Prostitution, certainly, is a very grave and intrinsic evil. But confusing one type of evil with another will only hamper your ability to fight it.

    I find talk about “slave wages” similarly unhelpful. Slaves typically don’t make wages.

    One can, if they wish, say that working in a sweatshop is no better than working in a brothel. People actually faced with a choice between the two, however, do tend to prefer sweatshops.

  • blackadderiv

    Modern slavery takes many different forms: prostitution is one of them but working at sweatshops for slave wages is another.

    I wouldn’t characterize either prostitution or working for low wages as slavery necessarily. They may involve slavery, as in the case of forced prostitution, but they do not always do so. That’s not to say that either is a good thing. Prostitution, certainly, is a very grave and intrinsic evil. But confusing one type of evil with another will only hamper your ability to fight it.

    I find talk about “slave wages” similarly unhelpful. Slaves typically don’t make wages.

    One can, if they wish, say that working in a sweatshop is no better than working in a brothel. People actually faced with a choice between the two, however, do tend to prefer sweatshops.

  • Katerina

    I find talk about “slave wages” similarly unhelpful. Slaves typically don’t make wages.

    Perhaps in the “old” type of slavery, they didn’t, but in modern forms of slavery they do. These workers are usually tricked into thinking that they are going to be working in very nice facilities and be able to afford “western” clothes and so forth, but once they get to the factories they find out that they have to work non-stop (no bathroom breaks, sometimes no food) for 16 hours a day and their slaveholders keep a huge chunk of their actual promised wages.

  • Katerina

    I find talk about “slave wages” similarly unhelpful. Slaves typically don’t make wages.

    Perhaps in the “old” type of slavery, they didn’t, but in modern forms of slavery they do. These workers are usually tricked into thinking that they are going to be working in very nice facilities and be able to afford “western” clothes and so forth, but once they get to the factories they find out that they have to work non-stop (no bathroom breaks, sometimes no food) for 16 hours a day and their slaveholders keep a huge chunk of their actual promised wages.

  • blackadderiv

    I would strongly recommend you doing more research on what you are calling an “improvement” and learn more about the real working conditions of these people.

    No doubt the conditions in such places are horrific. The fact that so many people nonetheless want to work there leads me to believe that, however horrific they may be, the alternatives are even worse. It’s easy for someone like you or me, who doesn’t face the bleak options of many in the developing world, to say that nothing could be worse than a sweatshop. But the people actually facing that situation seem to have a rather strong preference for sweatshop jobs over the available alternatives.

  • blackadderiv

    I would strongly recommend you doing more research on what you are calling an “improvement” and learn more about the real working conditions of these people.

    No doubt the conditions in such places are horrific. The fact that so many people nonetheless want to work there leads me to believe that, however horrific they may be, the alternatives are even worse. It’s easy for someone like you or me, who doesn’t face the bleak options of many in the developing world, to say that nothing could be worse than a sweatshop. But the people actually facing that situation seem to have a rather strong preference for sweatshop jobs over the available alternatives.

  • I think the point of the original post was to ask if there are other sources of Fair Trade clothes out there.
    The great news is that the choice/availability is growing fast, as is the opportunity to buy sweatshop free clothes from within the USA.
    Fair Trade/sweatshop free brands to look for in addition to those from the original post:
    Avatar (Fair Trade, mostly made in Nepal)
    Tees for Change (bamboo/organic cotton – sweatshop free)
    Ganesh Himal Trading (Fair Trade, made in Nepal)
    Global Mamas / Global Sisters (Fair Trade – made in Ghana)
    Mata Traders

  • I think the point of the original post was to ask if there are other sources of Fair Trade clothes out there.
    The great news is that the choice/availability is growing fast, as is the opportunity to buy sweatshop free clothes from within the USA.
    Fair Trade/sweatshop free brands to look for in addition to those from the original post:
    Avatar (Fair Trade, mostly made in Nepal)
    Tees for Change (bamboo/organic cotton – sweatshop free)
    Ganesh Himal Trading (Fair Trade, made in Nepal)
    Global Mamas / Global Sisters (Fair Trade – made in Ghana)
    Mata Traders

  • Katerina

    But the people actually facing that situation seem to have a rather strong preference for sweatshop jobs over the available alternatives.

    Yes, but let’s not keep the status quo and demand these companies to treat their laborers with dignity. Is that too much to ask?

  • Katerina

    But the people actually facing that situation seem to have a rather strong preference for sweatshop jobs over the available alternatives.

    Yes, but let’s not keep the status quo and demand these companies to treat their laborers with dignity. Is that too much to ask?

  • Katerina

    Globalfayre,

    Thanks for the references! I’ll update my post with your links

  • Katerina

    Globalfayre,

    Thanks for the references! I’ll update my post with your links

  • blackadderiv

    let’s not keep the status quo and demand these companies to treat their laborers with dignity.

    Again, if you tell these sweatshop operations that they must either abide by Western labor standards or close, they will close, and it will be the poor workers who suffer. I previously cited an article on the subject by Paul Krugman. Here is one by Nicholas Kristof.

  • blackadderiv

    let’s not keep the status quo and demand these companies to treat their laborers with dignity.

    Again, if you tell these sweatshop operations that they must either abide by Western labor standards or close, they will close, and it will be the poor workers who suffer. I previously cited an article on the subject by Paul Krugman. Here is one by Nicholas Kristof.

  • SB

    I would strongly recommend you doing more research on what you are calling an “improvement” and learn more about the real working conditions of these people. I am assuming that you don’t know what you mean by “improvement”, otherwise, if you know, I would find your assertions rather troubling.

    Well, it would be helpful to clarify our terms here. You seem to think that I was referring to the people in your 3:55 pm comment. I use the term “improvement” to mean, “better than the previous option.” That is, I’m talking about people who may work in something that Americans would consider a “sweatshop,” but that they chose because it was at least better than scavenging on a trash heap or selling their children into prostitution. Do you think that such people don’t exist, or that 100% of them fall into your category of “modern forms of slavery”?

  • SB

    I would strongly recommend you doing more research on what you are calling an “improvement” and learn more about the real working conditions of these people. I am assuming that you don’t know what you mean by “improvement”, otherwise, if you know, I would find your assertions rather troubling.

    Well, it would be helpful to clarify our terms here. You seem to think that I was referring to the people in your 3:55 pm comment. I use the term “improvement” to mean, “better than the previous option.” That is, I’m talking about people who may work in something that Americans would consider a “sweatshop,” but that they chose because it was at least better than scavenging on a trash heap or selling their children into prostitution. Do you think that such people don’t exist, or that 100% of them fall into your category of “modern forms of slavery”?

  • Blackadder – It is also easy to sit here in America at a cushy job and opine about how grateful the benighted foreigners are to be working at all.

    Aren’t you presenting a false dilemma anyway? If the only choices were 1. Work in a sweatshop or 2. Starve, i could see the sensibility in what you’re saying; what about, “3. Consumers pressure companies to treat foreign workers with dignity and respect?” Can you really object to that?

    You’re attempting to undermine Katerina’s case, and you’re doing it in a very lawyerly way. It comes off as deliberately obtuse.

  • Blackadder – It is also easy to sit here in America at a cushy job and opine about how grateful the benighted foreigners are to be working at all.

    Aren’t you presenting a false dilemma anyway? If the only choices were 1. Work in a sweatshop or 2. Starve, i could see the sensibility in what you’re saying; what about, “3. Consumers pressure companies to treat foreign workers with dignity and respect?” Can you really object to that?

    You’re attempting to undermine Katerina’s case, and you’re doing it in a very lawyerly way. It comes off as deliberately obtuse.

  • blackadderiv

    It is also easy to sit here in America at a cushy job and opine about how grateful the benighted foreigners are to be working at all.

    Do you really think making arguments in favor of sweatshops is easy? How do you think most people would react if you said that sweatshops, while awful, are for many people better than the alternative and that therefore attempts to shame companies into shutting them down are counter-productive. Do you think they would shake your hand, and tell you how impressed they were about your concern for the poor? Of course not. In all likelihood they would simply look at you with horror, as if you had suggested that they take up Satanism. No, if all I cared about was doing what was easy, I would smile politely when someone else broached the subject and keep my mouth shut.

    Consumers pressure companies to treat foreign workers with dignity and respect? Can you really object to that?

    Whether this is objectionable or not depends on how the companies employing foreign workers respond. If they all respond by improving conditions and pay, then this would be a good thing. If, on the other hand, they respond by cutting jobs (or if other firms decide not to hire workers from those countries out of fear of the bad PR), then that would be a bad thing. The belief that sweatshop employers will only do the former, in my opinion, is wishful thinking. It would be nice if it were true; but it’s not.

  • blackadderiv

    It is also easy to sit here in America at a cushy job and opine about how grateful the benighted foreigners are to be working at all.

    Do you really think making arguments in favor of sweatshops is easy? How do you think most people would react if you said that sweatshops, while awful, are for many people better than the alternative and that therefore attempts to shame companies into shutting them down are counter-productive. Do you think they would shake your hand, and tell you how impressed they were about your concern for the poor? Of course not. In all likelihood they would simply look at you with horror, as if you had suggested that they take up Satanism. No, if all I cared about was doing what was easy, I would smile politely when someone else broached the subject and keep my mouth shut.

    Consumers pressure companies to treat foreign workers with dignity and respect? Can you really object to that?

    Whether this is objectionable or not depends on how the companies employing foreign workers respond. If they all respond by improving conditions and pay, then this would be a good thing. If, on the other hand, they respond by cutting jobs (or if other firms decide not to hire workers from those countries out of fear of the bad PR), then that would be a bad thing. The belief that sweatshop employers will only do the former, in my opinion, is wishful thinking. It would be nice if it were true; but it’s not.

  • David Nickol

    There’s an old saying: Arguing in favor of sweatshops is a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

  • David Nickol

    There’s an old saying: Arguing in favor of sweatshops is a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

  • BA – Do you really think making arguments in favor of sweatshops is easy? How do you think most people would react if you said that sweatshops, while awful, are for many people better than the alternative and that therefore attempts to shame companies into shutting them down are counter-productive. Do you think they would shake your hand, and tell you how impressed they were about your concern for the poor? Of course not. In all likelihood they would simply look at you with horror, as if you had suggested that they take up Satanism. No, if all I cared about was doing what was easy, I would smile politely when someone else broached the subject and keep my mouth shut.

    I’m guessing it’s easier than working in a sweatshop and working 16 hours straight without a bathroom break. You’re making an argument without much merit, in service to an ideology that is little better than morally bankrupt. You may find that “difficult” – but if you’re asking for my sympathy, I think I’ll pass.

    You have argued against a minimum wage on the grounds that it is the government making things worse. You’ve argued against unions, because it is unions making things worse. You’re arguing here against boycotts, because it is consumers making things worse.

    Let’s say, purely for the sake of argument, that some corporation at some point in the future does something evil. If we as Catholics see this, do we just wring our hands, shake our heads in little mimes of concern and long piously for New Jerusalem, or what?

  • BA – Do you really think making arguments in favor of sweatshops is easy? How do you think most people would react if you said that sweatshops, while awful, are for many people better than the alternative and that therefore attempts to shame companies into shutting them down are counter-productive. Do you think they would shake your hand, and tell you how impressed they were about your concern for the poor? Of course not. In all likelihood they would simply look at you with horror, as if you had suggested that they take up Satanism. No, if all I cared about was doing what was easy, I would smile politely when someone else broached the subject and keep my mouth shut.

    I’m guessing it’s easier than working in a sweatshop and working 16 hours straight without a bathroom break. You’re making an argument without much merit, in service to an ideology that is little better than morally bankrupt. You may find that “difficult” – but if you’re asking for my sympathy, I think I’ll pass.

    You have argued against a minimum wage on the grounds that it is the government making things worse. You’ve argued against unions, because it is unions making things worse. You’re arguing here against boycotts, because it is consumers making things worse.

    Let’s say, purely for the sake of argument, that some corporation at some point in the future does something evil. If we as Catholics see this, do we just wring our hands, shake our heads in little mimes of concern and long piously for New Jerusalem, or what?

  • Do you really think making arguments in favor of sweatshops is easy?

    I was informed at one point that we conservatives and economic realists only comment here because we’re in the pay of the McCain campaign and lots of evil corporate titans. Are you not in on that?

    Consumers pressure companies to treat foreign workers with dignity and respect? Can you really object to that?

    Object in principle, certainly not. And I don’t have a problem with your determination to buy clothes made in good conditions — which frankly are often better-made clothes anyway.

    But I think that there is a valuable point that BA is making here. Here’s the thing: Most of the time Nike or Levi or Ann Taylor does not own factories. They send someone out to Tailand or somewhere to find local factories that will make products according to their designs and quality specifications. They sign a contract with that company, and that company in turn expands its work floor and hires more workers.

    The main reason they don’t build their own plants is that that would require much greater investment on their part, and also many developing countries legally require tha they contract with local firms instead of owning their own plants. The main ways they decide which company to contract with are: low cost, quality of work, and contract terms.

    Now the local companies are desperately trying to compete with one another, and so inevitably some of the companies that win contracts are making their costs work by cramming too many people into their buildings, working their people too long and too hard, lack of safety precautions, etc. It’s not so much that some US company comes in and says to itself “Let’s force these people into terrible conditions” as that they’re contracting with comparatively poor companies in a distinctly poor country, and so factory conditions (like living conditions and agricultural conditions and governmental conditions) are often terrible there.

    I do think that US companies should to the dilligance to know what the actual conditions are lik in the factories they contract with, and have reasonable conditions in regards to that. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that a lot of US advocates of “fair labor” practices abroad have a rather more sinister agenda: If they can successfully drive up the cost of doing business abroad enough, companies won’t do it. That’s why US big labor tends to be behind initiatives to enforce better pay and working conditions abroad — because if the cost of working abroad is close enough to the cost of working the US, then we’ll leave the foreigners to themselves and just work here.

    And that would be rather rough on countries that would like to get in on the global prosperity that we’re at the center of.

  • Do you really think making arguments in favor of sweatshops is easy?

    I was informed at one point that we conservatives and economic realists only comment here because we’re in the pay of the McCain campaign and lots of evil corporate titans. Are you not in on that?

    Consumers pressure companies to treat foreign workers with dignity and respect? Can you really object to that?

    Object in principle, certainly not. And I don’t have a problem with your determination to buy clothes made in good conditions — which frankly are often better-made clothes anyway.

    But I think that there is a valuable point that BA is making here. Here’s the thing: Most of the time Nike or Levi or Ann Taylor does not own factories. They send someone out to Tailand or somewhere to find local factories that will make products according to their designs and quality specifications. They sign a contract with that company, and that company in turn expands its work floor and hires more workers.

    The main reason they don’t build their own plants is that that would require much greater investment on their part, and also many developing countries legally require tha they contract with local firms instead of owning their own plants. The main ways they decide which company to contract with are: low cost, quality of work, and contract terms.

    Now the local companies are desperately trying to compete with one another, and so inevitably some of the companies that win contracts are making their costs work by cramming too many people into their buildings, working their people too long and too hard, lack of safety precautions, etc. It’s not so much that some US company comes in and says to itself “Let’s force these people into terrible conditions” as that they’re contracting with comparatively poor companies in a distinctly poor country, and so factory conditions (like living conditions and agricultural conditions and governmental conditions) are often terrible there.

    I do think that US companies should to the dilligance to know what the actual conditions are lik in the factories they contract with, and have reasonable conditions in regards to that. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that a lot of US advocates of “fair labor” practices abroad have a rather more sinister agenda: If they can successfully drive up the cost of doing business abroad enough, companies won’t do it. That’s why US big labor tends to be behind initiatives to enforce better pay and working conditions abroad — because if the cost of working abroad is close enough to the cost of working the US, then we’ll leave the foreigners to themselves and just work here.

    And that would be rather rough on countries that would like to get in on the global prosperity that we’re at the center of.

  • SB

    Matt — BA was just responding to your (ad hominem) claim that his argument was made out of ease. Your stance here is equally “easier than working in a sweatshop and working 16 hours straight without a bathroom break,” so that really doesn’t get us anywhere.

  • SB

    Matt — BA was just responding to your (ad hominem) claim that his argument was made out of ease. Your stance here is equally “easier than working in a sweatshop and working 16 hours straight without a bathroom break,” so that really doesn’t get us anywhere.

  • SB – No, I was responding to his claim that “It’s easy for someone like you or me, who doesn’t face the bleak options of many in the developing world, to say that nothing could be worse than a sweatshop.”

  • SB – No, I was responding to his claim that “It’s easy for someone like you or me, who doesn’t face the bleak options of many in the developing world, to say that nothing could be worse than a sweatshop.”

  • SB

    OK, fair enough.

  • SB

    OK, fair enough.

  • blackadderiv

    You have argued against a minimum wage on the grounds that it is the government making things worse. You’ve argued against unions, because it is unions making things worse. You’re arguing here against boycotts, because it is consumers making things worse.

    And in each case the relevant question should be: does it actually make things worse? If it does, then I fail to see what is morally bankrupt about any of these positions.

    Let’s say, purely for the sake of argument, that some corporation at some point in the future does something evil. If we as Catholics see this, do we just wring our hands, shake our heads in little mimes of concern and long piously for New Jerusalem, or what?

    Perhaps an analogy would be helpful. Let’s say that a country is run by an evil dictator, who is abusing his people. Someone says, “we should invade and restore democracy!” You respond that an invasion would only end up killing a lot of people, including many innocents, and that given the condition of the country, it was likely that another dictator would simply rise in his place. Someone else says, “there are some rebel groups in part of the country; let’s arm them and they will overthrow the dictator!” You point out that even with arms the rebels are unlikely to win against the dictator, that the resulting conflict will only bring down harsher reprisals, and that even if the rebels do win things won’t be any better, as the rebels themselves are not democratic. A third person says, “okay, then let’s embargo their goods, and refuse to let them trade with us. That’ll teach ’em!” You reply that this would only hurt the populace of the country without doing anything to make getting rid of the dictator more likely. Finally, exasperated, someone yells out, “you’re against invasion; against arming the rebels; against an embargo; you must not think the dictator is evil!”

    Such is often the reasoning of man: something must be done; this is something; therefore it must be done. I prefer a different maxim: first do no harm.

  • blackadderiv

    You have argued against a minimum wage on the grounds that it is the government making things worse. You’ve argued against unions, because it is unions making things worse. You’re arguing here against boycotts, because it is consumers making things worse.

    And in each case the relevant question should be: does it actually make things worse? If it does, then I fail to see what is morally bankrupt about any of these positions.

    Let’s say, purely for the sake of argument, that some corporation at some point in the future does something evil. If we as Catholics see this, do we just wring our hands, shake our heads in little mimes of concern and long piously for New Jerusalem, or what?

    Perhaps an analogy would be helpful. Let’s say that a country is run by an evil dictator, who is abusing his people. Someone says, “we should invade and restore democracy!” You respond that an invasion would only end up killing a lot of people, including many innocents, and that given the condition of the country, it was likely that another dictator would simply rise in his place. Someone else says, “there are some rebel groups in part of the country; let’s arm them and they will overthrow the dictator!” You point out that even with arms the rebels are unlikely to win against the dictator, that the resulting conflict will only bring down harsher reprisals, and that even if the rebels do win things won’t be any better, as the rebels themselves are not democratic. A third person says, “okay, then let’s embargo their goods, and refuse to let them trade with us. That’ll teach ’em!” You reply that this would only hurt the populace of the country without doing anything to make getting rid of the dictator more likely. Finally, exasperated, someone yells out, “you’re against invasion; against arming the rebels; against an embargo; you must not think the dictator is evil!”

    Such is often the reasoning of man: something must be done; this is something; therefore it must be done. I prefer a different maxim: first do no harm.

  • blackadderiv

    By the way, Matt, you’re perfectly right about one thing: arguing in favor of sweatshops is far far easier than actually working in one. To even compare the two would be a joke. But those aren’t the choices you or I face, and they aren’t the choices the people working in sweatshops face either.

  • blackadderiv

    By the way, Matt, you’re perfectly right about one thing: arguing in favor of sweatshops is far far easier than actually working in one. To even compare the two would be a joke. But those aren’t the choices you or I face, and they aren’t the choices the people working in sweatshops face either.

  • SB

    Great point . . . opponents of the Iraq War ought to be able to recognize the all-too-common human dilemma here . . . even though something bad is happening, righteous zeal doesn’t guarantee that a plan of action won’t end up making things worse. Nor does righteous zeal make up for hardheaded consideration of the consequences of any policy. This isn’t “consequentialism,” or even if it is, there’s nothing wrong with “consequentialism” outside of the extremely narrow and rare context where one is deciding whether or not to directly commit an inherently evil act.

  • SB

    Great point . . . opponents of the Iraq War ought to be able to recognize the all-too-common human dilemma here . . . even though something bad is happening, righteous zeal doesn’t guarantee that a plan of action won’t end up making things worse. Nor does righteous zeal make up for hardheaded consideration of the consequences of any policy. This isn’t “consequentialism,” or even if it is, there’s nothing wrong with “consequentialism” outside of the extremely narrow and rare context where one is deciding whether or not to directly commit an inherently evil act.

  • blackadderiv

    The case of sweatshops is even stronger than the case of the dictator, since in the case of the dictator, doing nothing will not bring about the downfall of the dictator, whereas sweatshops are not only better than the alternatives in many places, but can help aid the economic development of a country, so that eventually its citizens will look on the conditions in sweatshops with the same horror as those of us in the West do today.

  • blackadderiv

    The case of sweatshops is even stronger than the case of the dictator, since in the case of the dictator, doing nothing will not bring about the downfall of the dictator, whereas sweatshops are not only better than the alternatives in many places, but can help aid the economic development of a country, so that eventually its citizens will look on the conditions in sweatshops with the same horror as those of us in the West do today.

  • Such is often the reasoning of man: something must be done; this is something; therefore it must be done. I prefer a different maxim: first do no harm.

    I think you meant to type, “First do no harm…to business.”

    Suppose everyone decided to boycott Anne Taylor stores, with the demand that they require humane treatment of workers by their suppliers, and use the same suppliers they have been using (thus preventing layoffs)? Wouldn’t that be an effective deterrent to bad corporate behavior? Wouldn’t that likely lead to better working conditions in countries where the suppliers make the clothes?

    What alternative do you propose? Finish this sentence: “In order to help improve working conditions in the third world, we, as American Catholics, should __________.”

  • Such is often the reasoning of man: something must be done; this is something; therefore it must be done. I prefer a different maxim: first do no harm.

    I think you meant to type, “First do no harm…to business.”

    Suppose everyone decided to boycott Anne Taylor stores, with the demand that they require humane treatment of workers by their suppliers, and use the same suppliers they have been using (thus preventing layoffs)? Wouldn’t that be an effective deterrent to bad corporate behavior? Wouldn’t that likely lead to better working conditions in countries where the suppliers make the clothes?

    What alternative do you propose? Finish this sentence: “In order to help improve working conditions in the third world, we, as American Catholics, should __________.”

  • Off topic. I recommend this tragic story of an Iraqi boy: http://www.geraldnaus.com/?p=10740

  • Off topic. I recommend this tragic story of an Iraqi boy: http://www.geraldnaus.com/?p=10740

  • blackadderiv

    I think you meant to type, “First do no harm…to business.”

    No, Matt, I didn’t. Business generally will find a way to take care of itself. The people who really suffer are the poor. They are the one who end up working in brothels or scavenging garbage dumps for food.

    Finish this sentence: “In order to help improve working conditions in the third world, we, as American Catholics, should __________.”

    Support free trade.

  • blackadderiv

    I think you meant to type, “First do no harm…to business.”

    No, Matt, I didn’t. Business generally will find a way to take care of itself. The people who really suffer are the poor. They are the one who end up working in brothels or scavenging garbage dumps for food.

    Finish this sentence: “In order to help improve working conditions in the third world, we, as American Catholics, should __________.”

    Support free trade.

  • Kurt

    HartMarx for men’s suits
    Allen Edmonds for men’s dress shoes
    Brooks Brothers for shirts.

    look for the ‘made in the USA’ label.

    quality products. can’t go wrong.

  • Kurt

    HartMarx for men’s suits
    Allen Edmonds for men’s dress shoes
    Brooks Brothers for shirts.

    look for the ‘made in the USA’ label.

    quality products. can’t go wrong.

  • What about the fact that there’s no way to change the global economic scene without grassroots action? Comapnies listen to the bottom line. Eventually, if we have a consistent public outcry against sweatshop labor and unsafe working conditions, companies will find a way to operate under those guidelines.

    Like the principle of just war, if we are achieving change that brings justice and sustainability to others, we may engage in evil as part of it.

    Definitely boycott companies who engage in unfair labor practicies. Reward those who don’t. Make your views known to Congress. And support charities who keep women off the streets. That’s the only way those workers are ever going to have a real choice in their lives.

  • What about the fact that there’s no way to change the global economic scene without grassroots action? Comapnies listen to the bottom line. Eventually, if we have a consistent public outcry against sweatshop labor and unsafe working conditions, companies will find a way to operate under those guidelines.

    Like the principle of just war, if we are achieving change that brings justice and sustainability to others, we may engage in evil as part of it.

    Definitely boycott companies who engage in unfair labor practicies. Reward those who don’t. Make your views known to Congress. And support charities who keep women off the streets. That’s the only way those workers are ever going to have a real choice in their lives.

  • Guillermo Bustamante

    Congrats Katerina: to demand dignity from laborers cruelly exploited is possible, and HAS DONE good and public rectifications from big corporations, bettering bleak conditions in many places.

    Tha slave fans-theorists-satanists have, are, and will be, covering their wolf skins with sheep ones all the time.

    Just keep the good work exposing their arses.

    Cheers!

  • Guillermo Bustamante

    Congrats Katerina: to demand dignity from laborers cruelly exploited is possible, and HAS DONE good and public rectifications from big corporations, bettering bleak conditions in many places.

    Tha slave fans-theorists-satanists have, are, and will be, covering their wolf skins with sheep ones all the time.

    Just keep the good work exposing their arses.

    Cheers!

  • Tara Sz

    Vox – Thank you for this entry. It’s never ok to ‘settle’ for the lesser of two evils, because then we get lulled into complacency. We have to fight against prostitution and sweatshops any way we can..

    Please also take note of those companies – Made in the USA or otherwise – that also support abortion in the United States, particularly Planned Parenthood. I receive the Boycott List from fightpp.org, and it’s gone a long way in helping me decide what businesses I will patronize. Levi’s, unfortunately, is one of those companies that supports PP financially.

    Guess I’m going to have to start making my own clothes. 🙂

  • Tara Sz

    Vox – Thank you for this entry. It’s never ok to ‘settle’ for the lesser of two evils, because then we get lulled into complacency. We have to fight against prostitution and sweatshops any way we can..

    Please also take note of those companies – Made in the USA or otherwise – that also support abortion in the United States, particularly Planned Parenthood. I receive the Boycott List from fightpp.org, and it’s gone a long way in helping me decide what businesses I will patronize. Levi’s, unfortunately, is one of those companies that supports PP financially.

    Guess I’m going to have to start making my own clothes. 🙂