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Jacob

Cowan

Professor Rogers

Phil 322 Business Ethics

13 November, 2016

Sweatshop Labor

Sweatshop labor is a long debated issue within Western society. It has long been

debated between governments, economists, and consumer boycott groups. The moral

argument centers around whether or not people choose to work in these places. If a person

decides to work in a sweatshop, that means they have made a morally significant decision. Even

if they dont necessarily enjoy what they do, or have an ambition to change their situation, they

still elect to work in a sweatshop. This should turn us to disregard the initial opposition to

sweatshops, and actually lead us to see them as acceptable.

Many people around the world are misunderstood about what sweatshop labor really

is. Many know these establishments to be defined by the US Department of Labor as violating

two or more labor laws, having poor working conditions, unfair wages, unreasonable hours,

child labor, and a lack of benefits. But what most people dont understand is these are not

always true. Yes, there might be low wages and a lack of benefits in some instances, but in the

countries where these establishments are prevalent, these sweatshops provide work for

millions of people who otherwise would have none. The other aspect that many people

overlook is these workers consent to work in these conditions. This opens the door to argue

whether or not it is our moral obligation to override their decisions.


The act of consent, as with anything else, is a moral responsibility. According to

Zwolinski, the consent of sexual relations renders impermissible for third parties to interfere

(3). He then ties this into moral and legal claims and obligations in which the consent to work in

a sweatshop cannot be infringed upon by these governments or consumer boycott groups. If a

person wishes to work, we have a moral obligation to respect their choice because it reflects

that persons desires in life. That leaves us with a reason to not interfere with that persons

actions even if we believe that it will be harmful to them. For example, we might think that a

friends belief will be harmful to his emotional, economic, and physical well being, but that does

not give us an obligation to try to pull him away from his belief. Zwolinski mentions that

workers in sweatshops should have the freedom to act autonomously in their decisions to

work. So we have no tangible claim to stray them from their decision, even if sweatshop labor

might not be the best for their well being. Their decision might also be more than just any

decision. This leads into the act of deciding the most-preferred option.

Many workers in foreign countries do not have the same opportunity as workers do in

the US. This leads them to make decisions based off limited options. And with limited options,

these workers are likely to pick their most-preferred option. This is something that consumer

boycott groups overlook. In fact, by taking away their source of income, we might actually be

hurting them. If these people in fact view this labor as their most-preferred option, then they

have every right to make the best choice for them. Zwolinski compares this by using an example

of kidnappers. Kidnapper A offers the person two options of food and gives them their

preference. While kidnapper B offers the person two options of food and gives them the

opposite of their preference. In either case it is unethical, but it is compared to having limited
options. If someone prefers one thing over the other, it is not moral to give them the opposite

of what they prefer.

The biggest argument to sweatshop labor is the conditions in which they work. As

mentioned before the US Department of Labor defines sweatshops labor as violating two or

more labor laws, having poor working conditions, unfair wages, unreasonable hours, child

labor, and a lack of benefits. It is very hard to prove all of these things are happening at every

institution. This argument completely leaves out the autonomy of these workers. I agree that

actions should be taken if someone is forced to work against their will, but there is no

evidence that these people are not making their own decisions (Powell and Skarbek, 6). The

fact that these people are working autonomously and for their most-preferred option, leaves us

the moral obligation to not make them worse off by banning this form of labor.

The decision to sustain outsourced labor is not an easy one. But it is in the best interest

of these people to continue letting them make decisions autonomously, even if their choice is

from a constrained set of options. With their constrained set of options, choosing sweatshops

has to lead us to believe that it is their most-preferred option. If they view it as their most-

preferred option, then it shows us it will actually hurt them by banning it. On top of everything,

it is immoral to hurt another human being, and to defy ones autonomy. Hence, this leads us to

the conclusion that it is immoral to take away this form of labor from those who would

otherwise elect to be apart of it.


Works Cited

Powell, Benjamin, and Skarbek, David. "Sweatshops and Third World Living Standards: Are the
Jobs Worth the Sweat?: Publications: The Independent Institute. 24 Sept. 2004. Web. 14
Nov. 2016.

Zwolinski, Matt. Sweatshops, Choice, and Exploitation. Business Ethics Quarterly, Volume 17,
Issue 4, 2007, pp. 2-28.