in praise of Nike sweatshops!

According to this article, they look pretty good if you live in a Communist dictatorship:

Today Nike has almost four times more workers in Vietnam than in the United States. I travelled to Ho Chi Minh to examine the effects of multinational corporations on poor countries. Nike being the most notorious multinational villain, and Vietnam being a dictatorship with a documented lack of free speech, the operation is supposed to be a classic of conscience-free capitalist oppression.

In truth the work does look tough, and the conditions grim, if we compare Vietnamese factories with what we have back home. But that's not the comparison these workers make. They compare the work at Nike with the way they lived before, or the way their parents or neighbours still work. [...] When I talk to a young Vietnamese woman, Tsi-Chi, at the factory, it is not the wages she is most happy about. Sure, she makes five times more than she did, she earns more than her husband, and she can now afford to build an extension to her house. But the most important thing, she says, is that she doesn't have to work outdoors on a farm any more. Farming means 10 to 14 hours a day in the burning sun or the intensive rain, in rice fields with water up to your ankles and insects in your face.

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6 Responses:

  1. I have to confess that I've always been a bit ambivalent on the subject of "sweatshops". If people have to work like a dog, but still earn twice as much as their compatriots, is this bad? Their living conditions may look awful to us, but glorious to them. Further, if our country had never permitted such activity here, we wouldn't have had our industrial boom in the late 19th century.

    That's not to say that abuses don't happen and that we don't have a moral responsibility to eschew purchasing things made by the abused, but it's an awfully fuzzy line. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to be upset about globalization.

  2. omnifarious says:

    I, too, have always questioned whether the whole south asian sweatshop thing was really that bad from their perspective. Now, yes, it would be nice if they could immediately jump up to our standard of living, but, realistically, that just isn't going to happen. As long as their conditions keep improving and they are still free, I don't have a problem with it.

    • spendocrat says:

      it would be nice if they could immediately jump up to our standard of living

      Though with the environmental impact of how we live now, god help us if they do.

  3. When I lived in Hong Kong, I toured Shenzen factories (Southern China, mainland).
    A few of the women in my class who were fluent in Mandarin struck up shy conversations with the female workers, who confirmed what the factory bosses, American managers, and our instructors told us.

    The majority of workers in these "sweat shops" came from rural China and were young, unmarried women for whom job prospects outside hard agricultural labor were nil. Here, they came and worked for 6 months to a year, free housing, in a nice part of China. When they were done, they returned home with a significant dowry, able to marry whomever they chose while supporting their own family - a break from the customs that have helped drive female-abortions in the 1-child era (where boys support you, and girls are a burden, you aim for the boys).

    Americans forget "standard of living" and "cost of living", such that 12cents per hour appears "slavery" in countries where this amount goes far. They also forget that the higher wages yield more expensive goods, resulting from lower sales, then lower production, less jobs... etc.... what economists like to discuss within "elasticity of demand". Were they manufacturing heroin, opium, etc? Go ahead, pay what you like, demand don't waive. Reeboks? Best fetch a low price to remain competitive

  4. baconmonkey says:

    at the same time, there are still areas where workers are beaten if they try to organize. And then there are the frequent rumors of places where people trying to quit working at the sweatshop are threatened with or recieve violence.