2005/03/20

Why we should boycott sweatshop labour

Sweatshop labour is a cruel way to earn a living. It is demeaning, alienating, illegal, and is virtually slavery. Products created using sweatshop labour must be boycotted if we are to ever stop this practise.

Companies operate along a profit motive. They always seek to make a buck. There are two ways to increase profits; either raise the price of the product, and risk driving customers away; or decrease the cost of manufacture, and the easiest way to do that is to pay staff peanuts. Risk assessment will tell bosses to do the second, as they need sales.

So multi-national corporations (MNCs) set up a sweatshop factory in a third world country. They pay the workers next to nothing in wages, they set the factory up with no ventilation, they do not provide for breaks during the 12 hour shift, they hire young children. And if a worker complains, or seeks something to be improved? Fired. If all the workers begin to unionise? They find another third world country. In other words, this is a ‘take it or leave it’ situation for these people. And that is unacceptable. The countries they set up in have been torn apart by civil war, taken over by MNCs, or are only beginning to develop. The people are removed from their traditional ways of living, and given no hope. They need to work to feed their family, but there is little available, so they take anything they can.

Is it right that you can improve your lifestyle by ripping someone off and treating them like dirt? Is it fair that you can wear nice clothing while the person who made it cannot feed their children? If you answered ‘no’ (like all smart people would have), then protest against it. Don’t buy from the MNCs that rely upon sweatshops to make their goods.

By boycotting the products, people can show that they care about these people. You can stand up and say that this is unacceptable. You can say “I do not exploit others, just so that I can be better off”. Boycotting is making a statement that you do not value yourself as being superior to others, that workers are also people and deserve to be treated as such.

Boycotting the products of sweatshop labour is not the sole action to be taken though. If the MNC does not know why people are avoiding their products, then this will not change anything, they will assume it because trends or fashion has changed. Protesting, marching, civil disobedience must be used as well to inform MNCs as to why they are having a drop in sales.

Once a MNC begins to realise that they can make it a selling point of their product that they do not use sweatshop labour, they will be able to make money out of it. That is the profit-motive at work again. It benefits the MNC as well if they learn to avoid using sweatshop labour, and we, the consumers, reward them for that. MNCs must learn that it is wrong, and we can teach them.

Sweatshop labour breaks a number of laws. The UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), articles seven, eight and ten (point three) are all broken by sweatshop labour. So boycotting sweatshop labour also means standing up for the rule of the law, and for the rule of international human rights.

So MNCs break the law to bring you cheaper products. Isn’t that itself illegal then? You have effectively signalled your approval of breaking human rights law by purchasing a sweatshop produced good. You have destroyed these people’s humanity. Does that make you feel good?

But surely this would then deny these people of their livelihood? No, it doesn’t. The MNCs will begin to realise that unless they raise wages, they will not make sales. But the factory and materials are still in the country, and so to are workers. The MNC then begins to pay those staff better, as it is still cheaper than building a new factory in New York. So the boycott will benefit the workers within the sweatshop factory.

So if enough people rally around and stop a MNC from selling any sweatshop product, they will change as they seek to make money. And at the same time, many millions of people will be moved out of poverty. There is nothing wrong with helping out millions of people.

Sweatshop labour is wrong, and it must be stopped. Multi-national corporations must learn to be socially responsible, they cannot treat humans as though they are animals, they must treat people as such. And the consumer can force them to do so, thus people should boycott products made with sweatshop labour. A list can be found at http://www.accd.edu/pac/philosop/phil1301/boycott.htm , or you can do all your shopping at Trade Aid (on Cuba Mall).

7 Comments:

I'm not surprised by this statistic from the site you linked:

"Currently, production labour costs account for only about 4% of the price of a pair of Nike shoes. If Nike cut its worldwide marketing outlay of $975 million by only 4%, it could ensure that all its Indonesian production workers receive a living wage." 

I've long boycotted Nike. If they can afford to pay Tiger $7 million a year to wear their baseball cap, they can afford to pay the people who make that cap a resonable wage. 

Posted by Francesca
3/21/2005 01:25:00 am  
Thanks for the list. If more people know the names of the companies and what they are guilty of, it will help. Nestle is a big one here in France that I will pay attention to.
I stopped drinking Coca-Cola several months ago because of the people in India. This is my way of helping the Indian people. We can all do our little bit. It matters. 

Posted by Dianne
3/21/2005 12:53:00 pm  
I'd like to have a list of French companies guilty of the same disgusting crime so that I'd know what to boycott here. 

Posted by WhyNot
3/21/2005 12:58:00 pm  
My New Year's resolution this year was to stop buying anything from Walmart at all. So far so good... I pay a bit more to local vendors but it's worth it. Big difference between "free trade" and "fair trade." 

Posted by Sarah
3/21/2005 03:53:00 pm  
And remember, while you're boycotting the sweatshops, buy Union-Made Apparel .

Read more about it here and check out the selection. 

Posted by eponymous
3/21/2005 04:37:00 pm  
Eponymous, I was taken aback by the graphic on the site. I've seen it used on several neo-con sites to portray what I can only assume is a tough badgirl image. I know cheap labor Conservatives aren't pushing unions. They're too busy pushing NAFTA and GATT, free trade and non-union privatization.

Looking around the 'Union Made' site I saw one of their sources is 'Just Garments' in El Salvador. The worker's representative, Gilberto Garcia Dueñas, had this to say.

A brand t-shirt can cost $13 in a store. If you analyze the cost to produce a dozen shirts, let's say about $1.80 for all the materials. A brand will pay $2.50 for a dozen t-shirts. How much do you think the factory will pay the workers? We're talking about three or four cents. The multinationals take the biggest bite.

So we could sell the shirts for six or seven dollars, with almost all the profit returning to the factory. The fair trade market can really be a good business if you can remove that huge percentage that goes to the multinationals. This would allow us to pay decent wages so that it actually makes sense to work in a factory so you can take care of your family. We think it is a model that can function if we can increase the market and survive while this market grows."
 .

Just Garments is not producing at capacity, and has yet to turn a profit. You can be sure the big corps they refuse to do business with want them to fail. I had a look at their products page and like what I see. I hope they make it. I hope people support them.

Imagine providing workers with a living wage!

 

Posted by Dianne
3/21/2005 06:00:00 pm  
"Imagine providing workers with a living wage! "

You're talking heresy and sedition here, Dianne. Kender will tell ya! 

Posted by WhyNot
3/21/2005 06:38:00 pm  

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