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Sweat Shops A Good Or Bad Thing

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Sweatshops: A Bad Thing or an Economic Stepping-Stone?

Many people in our society today are constantly asking, "Why do sweatshops exist?" The answer to this question is that companies like Nike and Wal-Mart use sweatshops to produce their goods for a much cheaper rate, to reduce the cost of their products. The problem with sweatshops is that the workers are subject to hard work in often times poor conditions for minimal pay. But although many people may condemn sweatshops, there are some advantages that many people overlook when arguing against sweatshops and their practices.

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn are Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalists who spent fourteen years in Asia doing research on the country as well as the sweatshops of that country. In their article "Two Cheers for Sweatshops" they sum up clearly the misunderstanding of sweatshops by most of the modern world. "Yet sweatshops that seem brutal from the vantage point of an American sitting in his living room can appear tantalizing to a Thai laborer getting by on beetles." The fact of the matter is that sweatshops in the eyes of the actual workers are not as bad as they are made out to be, by many activists. Though many organizations that oppose sweatshops and their labor practices try to make the point that sweatshops do not have to exist. But one must consider the fact that, the companies that use sweatshops are creating at least some type of jobs for people that gladly accept them.

Linda Lim, a professor at the University of Michigan Business School, visited Vietnam and Indonesia in the summer of 2000 to obtain first-hand research on the impact of foreign-owned export factories (sweatshops) on the local economies. Lim found that in general, sweatshops pay above-average wages and conditions are no worse than the general alternatives: subsistence farming, domestic services, casual manual labor, prostitution, or unemployment. In the case of Vietnam in 1999, the minimum annual salary was 134 U.S. dollars while Nike workers in that country earned 670 U.S. dollars, the case is also the similar in Indonesia. Many times people in these countries are very surprised when they hear that American's boycott buying clothes that they make in the sweatshops. The simplest way to help many of these poor people that have to work in the sweatshops to support themselves and their families, would be to buy more products produced in the very sweatshops they detest.

One of the main reasons that many people protest against sweatshops and their practices is the terrible atrocities that unfortunately occur many times against women and children. However, these occurrences are in a much smaller number then the public realizes, because the extreme cases are promoted and used to rally support for the anti-sweatshop movement. Sweatshops around the world are slowly but surely becoming better work places as wages rise all over the globe, and as conditions and health standards continue to improve these factories will still attract the best workers.

While the wages in many of these sweatshops seem unimaginably low, consider this point. Kristof and Wudunn describe the average breakfast of a Chinese worker, "For the equivalent of about five cents, she is offered a huge green mango leaf filled with rice, fish, and fried beetles." Where in the United States would it be possible to find a hearty meal for just a nickel? Although we as Americans would in no way be able to survive on two dollars a day, it would be quite possible for the average Chinese worker to survive on the small amount, because they do not have the same amount of expenses as a normal American. Often times when considering the meager wages often paid to workers it is forgotten that in third world countries the economies are so poor compared to ours, that the American dollar goes a lot further than most realize.

Beside the fact that sweatshops are helping the overall economy of Asia by providing jobs and income for many workers, they are also helping the individual people of the region that the sweatshops exist in. Consider the story of a Cambodian woman, who lived in an area that was extremely rampant



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