One of the projects I was helping to design was a "science city" tech campus. The workers lived in an encampment next to the construction site. They worked from dawn until dusk for 6.5 days per week -- half a day off on Sunday -- every day of the month except for the new moon. Children as young as 6 were working -- moving and sorting materials, but quite dangerous inasmuch as it was on a live construction site. The standard wage was roughly $3 per MONTH (although food and very nominal shelter -- really more like "camping space" -- were provided for free). These were not outrageously abusive labour practices -- they were absolutely bog-standard practice of local industry, preferable to many of the alternatives for these people.
Seeing this situation with my own eyes, I realised that if these people had the option to work in one of those $1/day sweatshops I'd heard anti-globalisation activists go on about -- in line with my own sympathies -- it would be an absolute DREAM. Since then, I've been rabidly pro-globalisation. These days, I get incensed when I see people going on about the horrors of globalisation, with absolutely ZERO understanding of the counter-factual. Utter ignorance of how bad it would be otherwise.
The one case where I'll allow that sweatshops are problematic is when their owners become so powerful that they corrupt the local politics and take steps to ensure that that the population cannot develop its economy any further. This has happened in some places, creating locked-in populations for whom the sweatshop is not the bottom rung of the ladder, but the top. That's an actual problem, where it has happened -- but in most of the world (eg. India, China, most of the rest of East Asia), that's NOT the story that's played out, and sweatshops have been a vital (but temporary) step in economic development.
I mean, take a country that hasn't been "globalized" yet, and people still live in small fishing villages, basically living at subsistence levels but not overcrowded and basically self-sufficient.
Then industry comes in, and cities coalesce, and people go to the city for its economic promises. They work in these horrible construction jobs, and send money home.
Then they're offered a job in a $1/day sweatshop, and they jump at it, because it's better than what they were doing.
Aren't they still much, much worse off than before they moved to the city in the first place?
I don't know, maybe I have an idealized view of the pre-globalized world. But it seems like we're treating the move from one horrible situation to another slightly-less-horrible situation as a big win, when it's still way behind how people lived pre-globalization.
Frankly, as I've grown up and worked in several industries, one of which was at a Wall Street firm, I see that outlook to still be valid. In the USA, productivity is at its highest levels. Wages have stagnated. The tax system has been calibrated to serve those with the most to protect and it chokes capitalistic market forces because hoarding and paying 15% on carried interest is not a practical or sustainable model to have a diverse society of low-middle-top class members. Statistics show that the largest population of jobs in the US following the 2008 recession have gone to workers age 55 and over. They have no savings, they have to work, and because they work, they take up low-level jobs young people could occupy to get started becoming earners and taxpayers. Could but right now, to me, can't even if they wanted that leg up.
Many people in the US can afford large TVs, advanced mobile phones, or "buy" a car on a 60 month loan plan; however, many of these items are built in places where wages are extremely low and quality of life is, well, not something I'd really wish on anybody. My quality of life is amazing by comparison, and yet I can see how hard it has been for me to achieve upward mobility in the current and foreseeable market conditions.
To put it another frame, the internet and poor regulation allows numerous firms in China to make IP infringing "Chibson Guitars" - they are, frankly, not very good but allow the buyer to feel special. There is an emotional and economic dynamic that is hard to quantify, but is definitely present. Should every guitarist be able to afford a genuine Gibson? I'm not sure. Should economic sniping, exploiting developing nations for simple economic benefit, and disrespect of natural preservation be tolerated? I certainly don't think so.
These are just counter-points to contextualize the phrase I heard long ago, and one I think has played out with eerie prescience.
 There's also the issue that the negative externalities of industry make the other alternatives worse. My dad grew up in a village in Bangladesh. Before run-off from industrial farming killed them all, the rivers were teaming with hundreds of different kinds of fish. The existence of industry makes the lives of farmers harder.
The main issue is if you push too hard, then the $49 to US shareholders suddenly becomes $49 to Irish Shareholders instead, as companies have the ability to move themselves to other countries to take advantage of tax codes.
So the tax / tariff systems need to be written in a way to account for that. Or we can get a quicker Congress so that we can keep up with (legal) tax evaders.
I am from India and I dont see $3 per Month wage anywhere!
You can find atleast 2$ per day as minimum wage since years.
Either I have misunderstood what you said or you have written something wrong.
India has come a long ways since then. Although the working conditions on construction sites are still far from good enough, I don't see children on them anymore, and those same workers would probably be taking home rs.5000/month today -- maybe rs.3000/month in places where contractors are more brazen about skirting the law. In any case: much better.
I live in a newer area of Bangalore and my apartment is surrounded by construction sites. There's a settlement of construction workers right across the road. What we see is small temporary one-room houses with satellite TV, and families that dress up and go out every Sunday. We even see them buying basic cosmetics in the local stores. Kids are not visible in the day time either in the settlement or on the construction sites, and I like to hope that they are actually in school.
I'll just throw in a family anecdote from the northern corner of Europe. About 107 years ago, my grandfather was a twelve-year-old boy and as all boys at that time and his social class did, he went to work in the forest, logging trees with his father and brothers. They were not the poorest, but had to work hard to make a living, and that meant also children.
A pile of logs came loose and rolled on his knee, crushing it. My folks were so well-off people in a well-off area that they actually took the boy to a doctor, who said that his knee might never recover and he couldn't work in the forest.
"What use do I have for such a boy?" was my great-grandfather's reaction, in a tone of agitation and disbelief.
No tears for the boy, no expression of sympathy for the immense pain. It was simply the grief of losing labour, a pair of hands and feet that could work for the family, a family which had for generations made a living in subsistence farming but now could work the forests for the emerging paper and sawmill industries. He had no use for a boy that couldn't work.
That might sound totally heartless today, but those days, it was the natural reaction. A kid who couldn't contribute, e.g. in logging trees, was just a useless mouth to feed. My grandfather's knee mended eventually well enough for him to work, and he died of tuberculosis at the age of 56, ten years before I was born.
And our family was not at all the poorest of families; they lived in a nation that was at that time ahead in poverty reduction of where much of India is now: there was even a new, universal school system! And there were those industries that were exploiting child labour.
How the world has changed. My own father still worked the forest with a horse; in between he went to a world war and then again worked the forest with a leg that was shot to pieces and did not mend well. His hands were rough with calluses. But mine are soft. Beside school I got a job at cemetery digging graves, earned money to buy a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, became a software engineer.
Even if logging and debugging MySQL slow queries is a bit tedious, it's so vastly more pleasant and less dangerous work than logging trees and debugging lice from your bedclothes at a lumber cabin, which is what our previous generations did, that it's worth leaning back and thinking of. Still, the development to this status required that people like my folks did this work and eventually built a nation that could produce someone who could produce MySQL.
Parts of the world are still the same. Those sweatshops are a step in between miserable subsistence farming and modern welfare. Yes, make them safer so that no one is burned alive because the doors are locked. Count me in as "rabidly pro-globalization".
We have reasonable work weeks and healthy working conditions because we fought against that exploitation. But instead of stopping it, we ended up merely exporting it; we don't make our stuff here anymore, but it's made in other countries where the conditions we had in the 19th century are still legal.
If we demand the same humane conditions from imported products as we do for locally manufactured goods, then either they get better working conditions, or we get some of those lost jobs back. Probably a bit of both. Either way, everybody wins. (Except that stuff gets a bit more expensive, but that's unavoidable when you start paying a fair price.)
I agree that this is the obvious thing to do, but the "Serious People" still believe that once you lower trade barriers, human rights and democracy flow as soon as funds arrive in Chinese banks.
This is against the kind of international "free-trade" agreements and laws that every major country is a party to.
Free-trade agreements are a double-edged sword. Pretending they're universally and unambiguously beneficial by default is absurd. Especially with the amount of lobbying (including domestic companies lobbying abroad via their local subsidiaries) that influences their terms.
BTW, many Europeans don't think of these regulations (privacy laws, etc) in the EU as regulations, they think of them as rights. Facebook & co have to jump to ridiculous hoops to use their business model in Europe -- for the users, that's a feature, not a bug.
This is one of the design flaws of the human mind inherited from animals that causes procrastination and lack of willpower.
I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode where Homer believes he's going to die after eating the poisonous part of fugu. He changes his habits to embrace the remaining part of his life. After it's miraculously revealed that he'll survive, he professes to continue with the ideal of seizing life. This was an instructional scare to never take your life or those around you for granted. Yet, the final shot of the episode is him sitting on the couch watching TV like a drone.
Not sure what point I was trying to make really. Some days being a TV drone is OK, some days I'm tired. I don't want to spend every day tired, so I chill out today to make tomorow more epic.
Well, it's one way to look at it. The other is to consider that the human mind is extremely adaptive and optimize the energy cost given the context.
How could that `experience` be redesigned to have longer lasting effects ?
It is not uncommon to see this played out over and over again. Far too many feel they have done their civic duty by expressing their "feels"
It is very much the same when people vote for something, say increasing minimum wage, because the direct cost to themselves is nothing whereas the real cost is losing small businesses who cannot bare the cost of some other persons fake generosity; after its only a book store that closes.
Do you ?
Most people, especially in the USA, think that we are all unique people that make the world what we want; but they don't have the capacity to realize (usually for reflexive reasons) that they are far more a product of systemic forces than anything else.
It's kind of like swimming against a stream, sure, you are swimming and we are all very fascinated by your swimming prowess, but, ultimately, you are still going wherever the stream wants to take you, you're just looking the wrong direction and fooling yourself.
The gimmick was that most of the kids were ludicrous pampered upper middle class fashion students with no sense of perspective, or at least the programme was edited to portray them as such. Much of the entertainment came from watching them subjected to backbreaking labor while their self-contained worldviews crumbled around them.
You can see young people crying on "reality" TV when all they have to do is be alive in a house when everything is provided for them.
Of course I'm not defending the conditions in sweat shops or saying they're not awful, it's just that you can get a (selected) pampered upper middle class young person to cry on television about nearly anything.
Really, we all know life is not fair, but to go all way there to just cry and moan seems rude
1: A local (to me) tram line that leads from an expensive inner-city region to an affordable ghetto in under ten minutes. If you are born there (Tannenbusch) chances are you will spent most of your time there. If on the other hand, you are in Bonn to study at the local university, you probably don't know it exists.
> "Five children travel across the world to live and work alongside the people who make the everyday items they take for granted."
They where terrible at the sweatshop work, but wouldn't admit it. One of them ended up stealing food from the film crew.
I think it is besides the point that they were pampered upper middle class kids. The things they saw were horrible. In the danish edition, they went to India where there was a whole town build up around a mountain of trash. The folks there would drink black water from the mountain.
You don't often hear that from left wing people.
You do hear it a lot from right wing UK politicians.
(Yes, there are similar or mirror caricatures built by right wing people about left wing people. However, even as a right wing person, I might admit that not everyone in the left wing is Pol Pot).
For instance, I consider myself right-wing by local standards, but when looking at how things go in Turkey, if I must choose a party to support, I would pick the one that's a member of Socialist International. Still, I think that does not make right-left split totally silly.
Go now and check what was China's annual GDP per capita in Mao Zedong times. Just see it. Apparently a lot of people need this kind of basic history education.
Yaron Brook has more knowledge on the topic:
The only way of breaking this cycle is by creating a society of abundance, but even the West isn't there yet, yet alone India/China. The only other thing you can do is earn more, but that only counts if you're earning more than other people, so that you can outbid them (e.g. when buying/renting a flat) while still having enough money to spend/save.
I don't have any good solutions, but I do know the answer isn't as simple as just doubling factory workers' wages.
Compare that to thousands of people dropping out of the education system early to do unskilled factory work because it pays well above average salaries.
Imagine for example you could make $120,000 a year as a programmer, or $200,000 a year doing factory work. Do you think society will produce more programmers or more factory workers?
Imagine what happens a few years down the line when the multinational that owns the factory decides to up and move to another country in order to reduce costs.
Say I can make $25k a year as a janitor, or $360k as an anesthesiologist. Is society producing more janitors, or more anesthesiologists?
Flipping it around and you get something closer, e.g. imagine instead a janitor made $360k a year and an anesthesiologist $25k. You'd find society would have a huge shortage of anesthesiologists because why would anyone go through all that training to get a job that pays a fraction of what you could earn cleaning toilets.
You'd also find people dropping out of college to become janitors.
Now ask yourself what happens in developing countries when unskilled factory workers get paid double what you could earn as a university graduate. What happens is that many people decide they would rather work in a factory than go to university.
And they might have 100x the living expenses.
Only after there is enough wealth available (in form of schools, hospitals, infrastructure, social security system, businesses, know-how, reliable supply chains, etc.) you can jump the poverty barrier by borrowing wealth, through the credit money-creation system. But the prerequisite is a healthy economy.
WARNING: The following is going to cause cognitive dissonance in many people, even among the rather intelligent people here.
Don't fool yourselves, the conditions in Asia under which people make "stuff" for you, which you don't even value, for $0.50 per hour is nothing more or less than slavery. It is the same kind of slavery that you all supposedly despise in American history, the legacy and ripple effects of which are still rather present today. Just because the "company" pays a nominal amount that serves more for accounting purposes than anything else, doesn't make it less than slavery. Just because slavery changed location and a couple of its business processes and clients and logistical systems, does not mean that it is not slavery.
Would it not have been slavery in the south if "workers" had been paid $0.000001 per hour, which is about what $0.50 per hour amounts to in 1855 value?
Realize this, you are supporting and benefiting from slavery, for the same reasons that the south looooooved slavery; because it meant they didn't have to earn their income, benefits, and advantages of a privileged life built on exploitation.
The argument you're making "wage-slavery" is an old one. What is the difference between a slave and someone who earns so little and has so few employment options that he is completely dependent upon his employer?
Or, phrased another way, what good are negative rights, when pragmatically, only what you can do really matters.
Well, pragmatically, empirically, there is a tremendous difference. People allowed the freedom to chose their employment, even at very low wages, systemically tend to rise out of poverty and enjoy better lives. Look at the history of Taiwan for instance. In contrast, systems built on the philosophical underpinnings you defend have plunged people into misery and starvation.
Not just that, in some cases slaves could actually be better off than some free citizens at the time. Although I doubt this kind of vertical mobility was particularly common.
And of course, absolutely speaking, a first world citizen today living in poverty is still far better off than a rich nobleman a few hundred years ago. It's the unequal distribution we find unfair, not merely the individual situation.
EDIT: I hate to use Wikipedia  as a substitute for substantive discussion, but your point seems to toe the line of being a false dilemma. The power/money elite in both the 19th century and the 21st century clearly have more options then just: leaving slaves in Africa/having very bad working conditions in Asian fields and farms on one hand, and bringing slaves to America/having marginally better working conditions in Asian factories, on the other hand.
Be disturbed then. It's possible, and in my view necessary, to rationally compare two non-optimal alternatives, even if an even better alternative is both possible and probable. As Aristotle allegedly said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." And discussing a concept doesn't imply accepting/endorsing it.
...while we are quoting Aristotle:
"Since then some men are slaves by nature, and others are freemen, it is clear that where slavery is advantageous to any one, then it is just to make him a slave." 
Clearly "entertaining thoughts without accepting them" isn't enough on it's own to lead to sound, just and fair policy-making or historical narratives.
Bad jobs at bad wages beat no jobs at no wages.
This doesn't mean the western world shouldn't push back at all. There are things very cheap for the employer that can provide a lot of safety benefits to the worker. But imposing Western-style labor standards and wages today would put these places out of business, harming the laborers.
This is a fundamental difference some people seem to find hard to understand. It's not vital to reduce unemployment, it's vital to reduce poverty. Reducing unemployment is merely an attempt to achieve that end.
Yes, a job presents a way to modify your income and a good job is a job that provides you with a way to influence your income via your performance (i.e. if you become better at it, you get more money or can switch to a job that pays more), but the problem poor people have isn't that they don't have jobs, it's that they don't have money -- whether they don't have money because they don't have an income or don't have money because their income is consumed by their essential expenses doesn't make any difference, other than that if they already have a job they don't have the option of simply getting a job to make more money.
In that regard having a job that barely covers your expenses and doesn't provide any financial mobility is almost worse than not having a job: if you don't have a job, at least you have the theoretical possibility of improving your situation by getting one.
You are always welcome to raise money for poor people, as well as help them in any other way. Even Bill Gates does that, with quite a success.
The two things are entirely orthogonal. Fairness is a moral judgement. Free markets are inherently amoral (not immoral) and tend to optimize for profits (with a bias towards short-term profits). That's not good or bad, it merely is.
Raising money for poor people, except for the tax and marketing benefits, is a bad economical decision -- the benefits are at best ultra-long-term and very unpredictable. No matter what you think about the Gates Foundation, they're not doing good things for economical reasons. If its only purpose was financially benefiting Bill Gates, he should fire his financial advisors.
The free market didn't get Europe out of the Industrialisation, civil rights (and labour laws) did. Regardless of what you think about modern unions, they played a huge part in empowering labourers enough that they could negotiate to improve their working conditions. Without organizing in unions, striking would have been economical suicide for any individual labourer.
: I personally think that unions are antiquated in most industries in Europe and North America today, especially when most of the strikes seem to involve middle-class jobs and those who are worst off often don't have any means to unionize or strike (e.g. people who work at temp agencies that are treated as free contractors legally even if they are not financially independent). But that's a different topic altogether.
Oh, this is too bold a statement to be tossed out so casually! What sort of fairness does this concern?
I'd like a pony.
Saying, in the year 2015, that wages should be the same anywhere on the planet is telling poor countries with no infrastructure "fuck you, got mine." Because the only reason someone opens a factory in Cambodia or China instead of South Carolina is because of the low wages. That is those countries' competitive advantage.
If a worker in Cambodia costs $10 an hour and a worker in America costs $10 an hour, there is no reason to build a factory in Cambodia. They have poorer infrastructure, little to no respect for IP, and the stuff is now a world away from its customers.
All right, have an over-worked pony and stop pretending not to know about marginal costs and prices. As long as the worker in Cambodia remains cheaper by anything over the exact cost of shipping than the one in South Carolina, rather than by orders of magnitude, his country has a comparative advantage.
It's not just shipping costs. It's also the fact that doing business in a well-functioning first-world country is much easier than doing business in a third-world country.
Also, just declaring that Cambodian workers will get $7 an hour wouldn't just magically spill money into the workers. If the market wage is $1 an hour, a bulk of that difference is going to go into pockets of the people handing out the jobs via kickbacks.
An awesome solution that doesn't work in the real world isn't an awesome solution.
Industrial revolution is a term coined by developments in Europe, based on the ability to industrialize domestic production. Living in a third world country in today's globalized world is not the same thing as living during European-style industrialization. The wealth difference between first and third world citizens is kind of like the wealth difference between a farmer and a prince in the 17th century.
I have to strongly disagree with this Yaron guy, between breeding efficiency and survivability there is still a need for a species-appropriate life. Yup that's right, you don't keep a tiger in a cement floor cage and you're not supposed to keep humans in factories either.
Consider Greece's state motto: "Freedom or Death". E.g. the anti-thesis to this Yaron guy, implying that survival by itself is not freedom.
As a counterpoint, Brazil's state motto: "Order and Progress". That one could suit Yaron I guess.
So, without wanting to debate if history as it is was yielding benefits or heading in the wrong direction, I have to express that there is a humanitarian baseline that a modern human being might want to keep in mind. And it's not about GDP or child survival rate. There is no point in breeding children who will become shallow hulls, so depraved from their rightful habitat that they can not be recognized as actual humans.
A human sings songs, dances, paints, crafts, thinks, dreams and loves.
And regarding being a human: it is kind of hard when you have not eaten for three days, and your parents worry more about your baby brother that has just contracted measles. Maybe he will live. Maybe not. Maybe the rest of the family catches the disease.
from http://bit.ly/1AnVNuh about 5:30
Do you really think these sweatshop workers are actually happy? They certainly aren't getting to the higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This "they should be happy for what they have" meme is revolting to me. People are not cogs in a machine and they shouldn't be treated that way, and we shouldn't gloss over this dehumanization by saying that if GDP is increasing then life is getting better.
You're advocating we now do the opposite.
One problem I see here is that people like to analyze things in terms of absolute conditions, but there is plenty of research that the subjective experience of suffering is more driven by relative conditions within an environment than absolute conditions. This is important in this context, because neoliberal trade definitely has improved aggregate economic measures in many LDCs, has in many cases improved the absolute condition of even the worst off, but has pretty much everywhere vastly increased the gulf between the rich and the poor, and in many cases done so in a way which reinforces pre-existing ethnic and class divides.
The certification and transparency NGOs and their programs are helpful, but not as cost effective and thus a friction on capital transfer. (However, as others have hinted at the important things, such as increasing equality and promoting internal redistribution - better domestic markets, which are things that should be practically forced out of the situation, because that's not really a natural outcome of the blind capital accumulation race.)
I live in Asia, I look though a different lens,
- Imagine being loaded on to a truck and brought to factory everyday -- You mean a free ride to work?
- Imagine your kids roaming the factory floor -- No child care costs?
- Imagine having to working 12 hours a day -- I can pay for my kids to go to school ?
- Imagine being stuck in a factory all day -- not under the sun planting rice/corn etc..
Obviously there are a lot of macro and micro-economic factors at work, I just saw a truck delivering a automated t-shirt embroidering machine, so that economic switch has tilted, but do you think the talk will be, "we are free!" or "where did the work go?"
<source: I work for a global manufacturing company with 14,000 people in China, 2,000 in India, 12,000 in Mexico, 10,000 in EU, and 15,000 around the rest of the world.>
Also note that these workers are mostly from rural areas. Where educational level is very low.
But I agree about the perspective. Doing the same task every working hour for years isn't inherently a bad thing. That describes a lot of jobs and some would actually find that kind of job perfectly acceptable.
The problem is only when this is the only job available to you and the money it makes is so low you're effectively locked into it and the working conditions are so bad you have a good chance of death or injury and there's really no hope you can improve your situation (or that of your children) of your own accord.
Like Sisyphus, it's not the job itself, it's the hopelessness of ever succeeding. You're locked into perpetuating your status quo.
We complain that minimum wage workers here aren't paid enough in the US, and yet we're OK with people making $3/day, pushed to their limit by a boss that might as well be a warden.
This may not be slavery, but it is indentured servitude.
And I say this as someone lacking a single liberal bone in my body.
You should have seen these areas before the sweatshops. Conditions were substantially worse, but because most westerners historically either didn't care or were unaware, it's easy to get the false impression that these workers are worse off than they were before the sweatshops. In reality the sweatshops are a huge improvement.
Consider that, for the most part, jobs that existed in impoverished countries pre-industrialization still exist, yet most workers choose the sweatshops when given the chance.
This one shows the whole thing. One can watch all episodes online with English subtitles.
For some reason, I thought I was clicking through to another Five Eyes/NSA, GCHQ, CSE programme. I guess it's since it was a single word in all capital letters and aftenposten.no previously reported on the "Oslo mobile/GSM surveillance" thing.
Then again, some of their names are so blatantly fitting (and offensive) that that claim doesn't seem very believable in the first place.
Some commenters mentioned that sweatshops are a necessary evil for developing nations. It's better to have a shitty job than to have the alternative of being jobless and resorting to theft/prostitution for sustenance.
How true is such an argument?
His argument is summed up thus:
"And as long as you have no realistic alternative to industrialization based on low wages, to oppose it means that you are willing to deny desperately poor people the best chance they have of progress for the sake of what amounts to an aesthetic standard--that is, the fact that you don't like the idea of workers being paid a pittance to supply rich Westerners with fashion items."
In the Western world this gave rise to the biggest social movement in a century, with demands to assure workers all kind of rights.
Krugman needs to motivate why we should deny third world children the same rights we demanded for our own a hundred and forty years ago, if he really wants to make that argument.
If Cambodian labourers unionize and become more expensive, the business could easily move to the next third-world country, leaving them economically worse off than before.
The problem is that the suppliers they work for are as dependent on the international companies paying them as their workers are dependent on them.
Basically, either the international companies have to act against their immediate economical interests and invest money in improving the working conditions and pay at their suppliers, or the suppliers in different countries would have to "unionize", too.
Alternatively, all labourers in all countries would have to unionize in the same timeframe (so the business can't just keep country-hopping) or the businesses would have to be forced to act against their own interests.
I think the most realistic sequence of events is that as the national economy in each country improves their workers begin to unionize and within a few decades the conditions may have improved universally. But that won't be an easy process and will likely result in a lot more protests and violence than the alternatives.
The naive ideal would be that customers force the businesses to pressure the suppliers to improve the situation, but outside a few marketing stunts I don't think that is very likely. All previous calls for boycotts have been unsuccessful and the average citizen doesn't care enough about these issues to do anything politically (aside from the obvious difficulty of out-lobbying the established lobbies).
> Having, at the same time, ample opportunity to watch the middle-classes, your opponents, I soon came to the conclusion that you are right, perfectly right in expecting no support whatever from them. Their interest is diametrically opposed to yours, though they always will try to maintain the contrary and to make you believe in their most hearty sympathy with your fates. Their doings give them the lie. I hope to have collected more than sufficient evidence of the fact, that -- be their words what they please -- the middle-classes intend in reality nothing else but to enrich themselves by your labour while they can sell its produce, and to abandon you to starvation as soon as they cannot make a profit by this indirect trade in human flesh. What have they done to prove their professed goodwill towards you? Have they ever paid any serious attention to your grievances? Have they done more than paying the expenses of half-a-dozen commissions of inquiry, whose voluminous reports are damned to everlasting slumber among heaps of waste paper on the shelves of the Home Office? Have they even done as much as to compile from those rotting blue-books a single readable book from which everybody might easily get some information on the condition of the great majority of "free-born Britons"? Not they indeed, those are things they do not like to speak of -- they have left it to a foreigner to inform the civilised world of the degrading situation you have to live in.
I think it makes sense to ask ourselves: why did a Western company move production from the West to this country in the first place? Probably because of lower wages.
Increasing the minimum wage is not a solution if the reason these workers have a job in the first place is that their labor is cheap.
you mean how cheap it can be. T-shirts range anywhere from $1 to $100 and probably more, but that money doesn't trickle down to the people making those shirts in the end.
What strikes me is how comforting the idea is for us as the wealthy; if the companies have an agenda to have us believe this (which they do) and the idea is very comforting (which it is), it only really matters whether we can be convinced that it's true.
Free labour is one of the things which led to the fall of the Roman empire. Nobody needs technology when you have slaves. And there are a lot of slaves in the world, just read the latest UN report on it.
One big problem with it is that it's such a cheap target for PR. It's cheaper to build an "artisan trademark" that people associate with quality in other ways than to actually sell high quality products. And even if you do manage it the hard way, your trademark would become a very valuable acquisition target, with obvious consequences.
I forget the title, but the series is essentially how they design a T-Shirt for the show, then follow how it's made; from the cotton harvesting up to the final shipping container hitting the US. It should be easy to locate.
What makes things worse (at least short term) it's automation. In 10 years robots will do this kind of job.
Historically, all nations developed with this brutal process. Many without minimum wage.
The problem isn't automation, it's that our economy is designed to make automation a bad thing. In a better system, automation would give us higher productivity and more free time. But we designed our system so that free time is a bad thing unless you're rich. People need jobs to eat, so there has to be enough work, so anything that reduces the amount of work, threatens people's livelihood.
That's the problem of our society in a nutshell. The gains of automation only go to the people at the top. They should be going to the people at the bottom.
Automation reduces the requirement of human labour. It increases our productivity. That should be a good thing. I'm in the business of putting people out of their job -- that should be something we strive for. A few decades ago we believed that technology would create a utopia by doing this because we would barely ever have to work yet be as productive as ever.
Sadly our culture has this perverse fetish for needless work. You must have a job to make money because you need to make money to survive. And if your job becomes easier and you have to work less to achieve the same levels of productivity, either your work must expand to fill the gap or your pay gets reduced to reflect the reduction in work.
If we paid by productivity, even unskilled labour would guarantee ample pay.
: Anyone working in the tech industry is, ultimately. Although many products result in the creation of "non-jobs" (essentially, the commercial equivalent of bureaucracy), that's merely a stepping stone and at least partially a byproduct of the mentality that more jobs are a good thing.
A change in cost for suppliers of these products doesn't move business from one country to another. And the margin a supplier makes varies greatly.
A lot of products sourced in high-street brands comes from a variety of the same global suppliers (some of which sub-contract, some do in-house, and some sub-sub contract). One month from one supplier, and another month from another (varying by continent, country, to in-country location), for a pretty much identical product. One supplier may make 10% margin, and another 25%. It is of concern to the purchaser that a supplier doesn't make much of a margin, as they're feared as being pushed under, but puzzlement that these suppliers stay in business for decades. What is more important is turn-around time. A high-street brand needs a design idea to go from cat-walk to hanger in weeks, not months. That means logistics have to be extremely tight - design sent (electronically), prototypes mocked and air-mailed back, BOM sourced and often imported (at least in part), and the super-price sensitive suppliers just can't deliver here, whatever the margin, let alone the Q+A. A day turnaround and assurance of delivery time can make a difference more important than 5-15% on the quote.
When it comes to cheap textile production, or production of the lowest quality product then yes, price sensitivity is important. But when it comes to delivering mid-level textile products logistics trump jumping to the lowest margin location (where lack of logistical facilities, bribes, un-predictable delays).
I agree things can often improve, but minimum wage has little to do with it. A functional port and road to a factory are far more important in being competitive than how much a worker costs (except for the cheapest of cheapest textile products).
Automation isn't the boogey man, we are.
>In 10 years robots will do this kind of job.
That may not be true if there is a willing supply of practically free labor.
The more jobs we automate, the more we devalue unskilled labour. I wished we would live in a world where this could universally be agreed upon to be a good thing.
An example from my own life that I find striking is a janitor at the hospital where I'm employed. He grew up in Thailand in a remote farming village. While there he lived in complete poverty (bamboo house, no electricity, drinking rainwater) since he was born to a multigenerational family of rice farmers. He worked hard in school, spent time as a monk, and then eventually had an opportunity to immigrate to the US where he's been for about 10 years now. He speaks four languages and seems very intelligent in all the conversations I've had with him- it seriously pains me when I see people talk down to him.
With that said; It's just ignorance- best not to dwell on it and just keep moving forward. Focus on self improvement, then when it's you with the 100k+ income try not to forget where you came from.
I guess the only way to think about it is progress is progress, so if sweatshops are an improvement for these people, then there is good in it for them... for now...
We have seen China over a few decades transition from textiles, to tech manufacturing, and now developing IP products and services. Is this the norm? Or the exception?
I just have questions at this point, but I guess for the time being... back to work.
The general consensus on HN seems to be that it's a "necessary evil" as long as it conveniently happens to other people, and allows us to buy cheap gadgets and T-shirts.
You're right to feel it's wrong.
The main answer, I think, is a sort of fastidiousness. Unlike the starving subsistence farmer, the women and children in the sneaker factory are working at slave wages for our benefit--and this makes us feel unclean. --Paul Krugman
There are various things we could do. As individuals, you could buy brands which have signed up to some sort of agreement for better treatment of workers - in the UK we have Fair Trade (the main focus is agriculture, but they do seem to do clothes as well), and also the more mainstream Ethical Trading Initiative, which some major high street shops have signed up for. As governments, I personally see no reason why we shouldn't have at least some basic worker rights built into international trade deals. It's difficult or impossible to see what things are like on the ground, but at least we could make the existence of national laws mandatory.
Another thing you could do is specifically look for clothing / articles made in the US or wherever you yourself live. It'll probably be more expensive (both due to higher wages and because "Proudly made in the US" or similar phrases increase the price), but then that's kinda what you're implying should happen.
Anyway "Made in the US" isn't a guarantee for better treatment of workers, iirc there's not much of a minimum wage anymore. People working in the Amazon warehouses are probably the closest thing to the Western sweatshop (and there's a few articles about that around).
Local food types (rice, noodles, veg, SE Asian fruits) are ridiculously cheap in Cambodia, though could still very well be expensive in comparison to the wages..
edit: reading further, I'm not sure they've sourced those figures well at all, they don't ring true. 0.43€ for a bottle of water? Come on, that's nowhere near the local price unless you're buying it at your western hotel
What's the price for 1kg of rice there?
We can use tools like Aether (http://www.getaether.net) to give power to voices that may be hushed, find known unknowns in terms of pain.
As for what you can do, you can sew your own clothes.
All freedom is compound interest. Seriously.
They could just farm self sustainably, however they lack the knowledge and large landowners own the land. They also tend to have too many kids as well.
You can choose between being a peasant that is given some land to work as farmland in exchange for a shack to dwell in and some very basic food or be slightly less worse off in a sweatshop. You get fucked either way and there is no way out as education is a joke in cambodia and the like and there is no industry to employ any higher educated people to begin with.
How to fix it? I have some ideas but that would be on a much smaller scale. Basically a more direct model. The fashion industry needs to be disrupted and consumers must get more information about how brands produce clothes.
The problem today is that the government in Cambodia is extremely corrupt. They can't be relied on to improve conditions or put up the minimum wage (well they have a little bit but it is still under what can be considered a liveable wage). The big brands however point the finger at the government (H&M, Nike, Puma all put out press releases that blame laws and government practices). They say it is the job of government to improve. They sit in their nice offices in New York and Stockholm, in cities that were built over a long time with a long history of democracy and with a society that was built bit for bit. That took a long time. It is incomparable to the state of Cambodia (which started on a blank slate 30 years ago or so). Thus the government there is not qualified to make the required changes. The brands however are. They are in countries with good laws and fairly decent labour practices. They should take responsibility. They should not hide behind their suppliers. They can easily define contracts that require suppliers to have better minimum standards and wages for workers. It would not mean much difference in profits for these companies. A lady makes a shirt and earns $3/day, does it really matter if she is paid $5/day? Would the $50 shirt cost much more at the store? Nope.
I think the most pragmatic solution is that developed countries introduce taxes for clothes that are not ethically produced. That $15 t-shirt from H&M should be $17 and with $2 clearly labeled as non-ethical tax on the price tag.
Also I see some commentators here saying it's much better to work in a factory than to work on the rice fields. 20 years ago you could earn enough as a small farmer. Today that is not the case. Also the rising cost in Cambodia and elsewhere makes the small pay even more a problem than before. The workers earn $100. Rent is easily $30. I used to eat lunch at the market every day in Phnom Penh. It was about $1.50 for noodle soup. You can get a cheaper meal (I'm white and I added some better quality meat). But add that up. And consider you need to buy a towel. That's easily $4. A new pan? $5 for a cheaper one. I lived in Phnom Penh in 2012 and then in 2014. Even I as a foreigner noticed the inflation.
I just cant do it knowing people suffer while I profit
(hint: it's not aid or communism)
2- Why not aid? Bill Gates, someone who I'm not particularly fond of, claims it works: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB100014240527023041494045793245...
Note I'm not necessarily advocating either of the above options. I'm just surprised at how persistent this belief in the properties of Free Trade is.
First they sew your T-shirts. Then they assemble your smartphones. Then they design your smartphones. Eventually, they will also design your T-shirts, other fashion and music.
This is what the U.S. did a hundred years ago, what Japan did 50 years ago, what China has done in recent years, and it's also what other formerly poor nations are going to do, if they are ever going to be formerly poor nations.
That also doesn't happen without some hickups in the nations that were formerly quite rich. Think of Argentina, for instance.
* I'm not arguing for abuse or child labor of course. There are limits.
I always find it interesting if people attribute poverty to a stage of development. That just does not work. It is not something you go through, and in the end we all come out richer. It is far more part of the system, it is not a country being going through infancy or puberty waiting to mature. We benefit so much from their poverty.
Swedish guy here. Any link to a non-Norwegian page with this content?
Also it's kind of funny that you should ask, since as a Swedish person, you're probably better-equipped than the majority of HN readers to understand a few words of Norwegian. :)
Here's a trailer, with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SCHfV97D7I.
The episodes with English subtitles. Also don't try so hard to not understand it, it's not Danish.
Quartz also had a brief article on it: http://qz.com/333940/what-three-norwegian-fashionistas-learn...
How do we change it? As consumers we make it clear to these companies that it's not on. We vote with our money. But the tried and tested solution is via our politicians. We have to make it possible for our corporations to improve the conditions of their suppliers and not incur the wrath of their shareholders.
edits - wow, please read both paragraphs.
This is just bullshit, for lack of a better word. First of all, increasing profits does not force anyone to do horrible things. Second of all, that a company has to maximize profits all the time, is a myth: http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/8146/230
From that thread: "They don't get punished for not maximizing shareholder value. But it is true that maximizing value needs to be their goal and they may not be negligent in the pursuit of that goal."
It also confirms that a corporation must in general make an effort to maximise profits, if that is what the shareholders want. So, we should make it clear to the corporations and the shareholders that reducing their profits by increasing the quality of life of their suppliers is an acceptable loss and may actually increase value and therefore something that the directors should aim for. That shareholders have to be confident to tell their directors that they will not be negligent if they try to improve sweatshop conditions in their suppliers.
Companies even donate money to charity, without any concern for short term profits.
"Donating money" is not an indicator of "morality" at all, because it has tax and PR advantages.
It's not about doing or not doing it, but they fact that business are complex, and this specific choice doesn't tell anything in general.
Even a, let's say, a fictional company "Momsanto", which corrupts politicians and violently silences researchers and farmers, surely would have a (again, fictional) foundation for "making difference in someone else's life" [any resemblance to real companies is purely coincidental].
Do you imply that tax and PR advantages completely make it impossible that some companies still might want to give money away to good causes for moral reasons?
In other words, you think that moral choices are solely based on money?
 - http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/
The workers don't need communism or full cooperatives. You can still have private owners and a profit motive. But the workers have to be equal to the owners, not subordinate.
Outside investors could still recoup their initial investment + gains. Those who start, design, and execute the business will be gaining the shares over time as they are employees (although, I'm not sure this would still be the right nomenclature) of the business. How about this question, "Why should an initial investor get an everlasting percentage of profits without continuous input?".
>Moreover, why don't the workers then just start the company in the first place?
Probably for the same reason they mostly don't now, they lack the financial resources.
I'm self-employed, my family history includes a fair share of entrepreneurs. Even so, saying you intend to start your own company is met with strong skepticism.
Trust me when I say, the thing stopping most workers from starting their own company is not just the lack of financial resources (as a matter of fact, I became self-employed without any savings to speak of and no financial support at all).
Although it's becoming increasingly less realistic, a lot of people still have the mentality that having a regular job provides financial safety and a guaranteed income while starting your own company creates a huge risk.
But less, otherwise there would be no reason for the workers to want any part of it. Will the workers pay the investors back if the business goes tits up?
"Why should an initial investor get an everlasting percentage of profits without continuous input?"
Because it's his, and there is no reason to require ongoing effort to reap the benefits of something? Does an orchard owner only 'own' the apples from his trees if he has actively watered them?
"Moreover, why don't the workers then just start the company in the first place?"
"Probably for the same reason they mostly don't now, they lack the financial resources."
So Mary down the street owns a hair dressing salon, which she financed with the savings she build up over her 10 years as an employee of another salon (where she, I presume, quit before she got any part of that salon - maybe because she joined too late? Period not yet up? Not sure how all this would work). In the 'plan' you are defending, she would have to give the ownership of that salon to her employees after, I don't know, 10 years? So she has 10 years to make back that investment, plus a certain risk bonus, plus whatever opportunity cost she incurred starting the business. Now I don't know how many balance sheets and profit and loss statements you have seen for businesses like this, but I can tell you that no sane person would ever attempt to do this.
I'm not even sure why I'm responding, really.
You pulled out a Nazi analogy on me last time, so this time I'll pull out a (more apt) slaveholder analogy.
Why should a slaveholder get the labor of a slave in perpetuity? By your logic, it's simple: because it's his. Most of the world has moved beyond that flavor of opportunistic logic and we'll eventually get past the current flavor of the century.
"Does an orchard owner only 'own' the apples from his trees if he has actively watered them?"
1) If the orchard doesn't get sufficient natural irrigation, then no the owner doesn't, simply by virtue of the trees not producing any fruit.
2) If the orchard does get sufficient irrigation (especially as a result of another's labor), then the orchard "owner" doesn't have much claim to the fruit. Yes, the owner may pull out a deed chain that goes back to a grant from the US government, or a Queen/King of the British Empire and attempt to argue that gives him absolute ownership over the fruit. The owner might even convince most with that historical argument. Depending on the exact circumstances in question, I might argue the claim is laughable.
"In the 'plan' you are defending, she would have to give the ownership of that salon to her employees after, I don't know, 10 years?"
I'm not defending a plan, I merely asked a question. I don't know what the specifics could, or should, be. It's a slightly different model to think about that allows for a more inclusive economy.
Anyway, in your example, Mary would still retain ownership, assuming she contributed real labor to the enterprise. Mary would just also be sharing ownership with all of the other people who also made that enterprise possible, instead of purely exploiting the other contributors for her own personal profit.
"I'm not even sure why I'm responding, really."
Slightly curious? It's OK to explore taboos. Sometimes you find out everyone else was full of shit.
Lack of access to capital.
I was wrong about it being legal in law not to maximize profits.
There is still an obligation of directors to maximise value if that is what the shareholders want (and most of the time, all shareholders want a corporation to increase profit). But it's not illegal for a director to be negligent in the goal of the shareholders. They might lose their job or get a civil lawsuit, at the worst, I guess.