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SWEATSHOP – I can´t take any more (aftenposten.no)
200 points by sphericalgames 964 days ago | hide | past | web | 225 comments | favorite



I'm an American with a left-wing upbringing and still broadly left-wing politics. When I graduated from architecture school in 2001, I wanted some international experience, so I moved to India. What I saw there utterly transformed my preconceptions of sweatshops -- because I saw it before the sweatshops began opening.

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.


Just because conditions are substantially better for certain people doesn't mean they're acceptable.

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.


I'm an American with a Bill Buckley-type of conservative upbringing which made an interesting combination considering both my parents were born and raised Californians. I mention this because one of the phrases I heard long ago was, I guess, a selfish perspective about globalisation: "It's not about bringing the rest of the world up, it's about bringing down our wages and standard of living here in the USA."

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.


To me, the big problem with globalization is not the conditions of the sweatshops in India. $1 a day and the chance of burning alive in a garment factory (happened just the other day in Bangladesh) is better than subsistence farming, probably.[1] My problem with it is that of the $50 a day that comes out of an American pocket by exporting that work overseas, $1 goes to the Bengali garment worker, and $49 goes into the pocket of some shareholder. And when conditions become "too good" in India and Bangladesh, as is already happening, they'll just move over to Vietnam or Laos.

[1] 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.


Taxes + tariffs can solve that issue.

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.


Its a similar story to the industrial revolution in America, a countries people will go through hardship to reach prosperity. Hardships and a revolution or two...


They were already in hardship, just the hardship of the impoverished villager or laborer is romanticized or ignored.


>The standard wage was roughly $3 per MONTH.....

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.


No, we're both right. I was writing about the situation in semi-rural Gujarat in 2001. The wages on the construction sites I went to were indeed rs.150/month. Today the labour situation is very dramatically improved -- largely because of India opening its markets to the world.


Still I cant believe it. 150 rs/Month wage is history of 2-3 decades ago. Since 95-98 wages have been increased a lot. Atleast 100rs per day.


Well, believe it or not, but that's the wage that built Gandhinagar. (Note that due to inflation, that would be the equivalent of about rs.250/month today). Perhaps on paper the workers were making quite a bit more, but this was then "deducted" for their nominal food, housing, etc. In any case rs.150/month was their actual take-home pay. I couldn't believe it either, and triple-checked to be sure.

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.


Clearly, this picture is vastly different from the original picture you painted. I feel let down by the fact that you did not mention how outdated your original description was.

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.


Yeah, yeah, the alternative is much worse, end of argument. Or is it? Perhaps these kind of movies are not about just banning sweatshops but rather about something more general, like for example why the alternative exists in the first place?


This.

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".


That doesn't really explain the working conditions so much as justify them. What strikes you when working in emerging markets is just how, well, emerging they are. A lot of things are just inefficient. There needs to be more pressure to live up to universal human rights. Not only because it's the right thing to do, but because it puts pressure on these markets to get more sophisticated.




Something that bothers me is the fact that even though they have cried on the show and said that they were going to do something to help, if you search for them on the internet, its clear that they aren't doing anything about it! Even the girl who has a fashion blog, she is still writing about the trademarks that use this kind of abusive job to make their clothes...


Honestly, I don't think we should leave it to the occasional individual to do something about it. If we want to stop this, we should ban the import of products that do not meet our own labour standards.

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.)


Welcome to the far-left comrade! Seriously, as soon as you start looking for parties that promote this kind of social protectionism, you only see far-left group or alter-globalization groups like ATTAC.

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.


well it is not either way everybody wins. if people in these countries don't get better working conditions and end up losing their job because of the protectionism then they are clearly worse off. workers might be better off in developed countries but if you worry about inequality then this has made inequality worse.


>we should ban the import of products that do not meet our own labour standards

This is against the kind of international "free-trade" agreements and laws that every major country is a party to.

http://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/23/business/company-news-us-b...


The EU and the US are currently working on one such "free-trade" agreement. It will make importing goods from the US easier, but it will also allow American companies to circumvent the stricter consumer protection laws in Europe (e.g. privacy laws and food regulations).

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[0] to use their business model in Europe -- for the users, that's a feature, not a bug.


I agree that this is an issue. However saying that 'everybody wins' in the scenario you just pointed out, glosses over the fact that many of theses people will lose their jobs. Considering that the vast majority of these workers work voluntarily, you have consider why they do and what they will be returning to when they've lost these jobs. For many people it will be destitution or starvation. There aren't any magic wands to be waved here.


I agree with you. I just think that those guys should take advantage of the voice that was given to them to fight for this cause. I don't see this happening.


This is probably the normal animal/human reaction: to react only when something is hurting you right now. If you take the pain away, the motivation vapors.

This is one of the design flaws of the human mind inherited from animals that causes procrastination and lack of willpower.


> to react only when something is hurting you right now. If you take the pain away, the motivation vapors.

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.


From a personal perspective, I find being athiest really makes me prioritise things. This is it. Today is today. I washed my hands and murdered lots of little bugs n stuff. That may be me one day. See a near car crash, think about what to do to make today significant.

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.

Hm.


> procrastination and lack of willpower.

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.


Do you think nothing long lasting can be taken away from such `experience`?

How could that `experience` be redesigned to have longer lasting effects ?


It's pretty typical human behavior. We all know multiple people (or are those people) that were horrified to learn about the poisonings, child labor, suicides, 16 hour days, and other conditions involved in the making of iPhones, yet still went out and bought the new one as soon as it came out.



The were active in debates in Norway after the show. They have raised awareness. Also it is very difficult to find ethical producers of clothes. Finding info as a consumer is difficult and anything mass produced share these issues.


Slacktavism

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.


I never expected them to do anything either. I started watching this show and didn't make it past the second episode before both me and my spouse had enough of their attitudes.


Why should the people on this show be held to any higher standard than anybody else ? I don't feel any more ill will towards these people than I feel to myself, for the same reason : I wear clothes like these.

Do you ?


I just think that they could take advantage of the voice that was given to them through the show.


They're very spoiled brats imo. There are kids that age who recognize the problems with inequality in the world and have far better attitudes than those kids.


Am I supposed to be surprised that a vapid chick continues being vapid?

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 BBC did their own version of this in 2008 called Blood Sweat and T Shirts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood,_Sweat_and_T-shirts

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.


The problem with the gimmick is that it's intellectually dishonest when it comes to making the strongly implied point. Hand picked young people forced into any difficult labor, even in high payed rewarding first-world careers, would probably react in mostly the same way (especially with the benefit of film editing) as they would in a third world sweatshop.

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.


They had to go all way to Asia for this? How about bricklaying jobs in eastern europe? How about factory workers in any country?

Really, we all know life is not fair, but to go all way there to just cry and moan seems rude


I feel this point. I'd argue that these kids are rich even for Norwegian standards. You don't need a plane to see some stark contrasts. Just take tram 61 from Musikerviertel to Tannenbusch.[1]

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.


My kids love Show Me What You're Made Of on CBBC (BBC channel for school-kids aged 6-12)

> "Five children travel across the world to live and work alongside the people who make the everyday items they take for granted."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/shows/show-me-what-youre-made-of


The Danish version had the same angle.

They where terrible at the sweatshop work, but wouldn't admit it. One of them ended up stealing food from the film crew.


What was the Danish version called? I don't recall hearing about it


Blod, Sved og T-shirts http://www.dr.dk/Undervisning/Gymnasium/Samfund/Oekonomi/Glo...

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.


I think a dose of reality is what most middle class kids need. Otherwise many of them grow into arrogant right wing adults with no real clue about how much of the world works.


I suspect your inclusion of "right wing" probably derailed your comment - particularly as self-proclaimed "left wing" people can be just as arrogant and out of touch as their "right wing" counterparts.


"But they just need to work harder."

You don't often hear that from left wing people.

You do hear it a lot from right wing UK politicians.


Well, you don't hear that too often from right wing people, either. (Except caricatures, perhaps built by left wing people).

(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).


To show how silly the "right wing" vs "left wing" split can be, the UK under the government of Mrs Thatcher ("right wing") gave military assistance to the Khmer Rouge ("left wing") - presumably as the latter were the enemies of the Vietnamese ("left wing").


Well, not necessary silly, but it is not the only dimension on which people and nations might align themselves. Being left-wing or right-wing are not enough to define any person or movement thoroughly. The supposition that a right-wing government could never support a left-wing movement in another country is refusing to understand any orthogonal things exist.

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.


Thinking in terms of wings is stupid. There are people on our very own hn who think that way though https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8990458


Downvoted by some middle class kids! :)


"Blod, sved og t-shirts"


I really don't understand this problem. Why does everybody think people in Asia are forced to do this kind of work? These people would be incredibly poor if not for western companies. Actually most of them would die being children as a result of their poverty: malnutrition, accidents, preventable diseases such as polio or measles.

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwb8m_ZbU-U&feature=youtu.be...


That's not wrong, but it does kinda miss the point. The argument isn't we should stop buying and let them go back to living off the land. The argument is they should be paid a living wage to do work that has value. If the work came back to first-world factories, they'd have to pay at least 10X the wages, so just agreeing to 1.5X or 2X is still a bargain.


The "living wage" is an ill-defined term, because the majority of the population will always be earning just at or above the living wage - and when the general wages rise, so will the costs (of food, rent, transport, ...).

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.


This is a really tricky problem though, because what happens when factory jobs bring in more money than those that require further education and training? What you get is people dropping out of school to go and work in those factories, which then only goes on to perpetuate the poverty cycle.

I don't have any good solutions, but I do know the answer isn't as simple as just doubling factory workers' wages.


Nah. That Flappy Bird guy made a small fortune even by first world standards. It drove him insane too.


The difference being that the Flappy Bird guy was doing skilled labour (programming) of that sort that is likely to help end poverty cycles.

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.


> 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?

Say I can make $25k a year as a janitor, or $360k as an anesthesiologist. Is society producing more janitors, or more anesthesiologists?


That analogy doesn't fit what I'm saying because an anesthesiologist is a highly skilled occupation and it takes years of specialised training to a gain the qualifications and skills necessary to work in that field.

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.


"If the work came back to first-world factories, they'd have to pay at least 10X the wages"

And they might have 100x the living expenses.


You need to produce wealth before you consume wealth, at least on the scale of a country.

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.


And black people benefited from the privilege of being slaves to white, civilized people. amirite?

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.


Slavery is a legal or economic system under which people are treated as property. It has nothing to do with wages. Slaves under ancient Rome could earned wages and sometimes bought themselves out of slavery. In the U.S. for a variety of reasons, including no doubt racism, slaves were treated far worse.

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.


> Slaves under ancient Rome could earned wages and sometimes bought themselves out of slavery.

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.


What exactly is it that you didn't understand about the concept that just because something does not fit into your predetermined categories and classification does not make it any less the same effect or outcome. Not matter what shape, form, or process; your type of slavery, underpaying people for work..... it's all exploitation by different names and flavors.


At have been living in China for 8 years, have visited dozens of factories, speak fluently Mandarim and Cantonese, and I have never heard about someone working for 0.5 USD an hour...Actually I saw a salary like that mentioned in my Chinese Language book, but that book was written in the 70's. Vietnan is another story, they may very well work for something like that, but life is much cheap there. All considered, I think the situation in Asia, for the poorest, is much better than in my home South America, and may be better than at US ghettos (there are no guns around here, there is less domestic violence, less addiction, less bullying, less discrimination) I have seen slavery in the deep South America, but not yet in Asia.


Given that most black Africans (AFAIK) were sold into slavery by other Africans, it's not a given that their lives were better in Africa than they were later in America.


Even if that is true, that does not make the forced migration and continued subjugation of slaves in the American South through the 19th century any less deplorable. Slavery is slavery. Your implicit acceptance of the "lesser of two evils" for something as serious as slavery is disturbing. We aren't even talking about the "hidden" conditions of working poor in foreign countries, we are talking about institutions that have visible cultural, economic, and social ramifications in present day America.

EDIT: I hate to use Wikipedia [0] 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.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma


>disturbing

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 one might be able to give a fair and balanced take on "non-optimal alternatives," I frankly believe that a bad idea, or at least bad historiography, doesn't deserve a very big seat at the table of discussion. You paint the argument as a contrast of two, and walk away from the conversation: that's not a very rational, nor fair, comparison.

...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." [0]

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.

[0] http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6762/6762-h/6762-h.htm#link2H...


You should probably be going on more than just AFAIK. The Atlantic Slave Trade http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_Africa#Atlantic_slav... was a complex issue that evolved economically as a consequence of agriculture demands.


It was also partially a race/tribe issue. White people like to forget that "blacks" actually aren't simply one big homogeneous group, especially not in Africa -- neither ethnically nor culturally. Just look at the Rwandan massacre for an example of ethnic clashes.


http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/19...

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.


The problem isn't that people have no jobs, the problem is that people have no money.

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.


These people are exploited by being paid a minimal wage, because they have no other way to survive, but to take sweatshop jobs. The Grapes of Wrath illustrates this mechanism well.


That is right, and what is the alternative? Suppose China had never opened their borders to foreign investments. What would these people do? I think I know the answer, just look at the following life expectancy graph:

http://www.china-profile.com/data/fig_WPP2008_L0_M.htm


The alternative is to fairly share profits with the people that make goods. This could be enforced by the legal system, as it was successfully done when slavery was banned.


I believe that the free market decides what kind of profit sharing is fair.

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.


Implying a free market is interested in fairness.

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[0], 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.

[0]: 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.


> I believe that the free market decides what kind of profit sharing is fair.

Oh, this is too bold a statement to be tossed out so casually! What sort of fairness does this concern?


The free market wouldn't outlaw slavery.


Average wages in China have tripled over 8 years. http://www.tradingeconomics.com/china/wages Whatever they are doing, they should keep it up.


Wait - average wages a decade ago were like a dollar a day. So tripling that sounds like something I guess. I'd like to see something like parity for wages doing the same work anywhere on the planet. That would be progress.


> I'd like to see something like parity for wages doing the same work anywhere on the planet

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.


>I'd like a pony.

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.

http://fc07.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2011/196/0/f/tired_appleja...


Thanks for the pony!

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.


Nobody's suggesting solutions. Just what they would look like if they existed. And they wouldn't look like a shift in poverty-stricken populations to a different point under the poverty line.


That's pretty mean, putting abusive words in my mouth to make a tangential point. How about, just mention that low wages have an upside to balancing economic growth, and leave me out of it?


They're being exploited, and their governments are doing nothing to stop it. You want change? It starts with those who are allowing it. Modern muckraking only goes so far.


It's not only about the low wage they getting, or GDP per capita, there's also the working and living conditions you have to consider. They don't have holidays, can't take a vacation, don't have insurance at work, no sliding hours, no personal input whatsoever. Their whole life is determined by work, with virtually zero change of improvement within their generation. Maybe, just maybe, they can save a little for the education of one child. The next kids are toast. Low wages are one thing, but it's even worse if you have to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year for it.


Ouch... this is, uhm, Cambodia not China.

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.


China is just an example of a somehow comparable country that has risen pretty high.

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.


"If you're poor, stop being poor."

from http://bit.ly/1AnVNuh about 5:30


I want one of those foam fingers with "We're #37!" on it.


Measuring how much good we've done by how much GDP has increased is so incredibly flawed. Most days I feel like I'd rather be living in a small village, hunting and growing my own food and not participating in any kind of a global economy. Even if I might die from a preventable disease or an accident.

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.


With boycotting these goods and reporting this issues we can actively improve the situation for those people now. In Mao Zedong times we could do nothing.


We could and did do something. We opened up trade. That improved and continues to improve their situation immensely.

You're advocating we now do the opposite.


> We could and did do something. We opened up trade. That improved and continues to improve their situation immensely.

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.


In other words, being poor is (subjectively) worse when everyone is rubbing in your face what you can't (and never will be able to) afford.


No, he advocates for a selective pressure of sorts, but of course the problem is, you don't really know when something is made in a fair-shop or in a sweat-shop.

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.)


Honestly I would imagine those 3 Millennials having an issue with most hard work.

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?"


That is such bullshit. I lived in Phnom Penh. That "free ride" you refer to is the most dangerous part of their day. There are lot of accidents with these trucks. Your other points reek of privilege and lack of actual understanding of how these people live their lives.


I believe you, but it's also true that in many parts of the world, those "trucks" are actually air conditioned buses.

<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.>


You have to go in a tourist bus to get an a/c bus in Cambodia. The trucks for these workers have full natural a/c and traffic pollution nicely blended in.

Also note that these workers are mostly from rural areas. Where educational level is very low.


The caveat is that the health and safety conditions are atrocious and the income barely pays for the cost of living so it's unlikely your children will have any better status than you (i.e. they'll likely have to drop out of school early to help sustain the family just like yourself).

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.


It's funny to me that the same HN continually bashing Google for being evil, Uber for being sexist, and startups in general for treating workers like slaves, is the same HN that generalizes and rationalizes this type of behavior.

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.


How is this indentured servitude? Indentured servitude is when you contract out your labor in advance, without the ability to void the contract without legal repercussions (usually imprisonment). Being stuck in a job due to circumstances may be unfortunate, but it's not indenture.

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.


Better link: http://www.aftenposten.no/webtv/serier-og-programmer/sweatsh...

This one shows the whole thing. One can watch all episodes online with English subtitles.


Am I a bad person for thinking it was going to be a post about a techie fed up with working at a software consultancy?


Well, I certainly don't think you're a bad person for that - considering this forum is generally focused towards the technical angle of things.

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.


Glad I wasn't the only one to think this was going to be about an NSA program and outrage they would name something SWEATSHOP.


I thought their convention for arbitrary project names was always using two words with no intentional revelance to the actual scope of the project (with projects like Prism being the exception).

Then again, some of their names are so blatantly fitting (and offensive) that that claim doesn't seem very believable in the first place.


I thought exactly the same - especially when I saw the ".no" domain - sweatshops and Norway aren't think I normally associate!


That's what I thought as well.


that's why i opened the comments section


So, I remember seeing this on Reddit a few weeks back.

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?


One of my all time favorite pop economics essays is by Paul Krugman, addressing this topic:

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/19...

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."


"No realistic alternative" -- that's a bit of a dishonest either/or argument. Of course there are alternatives. It's not like it hasn't happened before.

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.


I'd argue that Europe in the Industrialisation was in a slightly different situation because the world economy wasn't as globalized yet.

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).

We'll see.


Sweatshops as a necessary evil has been a hallmark of the ideology of capital ever since 19th century Britain. The 1844 book by Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, basically a report on the sweatshops of the time, was a huge influence on Marx. From the preface:

> 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.


The argument here is that the middle class acts in self-interest while feigning sympathy for the working poor. Maybe so, but the argument neither affirms nor denies the necessity or utility of sweatshops.


I started to make the argument here that sweatshops weren't ever necessary, but it's moot since they certainly aren't now, thanks to automation.


Not true because it focuses on options job seekers have instead of conditions companies could provide. The cost of labor in product prices is usually so small that in most cases you could offer better conditions without noticeably higher prices.


It is definitely not a neccesary evil. Minimum wage in those countries could be increased (or one created and enforced) so that there is a dramatic improvement on the workers lives without much of an impact on the end consumer. Consider how cheap a t-shirt is in the U.S. However politicians are scared since they think it will drive business out of their country. Or they are corrupt.


> Minimum wage in those countries could be increased (or one created and enforced) so that there is a dramatic improvement on the workers lives without much of an impact on the end consumer.

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.


What about the people who don't work at the factory? Do they get a pay raise too?


> Consider how cheap a t-shirt is in the U.S.

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.


I wonder if minimum wage can be increased if the economy isn't pretty solid or at least growing fast.


The jury's out on whether or not this is "true", as macroeconomics tends to not be an exact science by any means.

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.


There is no guaranteed minimum income even in developed nations (not even with those huge debts). Most likely thing to happen is that those sweatshops will become automated and the population will have to drop to pre-industrialisation levels.


I've never been a big fan of the "it would be OK if they all just went away" line of thinking.


I did not say it's OK, this just a likely scenario, unfortunately.


I'm sorry, can you explain to me how your statement relates to your parent comment? That's a genuine question, I'm frustrated because I'm confused about what you mean. Where did s/he say anything that can be construed as "it would be OK if they all just went away", and what does that even mean in this context? Excuse me if I'm being dumb right now.


Referring to this part, I suspect: "population will have to drop to pre-industrialisation levels"


Thanks, I can kinda see it now.


There seems to exist a tendency to move sweatshops to countries with less effective work(er) protection laws rather than automating jobs (eg: from China to Vietnam and so on).


That's because people are still cheaper than robots. This won't last forever if current trends continue.


But it will, as long as you can lock up children and force them to work off some debt.

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.


But poor children still need to eat, sleep and it takes a while to replace them when they wear out. Machines on the other hand can run 24/7, on just electricity, and there are both practical and economical systems already in place that will let you replace broken ones with new ones quickly. I think machines will be cheaper long before sweatshops run out of children.


Also: higher quality and a feel-good brand factor "we don't use child labor anymore".


That has been tried and didn't work. Neither did cheaper machines. Remember that textile machines pretty much gave birth to industrial automation, so the technology is as tried and cheap as it gets. Still not enough.


What about an `artisan revival` where people sewing clothes would have a decent life and we would get high-quality clothes (let's face it, $5 t-shirts don't last long) ?


That could be it. It's certainly what a lot of people are trying right now.

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.


Yes, but that is under current circumstances, which will probably not remain fixed forever, right? How long before that dynamic changes and automation is suddenly better, closer to home AND cheaper?


The "tendency" was due to american protectionism and quotas introduced during the nixon era google the "Multi-Fiber Arrangement"


Interesting, indeed.


There's a good arc in NPR's Planet Money that touches on this angle. Not necessarily the need for this labor, but how the work travels around developing nations and what it means.

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.



Sadly, it is true. If you increase min wage in one country, the business will move to another. You would need to increase it everywhere. Assuming that's possible you would still need to deal with corruption.

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.


> What makes things worse (at least short term) it's automation. In 10 years robots will do this kind of job.

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.


I can't express how much I agree with this sentiment.

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[0] -- 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.

[0]: 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.


Has there ever been a working system where this wasn't the case? I think I agree with you on this, but I lack of data points to back the argument.


I'm not talking about T-shirts here, which are usually extremely price sensitive, but high-street brands that sell a shirt for $30 or a pair of trousers/pants for $50-100.

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).


>What makes things worse (at least short term) it's automation.

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.


I'm reminded of the story about how the ancient Greek practically invented the steam engine but only used it as a toy because the wide availability of practically free labour (via slaves) meant the development of automation wouldn't have been economically viable.

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.


Here's a modern economist who puts together a well formed argument: http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2008/Powellsweatshop...


Kind of funny. I started in similar conditions. But I hear constantly to "check my privilege" from someone with $100K+ income, university and $500 handbag.


That's human nature for you. It's very difficult for most people to put themselves in the position of someone else.

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.


This is emotionally confusing for me. It seems like the general consensus on HN is that this is a necessary evil. I can get on board with that, but it still feels wrong.

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.


> It seems like the general consensus on HN is that this is a necessary evil

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.


Why, then, the outrage of my correspondents? Why does the image of an Indonesian sewing sneakers for 60 cents an hour evoke so much more feeling than the image of another Indonesian earning the equivalent of 30 cents an hour trying to feed his family on a tiny plot of land--or of a Filipino scavenging on a garbage heap?

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


I am depressed that significant part of collective intelligence of the most intelligent and influential tech communities on the internet is advocating for sweatshops because the alternative is worse. False dichotomy, if I ever seen one.


The current system is not the best of all possible worlds. There are better alternatives (eg. fair trade), ignoring them is just laziness.


I wonder, how can we in the first world change our behaviour here to stop things like that? Does the very way we live cause this or are the causes local?


It's a combination, but we certainly play a part. If there's no pressure from developed countries, then rising wages and conditions of work in one manufacturing nation will ultimately just mean making themselves less competitive. In some ways there's a lot of potential for action on our part, because the effect on final price is so minimal through even drastic increases in worker pay. To take it to absurd levels, you could increase worker pay tenfold, and only add $1 to the cost of $14 shirt [1]. So we only have to care enough to be willing to pay a tiny amount more (12c more to double wages, or spent otherwise to drastically improve working conditions), for it to be worthwhile for companies to market themselves as being decent employers.

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.

[1] http://www.macleans.ca/economy/business/what-does-that-14-sh...


Main thing is to be aware of where your products come from, and if labour is involved, how they are treated. That's often hard to find out because the companies like to keep it hidden, but journalists can often find out.

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).


It's not that they're exploited. Cambodia's economy is just really, really inefficient. Food prices in Cambodia are really high (ep 4), higher even than in Berlin [0] by 21%, not to mention Eastern Europe (2+ times Warsaw's prices, 4x if you shop around). The sad thing is, the wages in sweatshops won't go up much. Sooner or later automation will advance to the point where even $3/day for sewing garments will be too high and they will all be fired.

[0] http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_cities.jsp?coun...


with regards to the numbeo figures: these are pretty offset by the high price of Milk, Bread, Cheese, Apples, Wine - all of which are non-native foods and would have to be imported to Cambodia (and which wouldn't be part of an average diet there). In fact, most of the foods there are non-native - potatoes? No-one's eating these either.

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


Nitpick: Because Cambodia was part of French Indochina, bread (specifically baguette bread) is in fact an everyday staple food to Cambodians, at least in the cities.


>Local food types (rice, noodles, veg, SE Asian fruits) are ridiculously cheap in Cambodia

What's the price for 1kg of rice there?


We can begin to report common commodification and objectification of human beings.

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.


Local labour laws allow this. Who's to say if it's internal or external pressures that keep them like they are -- there are certainly locals who are also making money off this.

As for what you can do, you can sew your own clothes.


I don't think local laws matter much. Those countries are simply poor. Unless they become wealthier, more stringent laws simply won't be followed and merely result in corruption.

All freedom is compound interest. Seriously.

https://twitter.com/vgr/status/517051922428067840


And where exactly do you think the fabric would come from?


Sweatshops themselves aren't the problem, but rather the fact that the game is rigged against the average person.

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.


Unlike Capitalism, Globalization is Zero-sum WITHOUT http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income


Actually I think you'll find Globalisation is not zero sum. It hasn't made ordinary people much better off in the west but has transformed living standards in places like Asia.


I lived in Phnom Penh where this was filmed. The trucks carrying workers at the end of the day is a normal sight in the outskirts of the city. The average pay for this type of job is about $100 depending on how much extra overtime you put in.

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.


That's why I keep clear of "ecommerce import from China" businesses.

I just cant do it knowing people suffer while I profit


I don't think there is much difference between those and big brands. Same with clothes. There is no difference between a super low cost brand, H&M and Versace. Or actually there is, the designer brands have often proven to be manufactured in even worse conditions.


They will suffer more without the job. You think not buying from them will help them...how?


Buying fair trade supports an alternative over the status quo.


And the solution to the problem of poverty in undeveloped nations is.... ?

(hint: it's not aid or communism)


1- Why not communism? Does the average worker in a communist country live worse than a sweatshop worker?

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.


Agreed. Trade.

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.


It is trade and private companies but just because that is the case here does not mean it should be greatly improved.




We are the puppet people, put it on our TV, it's true. Sorry but the people that really care about these problems are anywhere but crying on TV.


Idk, still beats wallowing around in the mud waiting for UN handouts. Europe and developed Asia have all been through this stage of development. It's what it takes to modernize.

* I'm not arguing for abuse or child labor of course. There are limits.


I don't think this is a stage of development. It is a business concept. To keep some rich we need a poor majority. It is not that complicated. We like 6 new fashion collections a year, we like the primark for selling it for virtually no money, we like big brands advertising. We just dig cheap crappy fashion, and more over we dig not paying the full price.

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.


What's the alternative for us and them?


any link for those of us that refuse to install adobe flash?


Hey,

Swedish guy here. Any link to a non-Norwegian page with this content?


The text on the page is mostly English.

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.


http://www.aftenposten.no/webtv/serier-og-programmer/sweatsh...

The episodes with English subtitles. Also don't try so hard to not understand it, it's not Danish.


It shows in English for me here.

Quartz also had a brief article on it: http://qz.com/333940/what-three-norwegian-fashionistas-learn...


It looks like there is only an English trailer for now.


In terms of a large profit making company, the company has to make ever increasing profits for the shareholders or else it becomes pretty much illegal. Thus, currently these conditions are necessary, there is nothing to stop them, because to stop them means that a corporation is not operating properly. It is necessary because to not allow it means that a corporation is behaving badly. Like it or not, and in this example most of us hate it, a corporation has to make every effort to increase profit and decrease waste.

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.


> In terms of a large profit making company, the company has to make ever increasing profits for the shareholders or else it becomes pretty much illegal. Thus, currently these conditions are necessary, there is nothing to stop them, because to stop them means that a corporation is not operating properly.

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


Thanks for the link, I was wrong on the legal point, but it's not all bullshit.

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.


It doesn't have to be the shareholders responsibility to tell directors that, the directors can even just assume that - as they should. Big companies don't all set out to ruin the world just to make money, and I'm not saying that is your opinion, but I get the feeling that this is sometimes implied when discussing how to maximize profits.

Companies even donate money to charity, without any concern for short term profits.


> 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].


> "Donating money" is not an indicator of "morality" at all, because it has tax and PR advantages.

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?


Big companies don't all set out to ruin the world just to make money, but companies don't set business practices, Moloch does[0]. Those that don't sufficiently optimize for profit get replaced by ones that do, so in the end you have a drive towards ruining the world.

[0] - http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/


I'd argue the Germans have the best solution. Employees must be involved in running the company. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-determination


What if companies were scheduled to deliver all shares to the employees and customers over a period of time which was fixed at the time of incorporation?


I'm not opposed to it, but the brilliance of the German solution is to notice that full worker control is unnecessary.

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.


How does this eliminate private ownership or profit motive? This model puts the ownership in the hands of those who execute the business and those who provide it with continuous capital (customers) while over time eliminating the rent-collectors.


Then what incentive would there be to start one, or to design a business model that will outlive said fixed time? Moreover, why don't the workers then just start the company in the first place?


>Then what incentive would there be to start one, or to design a business model that will outlive said fixed time?

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.


> 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.


"Outside investors could still recoup their initial investment + gains"

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.


"Because it's his"

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.


>why don't the workers then just start the company in the first place?

Lack of access to capital.


There actually was this kind of system in Sweden in the 80s. Of course it was very unpopular with the right and was abolished as soon as they got into power. Since then, like in most of the western world, the productivity gains has to a large extent favored owners rather than employees.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employee_funds


It's interesting that the link describes the critics argument as increasing the power of labo[u]r over the company. Why is it a bad thing for the people who are actually doing the work of the company to have control over the company? Why should labo[u]r be controlled by a third party force (neither labor nor the customers).


People tend to say it's about control, but companies give up control all the time. I think it's mostly because they don't have to. I'm not sure how good a plan it is, but I do think it was visionary. I think the Nordic countries a losing much of their raison d'être by not taking care of their middle/working class.


I guess you're getting downvoted for repeating the myth that corporations must maximise profit.


Yes, fair enough, learnt something new today.

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.




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