Do sweat shops make good cheap product?

edited 30 November -1 at 1:00AM in Money Saving Polls
52 replies 8.6K views
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  • DaisiesDaisies Forumite
    256 Posts
    I think buying fair trade (which I do) needs a shift in attitudes to fashion. Instead of buying a whole new wardrobe each season made cheaply- which falls apart in a year or so, you can buy classic items that last for years, and top up with a few new pieces each season to keep you current.

    I think that's much more money-saving: you save on landfill, get a better product, and you help other people get out of poverty. It isn't cheaper if it's badly made and you need to replace it often.
    It's worth bearing in mind that if market forces (i.e. what we buy) demand cheap labour how long before it spreads to the whole world? It's bad enough where it is.

    I don't think saving money means compromising on principles or forcing other people into terrible situations: it is only fashion, after all.
    And yes, I'm strapped for cash, so I only buy a few peices, but I wear them for years!

    Hope this info helps!
    Sally

    Thanks Sally, some links on there to stores I hadn't heard of! Most of the fair trade stores (the ones I've used anyway like People Tree and Natural Collection) have clothing priced on a par with M & S - so, yes, more expensive than Primark and the supermarkets but not ridiculously so. And many have very good reductions at sale time - I shop at Howies when the sale email comes through and get some lovely clothing that will last for years for a low price. I also get stuff at charity shops.

    But thank you to the other poster too - I should write to the cheap shops and ask about their ethical policies, instead of just avoiding them, otherwise they won't know!
  • benoodbenood Forumite
    1.4K Posts
    Interesting debate, there's nothing wrong with fairtrade, however, I can understand the "pro" sweatshop side of the debate - they're a necessary evil as part of the rapid development of former 3rd world economies. Fairtrade works for part of the market but if China, for instance, is to grow as fast as possible and drag its population out of relative poverty it cannot just supply those wealthy enough to choose fairtrade.

    As long as the workers in the sweatshops are free to stop and aren't slaves then in my opinion in the long run more people will be better off sooner, much as we are better off now than our antecedents during the industrial revolution.
  • benood wrote: »
    As long as the workers in the sweatshops are free to stop and aren't slaves then in my opinion in the long run more people will be better off sooner, much as we are better off now than our antecedents during the industrial revolution.

    The ends, IMHO, do not justify the means. And I think we're all smart enough about money on this forum to understand someone being a slave to poverty.

    What saddens me about this kind of thing is not the people who know nothing about sweatshops, and do nothing, but the people who know only too well, and still do nothing.

    (climbs down reluctantly from high horse - I'll stop now :rolleyes: )
    :TProud to be dealing with my debts :T
  • panlanepanlane Forumite
    41 Posts
    I come out in the "pro-sweatshop" brigade. Consider the horrific working conditions of Victorian London and then consider how rapidly the standards of living improved from there. The idea that one can just legislate a problem away is naive. The surrouding economy must be sufficiently diverse and strong to support such legislation, a measure which much of the Third-World falls far short of.

    Additionally, it is relatively meaningless to talk in absolute terms of money here. £1 a day will take you nowhere in the UK but somewhere in the developing world. The key issue is Purchasing Power Parity but we aren't given the specifics for that in this example. Personally, I find most discussions that concern the developing world reveal people's ignorance of economics, e.g. the constant flawed comparisons of the wealthy West's assets with the poor East's incomes.

    Furthermore, those that buy fairtrade should consider what they are hoping to achieve. The classic example is coffee. A few major retailers get lambasted because of the behaviour of producers that are trying to judge a market that is notoriously slow to respond to change because of the 3-year lag between planting and cropping. Thousands of individual farmers plant too many trees, produce too much coffee and the accompanying price crash. It's utterly ignored that it is the developing nations of Brazil and Vietnam that are driving less-efficient Central American producers to the wall. Somehow it's Starbuck's fault and it should make recompense by buying from less-productive family farms because...errrr...they are less efficient? Basically the system traps people in a state of low-productivity. Those that are productive, such as the Brazilians, suffer the implicit criticism that they are doing something wrong and/or being exploited and the purchase of their product diminishes. Quite simply fairtrade is a waste of time, though obviously its intentions are noble. If people want to save the world, they have to recognise that the majority of purchasers are concerned with price and quality, be it in coffee or clothes. The market will reward the producers that strike the best balance between the two and the resultant wealth will in time reach the workers and provide an incentive for other producers to do likewise. It isn't instant or perfect, but then nothing is. Done right, however, you can turn a developing country to a developed one in 30years.
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Forumite
    0 Posts
    Holiday Haggler
    MoneySaving Newbie
    Would the quality of 'sweatshop' clothes improve if we paid them more? That stuff from Primart is crap
  • DaisiesDaisies Forumite
    256 Posts
    panlane wrote: »
    I come out in the "pro-sweatshop" brigade. Consider the horrific working conditions of Victorian London and then consider how rapidly the standards of living improved from there. The idea that one can just legislate a problem away is naive. The surrouding economy must be sufficiently diverse and strong to support such legislation, a measure which much of the Third-World falls far short of.

    Additionally, it is relatively meaningless to talk in absolute terms of money here. £1 a day will take you nowhere in the UK but somewhere in the developing world. The key issue is Purchasing Power Parity but we aren't given the specifics for that in this example. Personally, I find most discussions that concern the developing world reveal people's ignorance of economics, e.g. the constant flawed comparisons of the wealthy West's assets with the poor East's incomes.


    Hmm, yes, we did have appalling working conditions here during the industrial revolution, but then we also had slavery until around about the same time - both would not be tolerated here today, so why should we expect people in other countries to work in awful conditions?

    I don't have a problem with people earning £1 or £2 a day in a developing country, if that is a realistic living wage for them, of course it is reasonable to expect garments to be manufactured there and it provides important work opportunities and money. But I do have a problem with people being exploited and forced to work in dangerous conditions, all because the price of clothing has been forced down and down by the cheaper clothes retailers. It is the same with the farmers who grow cotton, for instance, who get trapped in a cycle of having to pay for pesticides (which damage their health) to keep up yields and end up in debt to buy more pesticides. Which is why I'd prefer to buy from companies that work with growers and manufacturers to make conditions safer - I wouldn't choose to buy from a more expensive high street retailer unless I knew their clothing was also certified fair trade.

    Also, many of the countries in the developing world are already disadvantaged by having to make enormous debt repayments to the developed world (debts that wouldn't exist to the same extent if the developed world had been a bit more responsible).
    http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/?lid=2649
    So Western countries are often expecting these countries to make debt repayments (to the detriment of education, healthcare etc), as well as providing a cheap and exploitable labour force.
    http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/?lid=1665
  • I work in a sweat shop. I am taking my 9 minutes a week break time to come and plead with you. Please keep buying the tee-shirts that my factory make! I know my wage of approx. £1 a day seems very little to you, but with that, over the course of 1year, I can buy a yacht - because in my country, prices are cheap.

    If I get sacked then I will have to go and work as a house helper for Gary Glitter and I don't like the way he watches me make tea.


    Although I am joking, in all seriousness, stop comparing our factories, our pay, and our lifestyles with those of developing countries.

    As for those who refuse to buy stuff from the supermarkets - unless you live in a cave in the outer hebrides (sp. nnng) then I'm glad you are not afraid of heights, from the pedestal on which you sit.
  • panlanepanlane Forumite
    41 Posts
    Daisies wrote: »
    Hmm, yes, we did have appalling working conditions here during the industrial revolution, but then we also had slavery until around about the same time - both would not be tolerated here today, so why should we expect people in other countries to work in awful conditions?

    You missed my point entirely. The point isn't that we expect them to work in terrible conditions, the point is that there is no alternative. There simply are not the resources available to lift the working conditions of all labourers in the developing world up to the standards of the developed world. It took us centuries to get where we are, they will manage it in a few decades if we don't mess it up for them with initiatives such as Fairtrade (quite how anti-globalisationist can argue against the CAP as a trading bloc and for fairtrade simulaneously baffles me). The global debt that you speak of was in part caused by just that sort of meddling: the now-thankfully-outdated notion that you could throw money at countries with pitiful economic records and have them reform and use it appropriately as a result. Quite simply, economies take time to develop the resources needed to improve themselves, there is no quick-fix. The only way in which they can identify how best to acquire those resources is by listening to the market, rather than government or NGO dictat.

    The real problem with initiatives such as fairtrade is that they fail to recognise that they are and always will be a niche enterprise. If we are interested in elevating the conditions of all workers worldwide, we have to move beyond such schemes and work with the market rather than against it. I'm not arguing that your conscience shouldn't guide choice, but rather that reason should guide your conscience.

    On a final note, nobody is arguing for slavery. Slavery is the very anti-thesis of the free market. Besides, it is incorrect to conflate the concepts of sweatshops and slavery. Slavery is easily solved by legislating against it - free choice requires no resources to acquire - poverty on the otherhand cannot be solved simply by law.
  • theonlyricktheonlyrick Forumite
    41 Posts
    Part of the Furniture Combo Breaker
    Your basic starting point is, "there is no alternative".
    Others take the more positive starting point of, "there *must* be an alternative".

    panlane wrote: »
    There simply are not the resources available to lift the working conditions of all labourers in the developing world up to the standards of the developed world.

    Maybe correct, but you're arguing against a position that no-one has supported. We're talking about sweatshops, not everyone having two cars, two TVs and two DVD players.

    panlane wrote: »
    The only way in which they can identify how best to acquire those resources is by listening to the market, rather than government or NGO dictat.

    I wouldn't say it's the only way, (economies have frequently jump-started themselves out of recession through high government spending) but the long-term economic health of a population need some free-market principles. (But to make it a country that people actually want to live in, you also need other principles as well.)

    Also, don't put all this faith that the free market will distribute all this lovely money equitably, or - dare I say it - fairly.

    In the 90s fisherman in Peru would sell their fish to the highest bidder. Unfortunately the highest bidder weren't the local Peruvians, (who were poor and hungry). The highest bidder was companies like Whiskas - so while the locals starved, Western cats were being pampered....... All hail the free market!

    panlane wrote: »
    The real problem with initiatives such as fairtrade is that they fail to recognise that they are and always will be a niche enterprise.

    I don't see:

    a) in what sense FairTrade is a niche enterprise. There seems to be a fair amount of it in my local supermarket.

    b) at what point it would stop being niche

    c) why it matters (even if it is niche). Sure, less Fairtrade means less effect, but even if it was only 5% of the market, that is still improving the lives of 1000's of people who spend most of their lives not knowing if they'll be ableto afford food in a week's time.

    panlane wrote: »
    If we are interested in elevating the conditions of all workers worldwide, we have to move beyond such schemes and work with the market rather than against it.

    FairTrade is working 'with the market'. It's supply and demand. FairTrade is able to put the price up because (some) people are happy to pay a bit more for it.

    Please explain why it's working 'against the market'.

    It's a bit like when Kenco charges more for a more expensive range of coffee. The difference is that FairTrade pays the extra money to the farmer whereas Kenco pays the extra money to an advertising firm. (Interestingly the Kenco advert gives us a very false impression of what life is like for farmers trying to bargain with powerful multinationals. Apparently coffee growers are educated men who walk around in linen suits. Kenco want you to think they hold a position of power and are confident enough to patronise the little white man who visits them on work experience.)

    panlane wrote: »
    I'm not arguing that your conscience shouldn't guide choice, but rather that reason should guide your conscience.

    I think reason does guide my concsience.

    panlane wrote: »
    On a final note, nobody is arguing for slavery. Slavery is the very anti-thesis of the free market.

    The free market is a crock, particularly when the people in charge of companies threaten workers with death. Sweatshops *are* slavery - the only difference is the spelling. (At some sweatshops you will face imprisonment if the factory fire you.) What the f do you think it is? A 9 to 5?

    Read a few lines of this, and tell me that this isn't describing slavery http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/sweatshops.html: "A 20/20 investigation in Saipan sweatshops discovered that pregnant employees were forced to have abortions in order to keep their jobs)."
    If less is more, think how much "more" more would be.
  • theonlyricktheonlyrick Forumite
    41 Posts
    Part of the Furniture Combo Breaker
    This is going slightly OT, but this article from The Torygraph has an interesting article on the power imbalance between the sellers and buyers of coffee: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/11/11/wfair11.xml

    Quote: Farmers in Sidamo and Harar regions sell their beans at just 60p per pound to western firms who grind them, pack them in foil and sell at up to £14 a pound in Britain.


    And again: All Hail the Free Market - It provideth for all!
    If less is more, think how much "more" more would be.
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