Do sweat shops make good cheap product?

edited 30 November -1 at 1:00AM in Money Saving Polls
52 replies 8.6K views


  • The arguments in favour of child exploitation and bonded labour (slavery) posted here are truly shocking.

    I hope there is a heaven and hell so I can watch you trotting out your pathetic arguments to St. Peter. I thought that this type of attitude had died out with Scrooge.

    Shame on you.
    Devils In Skirts!
  • theonlyricktheonlyrick Forumite
    41 Posts
    Part of the Furniture Combo Breaker
    zfrl wrote: »
    Wow what a thread. If I buy from these shops then I am supporting 1. The poorest people who make them & the millionaires who own the companies who sell them. 2. If I do not buy I am starving those who produce them & no one else cares (the millionaires still get rich).

    How do I get this right?

    It's easy - You choose who gets your money. Is it:
    a) The company in the developing world that invests in its workers
    b) The company in the developing world that keeps almost all the money and threatens and beats its workers

    I would think that anyone who claims you are helping the third world by buying from sweatshops is 33% selfish, 33% in denial and 33% trolling.

    It's hard to persuade people that something's true when it's bad news to them...

    If less is more, think how much "more" more would be.
  • gwearinggwearing Forumite
    6 Posts
    So one pro-sweatshop argument is "Britain worked through its sweatshop era a few centuries ago, and so must developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty".

    But southeast asia (etc) in the 21st century is not on a par with Britain in the 19th. Britain in the 19th century was a major global player. There weren't any countries hugely more wealthy than it. Britain didn't get rich purely through its own hard work (tho' obviously this played a part), it also exploited the natural resources, slave labour and markets of large portions of the globe. Buy Indian cotton at rock bottom prices, process it in our factories and sell it back to them.

    Developing countries in the 21st century are not - especially not individually - powerful. The US and western europe have more wealth and, through control of institutions like the IMF and WTO and World Bank, have the power. Developing countries haven't got control of the globe to help their own growth. Sweatshops are often in Export Processing Zones where there are NO TAXES, so profits from the factories don't go into that countries' schools and hospitals... they go back to the corporations who buy the factories' produce... usually based in the US. Sweatshop-hosting countries know they have no leverage to push for better working conditions in the factories because the corporations can - and do - pull out their custom at a second's notice and go elsewhere.

    Another pro-sweatshop argument is that sweatshops are a necessary evil, better than the alternatives. These kinds of phrases give the impression of places where wages are low and working hours are long. Sweatshops in fact involve wages below a living wage, regular forced overtime; the vast majority of employees are teenage girls, as employers believe they are teh most docile; unionisation is countered with threats of violence, sexual harassment is common, and girls can be asked to show evidence once a month that they are not pregnant (ie used sanitary towels), and if pregnant, they'll be sacked. Anyone who is a woman or has a wife, mother, daughter or sister should recognise that that's not a necessary evil, that's inexcusable.

    Whose responsibility is it to improve working conditions? Pro-sweatshoppers might say the host governments. Certainly they're responsible to a large extent. But again, this isn't the 19th century, it's the 21st century. In the 21st century, we have internationally recognised human rights and the internet. It's not hard to know or care about what's going on. As long as we benefit from the fruits of sweatshop labour, as long as Britain is a powerful country, we bear some responsibility.

    On the subject of coffee. The market is in a state of huge oversupply and this forces the price of coffee down. Brazil and Vietnam are making smaller producers struggle by being such enormous producers - but it's worth noting that Vietnam only started producing coffee at the World Bank's suggestion - that's the power and importance of who controls economic institutions. But oversupply is also down to the fact that coffee is a buyer's market (when I say buyer I mean the corporations that buy coffee from the growers). Corporations, middlemen, and options traders, based in the "developed" world, have enormous access to constantly changing market information. Coffee growers do not. They just have to plant what they can and hope they can sell it by the time it grows. Buyers are never going to pass on market information as it would involve giving up their power. One thing we might hope for in Fairtrade is more communication through the chain so farmers are in a better place to produce and sell the right quantities of the right goods. It's also worth noting that Fairtrade actually encourages diversification rather than increasing dependence on growing a single crop of coffee. Also, Fairtrade doesn't reward producers for being unproductive, as it doesn't involve paying a higher price for literally teh same product. It involves paying a higher price for a policy which ensures more communication through the chain and more money for coffee producing cooperatives so they can invest in health and education. Fairtrade coffee is a niche product so better comparable with organic, shade-grown, single estate origin etc. coffees.

    Fairtrade is indeed a niche and will remain so for a long time. It's more popular here in the UK than anywhere else, and it's still just a minuscule fraction of the whole market. The corporations who handle most of the world's coffee (way more than Starbucks' 1%) are starting their own fair trade brands, but keeping the vast vast majority of the coffee as non-fairtrade.

    My biggest hope for fairtrade is that it encourages consumer awareness of the consequences of their purchasing decisions and encourages debate and eventually bigger change in the overall trading systems of which it's a part. My bigegst fear for fairtrade is that busy people in the "developed" world will start to think all they have to do to be activists and help is buy the right product in the shops. Real change is going to take a lot more - letter writing, awareness-raising, and so on.

    This is my only post but I hope it's been useful tho the money saving poll is different thsi week. I highly, highly, highly recommend Travels Of A T-Shirt In The Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli, for pro and anti sweatshoppers alike. I also recommend No Logo because the negative publicity led me to think it would be slightly hysterical and silly; it's actually unbelievably well researched, well reasoned and well argued.
  • StevelxlsStevelxls Forumite
    17 Posts
    I've inspected factories in the Far East and they can vary considerably... JUST LIKE HERE IN GOOD OLD BLIGHTY!

    As an example lets take China for instance. The factory owners there don't want to sell to the third world if they can help it... they want the rich pockets of the likes of Europe and the USA as it's easier to make a better margin.
    They know the 'rich' countries are becoming more and more "ethical" thro' consumer demand and it is almost a weekly occurance for factory working and welfare conditions to be 'checked'.
    It is also important to remember that in China the majority of factories also provide living accommodation and food for the workers, typically within a walled and gated compound for both staff and company security.
    Now to a lot of unfamiliar westeners this may often seem a bit like a sort of 'open prison' type arrangement and a terrible, terrible existence along the lines of slave labour, but from experience I have found the following is more the case...

    China is a HUGE, really HUGE rural country with industry primarily located in key economic zones. Like many other countries it does not enjoy the luxury of the modern transport system we have throughout the UK. Now imagine that you lived in England but your basic factory job was in say Spain.. or Germany.. or Italy. Would you commute daily, or weekly, or monthly etc..
    It can often take a week for Chinese workers to travel to their place of work, so the 'norm' is to stay there for for the year and return home for a few weeks often at Chinese New Year. Is it a bad thing that employers provide clean, secure accommodation and meals, often of a better standard than the workers would have at home?

    Hours are long compared to European standards, but hours mean money and at the end of the day the rural majority go to work in the factories as it's a far better living than say working twelve hours a day in the paddy fields for far, far less money and less financial security.

    One important observation I would put forward for consideration is this:
    There were many Chinese factory workers I met who worked long, long hours for what by UK standards seemed a pittance. That said, a good number of these were working on the basis that after 10-15 years in the factories they could return to their rural way of life financially secure and even semi retire if they wished (although it wouldn't be in their nature). Now how many factory workers in the UK could do that in their 30's?

    Whether we like it or not, let's not forget that many countries are more like the UK 50 or even 100 years ago. The standars are NOT what we would expect for ourselves, but it doesn't make it automatically bad. Let's also not forget that they are catching up a LOT quicker and may make up the gap in 10, 20, 30 years??
    At the end of the day there will always be countries in the world that will be years behind others in living and working standards but who knows which way the balance of 'comfort' will swing in the future? If in 25 years China is dominating the worlds economy (having raised prices in line with demand as other countries stopped manufacturing) and the UK and USA are languishing with crazy inflation and record unemployment, would we feel quite the same?
    Let's face it, we're already employing more and more eastern europeans at minimal wage, often housing them in squalor (20 to a room recently reported) and charging them extortionate ££'s for the pleasure! So now who's becoming the employment baddies???

    Apologies for rambling and to return to the jist of the thread, YES I would buy cheap clothes as the 'sweatshops' and 'child labour' used are BY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE rather than contrived opinion definitely the exception rather than the norm.

    ... and as there will be many doubters, feel free to beat me down with your verbal sticks.
  • GingernutmegGingernutmeg Forumite
    3.5K Posts
    Part of the Furniture Combo Breaker
    As you say, standards vary a lot ... perhaps this article, from yesterdays Independent, might illustrate precisely how low those standards are in some Chinese factories.

  • DaisiesDaisies Forumite
    256 Posts
    I must admit, to me it's a no-brainer. Shop somewhere where things were possibly made in a sweat-shop with conditions that may have been "OK" or may have been appalling, or shop somewhere a bit more expensive but where I know an investment is being made in the people who grow and manufacture the produce. Clothes are cheaper now than they have been in the past and people have always managed to clothe themselves, after all.

    But Gwearing is right about writing to companies asking why they don't have factories with better conditions, rather than just buying fair trade. Guess what I'm going to do this weekend?! ;)

    Also, I spotted a very similar question asked in last Saturday's Guardian - in the Money section. The various replies to it should be published in tomorrow's issue, I think.
  • tjalkingtjalking Forumite
    4 Posts
    MSE_Archna wrote: »
    Poll Title: Poll Started 24 April 2007. Do sweat shops make good cheap product? You love shopping in your favourite cut-price clothing retailer or supermarket, but a verified report comes out that the reason it's so cheap is because it's paying 10 to 14 year olds only £1 a day in the developing world to make the goods. Which of the following is closest to your attitude?

    B. I'd try to find a viable alternative that didn't cost too much more.
    34.5% (1563 Votes)
    A. I'd immediately stop buying there regardless.
    28.4% (1287 Votes)
    D. I wouldn't feel good about it, but I can't afford to pay more.
    21.6% (980 Votes)
    E. If it saves me money, that's what counts.
    12.6% (571 Votes)
    C. I'd keep shopping there, but write demanding the company change its suppliers.
    2.7% (125 Votes)

    Total Votes: 4527

    Before we condemn what we call *sweat shops* just remember that these kids most likely have to work to help support their families. Without those jobs they would still have to help support the family so would likely be begging on the streets or, worse still, turn to prostitution. I don't think this is a better alternative. Yes, I think these children are being taken advantage of by our desire for cheap things but I'm not sure boycotting the items is a solution!!
  • udydudyudydudy Forumite
    559 Posts
    Udydudy - I find your post offensive and aggressive, and I'd like, if I may, to answer a few of the points you raise.

    Firstly let me apologize to all who found my post offensive. Agressive it was to an extent meant to be to drive the point home but not to the extent of being offensive.

    Point 1 - I am glad to know that you do pay into a fund that does charity in a developing country. I also agree that giving a child an education is important especially since I have been privileged enough to be educated and see the benefits of it. But in countries where survival(in rural areas) is more essential education unfortunately has to come second(or may be never). your question of whether I support a charity, I used to until I found that most big charities spend more percentage of their money into administrative costs than it benefiting the people for whom it is destined. Since then my ideal has been to directly support families in my country and also, in the near future is to retire and start a charity working directly at the grassroot level in the rural area and to use my friends in the US & UK to advertise by word of mouth(rather than slick advertising which is paid for by our contributions). one of my friends has already started it in the US & Dubai -- (hope providing this link is not against the forum rules-- pls let me know if it is) these are the kind of charities where majority of the money goes to benefit the people to whom it is intended and less on administration.

    Point 2 - Excuse my generalising, but thats what generalisations are about. it does not mean all are the same but then in UK we do have a benefit parachute which means though we do not use it it is there if we do need it. Kudos to ones that do not use it. I really appreciate and respect them people but you will agree that unfortunately we are in the minority and the same security is not there in developing countries.

    Point 3 - I would tend to disagree a bit with the Fair trade reasoning. A lot of people in developing countries do not own their farmland it is the landowners who own them. People who farm on their land are in many(not necessary all) of these farms who supply to fair trade as good as bonded labour. Do not avoid fair trade products as for many people in the developing countries that is a way of helping people in develpoing countries but do question why it is expensive. It surely is not because of the producers being paid high it is because of anciallry cost which are high. Just like you will be surprised at the salaries paid to the top level in charities(this is from a friend working for one of the charities).

    Point 4 - Well it depends on what you call a fair wage? I agree that there is a loads of exploitation and I do not agree with it. but in countries where there is no minimum wage (legally there is) and the populations being what they are, fair wage is something of a illusion. My definition of a fair wage is a wage one which allows you to feed you and your family, clothe them and shelter them, mind you education is non existent). I disagree with your statement == "You will be surprised at many of the (mainly female) sweatshop workers have to turn to prostitution in order to gain a living wage" This is in direct contradiction to the fact that sweatshop workers are kept in squalid conditions and work long hours. people who work in these places do not have time to do anything else to generate a second source of income leave alone prostitution.

    Point 5 - I appreciate that you do pick and choose to decide the most ethical option. but like you said and I concur that we are entitled to our opinion.

    But the facts are that vast countries like India, china and africa do not have the same facilities everywhere like in the developed countries. infact most places in the rural areas do not have basic amenities with this I mean potable water, electricity, etc leave alone education. In these conditions priority of these people is to work (all in the family) feed themselves and their families.

    let me keep this short. These are the facts of life in these countries however you wish to see it or ignore it. I am aganist sweat shops but do not want to condem them until I can provide an alternative.
  • GingernutmegGingernutmeg Forumite
    3.5K Posts
    Part of the Furniture Combo Breaker
    Point 1 – I fully understand your point about major charities – it’s something that concerns me myself. I used, for example, to work for a *major* UK heritage charity. It was the only place I've ever worked where I was given unlimited budgets for major events. Knowing how much of the money they make that actually goes into restoring and managing their properties, and how much goes in unnecessary expenses, I now refuse to support them. Having spent the past four years working in the NGO sector, I also know how little of the donated money goes to the actual causes, and so I thoroughly research any charity that I donate to - I want my money to go to a child, not to pay for a fancy office or an 'on-the-street' fundraiser! In that way, as you say, the smaller charities, if well run (and sadly many aren't) do tend to work at a more 'grass-roots' level.

    Point 2 - I might add that the idea of the welfare state in the UK is a fairly recent invention, and to a certain extent, it no longer exists in the maximal way it used to. I fully expect that by the time I retire, in 30-40 years, there will be little or no benefit provision (healthcare, pensions, possibly even education) beyond the bare minimum. I accept that we do have a ‘parachute’ in this country that many places don’t have, but you can’t really insult someone just because they happen to be born in a certain place at a certain time … What we can do, and what I try to do through my work, is help provide that parachute to people who don’t have it. I accept that what I do is small, but I believe in the view that doing something, no matter how small, is better than doing nothing.

    Point 3 - Much of what you say here is simply what I initially said ... I don’t agree with all of the principles of the fair trade movement, as I feel that it’s very much a Western paradigm and many of the practices fail to take account of the reality of many situations. There is some argument, for example, about one of the major rules of the ‘fair trade’ accreditation being that children cannot be employed on fair trade farms etc. Some have suggested that this may have had the effect of forcing some children into conflict, as child soldiers, because there are no local alternatives for them. It’s this short-sighted view that I disagree with, but in general ‘fair trade’, although not perfect is surely a better alternative to sweatshops and exploitation. As I said in my first statement (and as you reiterate) it’s the ancillary costs that make fair trade so expensive. However, this still doesn’t change the fact that fair-trade producers do, in general, get a better price for their products, and that the fair trade movement has spawned a number of initiatives that are making life better for people.

    Point 4 – If you research the conditions worldwide, particularly in the EPZ in Mexico, you will see that many women DO have to turn to prostitution in order to provide themselves with a living wage. This is a well known fact – charities such as ‘No Sweat’, AI and ‘War on Want’ all make this point. I would argue that the fact that many factories require women to either take contraception or provide monthly proof of a period suggests that this is well known there too.

    As you say, there is no real definition of a fair wage. However, I feel that people are being exploited, and I feel that this is wrong – not just economically but because it shows a disregard for even the most basic dignity that should be afforded to another human being. It is our greed for cheap clothing that keeps people in the sweatshops, and not just market conditions. I don’t feel that it’s fair to say that this is a reality of life and we should just accept that this is the way life is in these countries. If the sweatshops are providing a ‘good’ income, then why are so many of their workers still living in abject poverty, facing daily abuse and exploitation? I accept that these places may be the only employers in some areas, but it still doesn’t make what they’re doing right! There ARE realistic alternatives which would develop local economies, but our own greed for cheap t-shirts often blinds us to this.

    Point 5 – I don’t pick and choose what I’m ethical about – I think you may have misunderstood my statement here.

    I do not choose to ignore the ‘facts of life’ in developing countries. That is why I work in the NGO sector, so that I can go some way towards providing real change. I believe that I work towards providing an alternative to the sweatshops, and I feel that it would be hypocritical if I then decided that it would be ok to buy from certain places. Of course we are all entitled to our opinions, but we also have to be willing to accept that the way we think might just need changing …

  • udydudyudydudy Forumite
    559 Posts
    Point 1 – I fully understand your point about major charities – it’s something that concerns me myself. .......but we also have to be willing to accept that the way we think might just need changing …

    Gingernutmeg.. Like I said in my previous post...I did not mean to insult you nor anyone else and apologize if anyone felt that way...

    I hope our small interaction does bring out the facts to a lot of people reading this website and also does change the way people think about sweatshops.

    I do not deny any of your points and also my argument does not make those facts about forced labor, child labor or prostitution right whatever the case maybe. Its just that the other view point/reality also needed to be brought into the picture wherein its a way of life which cannot be removed so easily without a viable alternative. We can see iraq for example...a lot of local people feel maybe(and thats a big maybe) they were better off under the previous regime, though the regime was not not right atleast the majority did not have to suffer daily violence.

    Its similar if not same. How I wish there was an easy solution!!.
This discussion has been closed.
Latest News and Guides

Best student bank accounts 2021/22

Incl. free 0% overdrafts and railcards

MSE Guide

Next 50% off sale rumour

Here's what we've found...

MSE Deals