Today I was walking around campus and saw an enthusiastic group of protesters that were vehemently against sweatshops. Apparently they weren't too happy to find out that much of USC's merchandise is manufactured in sweat shops, so they decided to strip down to their underwear and hold signs that say "sweatshop free USC." As far as protests go, it was effective because it got me thinking about the issue. I began discussing it with some friends and realized there were overlooked aspects to sweatshops that these protesters, though well-intentioned, do not consider. Sweatshops aren't quite as evil as everyone thinks based on the evidence of their unfair wages, and something should be done to solve the problem of unfair wages without shutting sweatshops down entirely because that would only be even more detrimental to the already impoverished employees.
I imagine the main point these protesters would argue is that these sweatshops provide poor working conditions and low wages to people in other countries, and they believe there should be some sort of improvements made to help these employees live better lives. This is understandable since, according to DoSomething.org, "85% of sweatshop workers are young women [aged] 15-25 [who] have to spend 50-75% of their income on food" because they make such a little amount of money with each paycheck. I definitely would not say that sweatshops are fair to their employees, and I believe there should be some measures taken to increase base wages of international sweatshop workers. However, I think that stopping the use of sweatshops entirely would not be the correct solution to the problem.
Stopping use of sweatshops would put hundreds of people and their families out of jobs and in a worse condition with each sweatshop that loses business as a result of a boycott like the one on the USC campus today. Imagine a sweatshop employing 300 people who make about $5 a day. Sure, they can't live luxuriously or even at a desired quality of life, but at least it is better than making absolutely nothing. If that sweatshop were shut down because people over here in the U.S. "wised up" and decided not buy products manufactured in a sweatshop that has poor working conditions and low wages, then each and every worker at that sweatshop is out of a job. Now they can't even feed their families at the level they could when they were only making $5 a day. What's worse, these sweatshops are probably some of the biggest employers in the area in which the workers live, so they likely won't be able to find a job at all after the closure of their previous place of employment.
Another thing to consider is that not every place in the world has the same standard of living and levels of fair wages as the U.S. In China, for example, the poverty line would be any family making less than $1 a day per person. Compared to the U.S. poverty line, which is a little over $11,000 a year for a single person, this is a ridiculously small amount. The cost of living in China is much less than here in the U.S., though, so less is needed to support your family. Based on the statistic I mentioned earlier, I still think sweatshop workers make way too little, but I think Americans need to take into consideration when discussing things like wages in other countries that not every country lives at the same financial level as we do. Paying the sweatshop workers in a place like Taiwan the minimum wage here in America would make them wealthier than a higher-skilled worker in their country.
I'd like to conclude with this fact from DoSomething.org:
"For less than 1% of Nike’s advertising budget, wages could be doubled for all workers making Nike university clothing."
Do I think that, in cases like this one involving Nike, workers at sweatshops deserve better wages and working conditions? Yes, that should be obvious if you are even the least bit moral. I do not think that stopping the use of sweatshops or boycotting them is a good way to achieve this goal. I urge you to find another way to take action like getting involved in political activism for the issue. Just do it.