Sweatshops are bad. But we should feel alright about them.


After listening to This American Life, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the type of people who are running these manufacturing companies. I would to understand what is going through their minds when they monitor these workers. Listening to the podcast, I am sure many of us already knew about the harsh working conditions regarding the sweatshops, but how do we as consumers look using these products and turning a blind eye. It is saddening to see how Foxconn and other sweatshop companies have the ability to just let money cloud their judgment. I always thought what if it was their 12-14 year old daughter working in these factories would the sweatshop owners or the American companies owners still continue doing business with them? Where has the morality of these companies gone? From changing the production line with older workers when auditors come to the harsh working and living conditions workers have to go through is just disappointing to see.

One thing that really caught my attention was when they talked about how some people see the benefit in sweatshops as an effective way to fight poverty. Yes, I can agree to an extend that they are being taken out of their state of poverty, but they also have to realize that the workers are still technically in the same situation as before because they are still living in poverty from the rich benefiting on their behalf. Some of the production workers are saying that the being in poverty with manufacturing jobs are preferred over agriculture, but with these production line jobs their mental and physical health is actually suffering more. For instance, these companies do not care about providing you with medical support if you hurt yourself because the workers are seem as disposable goods that can be easily replaced. This takes me back to my first blog entry about individual sustainability, where our society has helped promote a world of self-interest and success. This type of mentality can contribute to the focus on profit maximization, which can hinder one’s judgment. Why is there this mind-set of selling the cheapest product when we in the US have fought for labor rights for 100 years? Do we want to just keep our achievements to ourselves because it seems that way when we outsourced our production jobs without the protections of workers?

Personally, for me, I never actually realized where these products came from, but it was always in the back of my mind. I own many of these products that are produced in these manufacturing companies in ShenZhen and when I first heard the name of this city is shocked me because this is where my family is from. The last time I was back in that area I was about six years old, so I never got a chance to actually see the city the way it was described by Mike. Even now I do not hear about these factories my family from that area speak and I think it stems from the normality of getting work in these manufacturing companies to make a living. On the other side of the world, people are so blinded by all the social benefits these products bring like a sense of status and belonging in our culture. Our societies are so fixed on having the best and providing people an image of your success because nobody enjoys the feeling of being ostracized. I believe the our own individual intentions along with the society we have socially constructed with material goods has these conditions acceptable.

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6 thoughts on “Sweatshops are bad. But we should feel alright about them.”

  1. Ignorance is bliss. I think the fact that we do not see the “behind the scenes” that occur at FoxConn on a regular basis allows us to turn a blind eye. In fact, I think that if everyone in America had to work just one day at FoxConn, there would be a huge movement for a change in working conditions.

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  2. It was very interesting to hear about your personal connection with ShenZen. I understand your frustration and disappointment that many share with you over the lack of concern from corporations who use these factories. I believe that large change comes in a series of small steps and that small steps can be taken in order to move this problem in the right direction. I wonder what some of these small steps would look like. Perhaps higher wages would be helpful or even better overall conditions. I’m interested in some proposals for small changes that can be made to start moving in the right direction.

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  3. I do agree that it takes a series of small steps to make bigger changes because the development of sustainable practices is evolutionary change instead of revolutionary change. We have to start rethinking the idea of globalization along with the rise of technology in a different light because right now we are taking advantage of the benefits it brings us. As the US has fought a 100 years for labor protection, I find it hard to understand why the US is willing to contract with these companies who use unfair labor conditions. I think if we want to start tackling these issues, it starts from each individual person to educate themselves about the issues. Education plays a huge role because until one is educated about something, it makes the issue less personal. The more educated one is regarding an issue; it will promote a sense of creativity in confronting these issues. It takes the power of number and knowledge from individuals to start taking a step back to fully understand the situation. But then how can we detach people who using these products from the “good” it brings to them?

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  4. In my post, I agreed that we need to make some individual changes. I also think that the first step is certainly education. One idea I had was to request permission from Apple to let a film crew explore the conditions in their factories. While there would certainly be some controversy, I think it would teach Americans a lot about social responsibility and the impact their blind purchasing of electronics has on the other people on this planet. What might some other first steps be?

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  5. Aside from an outright boycott of Apple products, I do not see this problem being solved very easily. The only people who can truly make a change is the executives at Apple. Unfortunately, with their steadily increasing salaries and bonuses, they have no reason to change their ways. Apple will not think that consumers care enough for them to make a change as long as we still listen to their ads and purchase their product.

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  6. The question that William propose is an ethical debate. He writes about the lesser of two evils: extreme poverty with the potential for starvation and death or extreme working conditions with the potential for psychological and physical damage to the point of death (suicide). It is an ethical issues that could be rooted in religion or in philosophy. In being educated in a Catholic school system, Catholics believe that both situations are morally wrong and we would not be able to ethically choose a lesser of these two evils. In my opinion, I would argue for the lesser of two evils and for the extreme working conditions, regardless of the horrors associated with them. But why should we as a society accept that these are the only two options? We should be able to reject both of the horrible choices in favor or proper and ethical working conditions or the eradication of society. We are at a time point when it has become socially unacceptable in the US to work under such conditions. Yet, we accept it in other places because they are deemed “developing.” Why? My firm belief is that we need to operate under moral and ethical practices regardless of country or region in the world.

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