Saturday, April 22, 2006

Don't Sweat Sweatshops

I was inspired to write another letter to the editor of the San Jose State daily newspaper, The Spartan Daily. The article reported on a lecture given by an ex-sweatshop worker, Carmencita "Chie" Abad, who now promotes campaigns to ban purchase of sweatshop goods on college campuses. (If you like this letter, you may enjoy this paper written by Ben Powell and I).

Dear Editorial Staff,

Erin Hull’s well-written piece " ‘Made in U.S.A.’ not always sweatshop free, speaker says" lacked only one thing – another perspective on the issue. From Paul Krugman on the left to Walter Williams on the right, economists across the political spectrum agree that there are benefits for poor people from sweatshops in developing countries. One such benefit is that sweatshop wages often provide a higher than average standard of living for that country; the sweatshops mentioned in the Northern Mariana Islands are no exception.

According to estimates in the World Bank Indicators Database, workers in the Northern Mariana Islands earn an average of $3,256 to $10,065 a year. Working only 40 hours a week for $3.75 an hour, the wage Abad reported, leads to an income of $7,800 per year. This income is more than double the lower estimate and nearly as high as the upper estimate. If workers put in as many hours as Abad claims they do, "14 hour days, seven days per week", then they’ll make $19,110 per year. This is nearly double the upper estimate of the average income and nearly six times the lower estimate! Sweatshop jobs are some of the most rewarding in the area.

Sweatshops provide a better standard of living than most people in the Northern Mariana Islands are able to enjoy. If, as Abad hopes, college students stop buying products manufactured in sweatshops, workers will lose good jobs and have a substantially lower standard of living. Plans to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries should not include programs that will lower the worker’s incomes.

David Skarbek

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this argument probably wasn't mentioned because it happens to be a terrible one. You, sir, obviously know little about global economy as well as capitalism in the state of imperialism. Sweatshops are setup in impoverished nations that BECOME impoverished by western nations robbing resources through privatization and debt (ala IMF and World Bank). After greatly diminishing their quality of life and leaving them starving from exploitation the 'hero' corporations come in to exploit the cheap labor there.

So yes, to an uneducated eye it can look as though they are 'helping.' There's a reason why these countries are poor in the first place and exploitable (rather than paying a livable wage like I'm sure you're getting) and it has something to do with white folks killing and enslaving people...or should we just forget the fact that your ass is sitting on land that was once roamed by native americans? Before we butchered them and colonized it of course.