Sweatshops…Understandable by the Social Contract or still simply Unjustifiable?

November 29, 2011

Political Theory


A few months ago, I was extremely alarmed and disturbed to be reading about the unraveling of a huge network of sweatshops in Spain. According to the report, the network was so expansive that it took over three years to exploit and bust the situation. The culmination of awful working hours, terrible living standards and cruel treatment, all of which are immoral in themselves, were overlooked in this particular incident, as there was also a meticulous process of human trafficking that provided the sweatshops with its “man power”.  Over 80 sweatshops, revolved around criminal organizations from Eastern Europe, Africa and China, were beginning to set up “shop” in Spain. With them came immigrants that were legally entering the country with the promise of having work. These individuals soon found themselves stripped of their passports, forced to work and constantly monitored to eliminate any chance of them escaping by these criminal organizations.

Acceptable Ever?

This topic has always been a highly debated one as how to eradicate the issue. However, in my opinion, the addition of immigration of groups of people into another country takes this problem to the next level.  There is a higher risk of being caught for these criminal organizations, which reads desperation on these organizations’ part. Thus, does this make this problem all that more serious? Does this make these criminal organizations more radical as the intention of acting in one’s best interest seems self-defeating when the risk of being exposed is greater? Essentially, does the fact that the crimes committed here, were in a large and more “civilized” society spark greater concern?

In this scenario, I find myself appalled, questioning what happened to the social contract that Rousseau seemed to talk about? So extravagant and inhumane a network; can it be justified by Rousseau’s view of the social contract? Are sweatshops ever justifiable for that matter? Are they understandable when you take into consideration Rousseau’s Social Contract? My answer is no to all of the above, that mankind in general is disgusted by actions such as these. However, I still find myself scratching my head, could self-interest and the sense of “property” understandably lead mankind to do such horrific things to one another?

According to Rousseau’s State of Nature, he argues that every man promotes his self-interest, solitary and compassion for others. He emphasizes that these very qualities, when combined, cause man to not enter a state of chaos under no higher authority, but rather restrain individuals from harming one another. Although, Rousseau’s society tends to argue that we as mankind divert from this “State of Nature.” That in our true state of nature, we “naturally” tend to avoid pain and suffering because we fear it being inflicted upon us. He writes that as we progress, we lose sight of this fear as we prioritize “self-improvement” and personal success at the cost of others’. So my question becomes, have Rousseau’s social contract collapsed in the modern day era? Have we lost this “State of Nature” or has self-interest understandably driven us to this extremity?

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Life is soccer.

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2 Comments on “Sweatshops…Understandable by the Social Contract or still simply Unjustifiable?”

  1. ianbaker2041 Says:

    I’ll begin by saying that this post is quite interesting. We haven’t seen anything on the blog about sweatshops yet, and they are certainly worth discussing and considering. I’ll preface my comment by saying that I disagree with your stance on sweatshops. I think they’re valuable in their own right, and the west is actually hurting these nations by refusing to buy these products.

    Sweatshops are the way to success. What? Are you saying that you like exploiting people? No, I am not saying that by any means. I have a heart, and I do actually care about other people. The problem is that in a vast majority of countries where sweatshops exist, there is little else to do for work. You might take a look at this article, as I’ll refer to it: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/25/opinion/let-them-sweat.html. As this article shows, sweatshops are often BY FAR the best option available. When people in the west refuse to buy clothing from sweatshops, companies have no choice but to close them, sending the workers back into the opium fields of Afghanistan to even more destitute poverty.

    9-5 jobs in comfortable offices are just not going to be the reality for much of the world. Even the US and western Europe went through periods of gross factories; that’s how a poor country uses its one competitive advantage (cheap labor) to bring capital in with which to build up an economy capable of supporting these “soft” jobs. Until the country has capital, it simply cannot create jobs for people that aren’t in farming or factory work. While the west has branded sweatshops as an evil of the world that need to be eliminated, I strongly disagree. Sweatshops are good for everyone: the west gets cheap stuff, and the poor countries where they are get money. How is there any loss in that? Because people have to work hard? Well, they’re going to work even harder out in the hot fields of the Middle East, that’s for sure! Refusing to buy from sweatshops does not give the workers pretty jobs like most Americans have; it sends them back into the fields and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. If you want to help the 3rd world get richer, support sweatshops, plain and simple.

    With that all said, I do agree with you on Rousseau. Sweatshops are definitely not equal in my mind; there are those who run them (usually western companies) who control the means of production and have access to the capital while the workers have far less and do not get equal access to the profits. This would go against Rousseau’s reasoning that all people are equal. This is also why I personally don’t like Rousseau’s thinking. If sweatshops are a good thing, and he brands them as not just bad but almost as evil, that seems to suggest to me that his theory has some problems. While it would be nice to think of everyone as perfectly equal, the reality is that we are never going to all be equal. There’s always something about a neighbor to envy. Maybe it’s something stupid like the tree in the front lawn; i.e. I think the tree in your front yard is nicer than my tree, and I do not like that. Even though somewhat trivial, assuming all other factors are equal, we would still be unequal simply because of that tree. Rousseau fails to take these matters into consideration when he suggests a state of nature with true equality, and I can’t buy into his theory for that reason.

  2. rmwells3 Says:

    My understanding are that certain countries express a certain comparative advantage which can be classified as either a consumer or capitalist advantage or a production advantage. Certain countries specialize in cheap labor while others invest and consume these cheap labor products and in a sense, those capitalist countries fund the maintenance of this relationship. However, i think there is a great difference between sweatshops and cheap labor.
    Cheap labor simply refers to the country that can produce products at a lower price than a capitalist country that excels in making newer, advanced technology. Agreed, sometimes this is a country’s only option for economic reasons, but as i said before, cheap labor is entirely different from sweatshops. Those countries that rely on its producing nature can still give its workers human and civil rights; there is never a time when those rights should be stripped from any human being.
    Although, there is seemingly some benefit to sweatshops as you have pointed out, I still find that there is no excuse for treating human beings in this way. If the market equilibrium has to rise causing all prices to rise, then sobeit, i’d rather be financially hurt than one without morals.

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