Sweatshops provide cheap and abundant labor that most companies seek out because it reduces their operating costs. For companies like Apple, Hewlett Packard, and Nike, these sweatshops guarantee that the bottom line is always in their favor, and they can make good returns every year. Like Duhigg and Barboza write in their article In China, Human Costs Are built into an iPad, (Duhigg & Barboza 2012) the combination of no real outside pressure to change, Apple’s apparent unwillingness to pressure suppliers to improve working conditions and the need to make bigger profits shape how these companies view sweatshops. In 2012, Apple reported it had earned $13.06 billion in profits and $46.3 billion in sales and its executives argued, “Sales would have been even higher if overseas factories had been able to produce more.” (Duhigg & Barboza 2012).
For the companies operating in Asia, laborers are easy to manipulate into working in sweatshops because of the poverty there. Working for a fraction of the minimum wage in America is enough to lift the laborers from a life of poverty to one of a reasonably better life. Kristoff and WuDunn (2014) write that $1 or $2 a day can be a life-transforming wage especially for a poor Bangladeshi person with a family to support.
The companies running the sweatshops also have to make profits and since companies like Apple keep cutting the amounts they pay to suppliers, they are forced to cut corners so as to make some profit and this results in unsafe working conditions for the laborers (Duhigg & Barboza 2012). Conditions that are viewed as inhumane in America are not seen as being so bad in Asia and coupled with the pressure to meet the requirements of their American clients, these companies have no problem with forcing their employees to work for several hours a day in unsafe conditions in order to please their clients and make profits which are seen as being important in improving their economies.
Americans view the sweatshops as being inhumane and want to take action to pressure all the parties involved to improve conditions for workers. The easiest approach is to boycott goods, and a move which Kristoff and WuDunn argue could harm the very people it intends to help and which Yesilevsky argues is not enough and even pointless. Yesilevsky prefers that the problem be solved through legislation, which would be more effective.
Why stakeholders reach different points of view
American companies that contract suppliers from Asia want the employees of those companies to be treated well, and they have said and acted as much by inspecting the factories of their suppliers and laying out rules, which the suppliers have to follow to ensure proper working conditions. Companies like Apple has published a code which demands “…that working conditions in Apple’s supply chain are safe, that workers are treated with respect and dignity and that manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible…” (Duhigg & Barboza 2012). However, because the suppliers meet Apple’s stringent requirements, the executives are reluctant to force the sweatshops to change the system. This is evident in what a former executive at Apple said, “We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.” (Duhigg & Barboza 2012). The need to meet targets makes American companies ignore violations sometimes.
For the people who work in sweatshops, there is not much another choice. These people are not oblivious to the fact that they are being exploited and have gone on strike to demand better pay and more humane working conditions. The need to fend for themselves and their families and the hope of a better future however make these employees stay despite the exploitative nature of the sweatshops. In Kristoff and WuDunn’s article, Two Cheers for Sweatshops (2014), a man named Mongkol tells the story of his daughter, Darin, who was only 15 years old at the time and was already working for $2 a day in 9 hour shifts in a factory in Bangkok which made clothes for export to America. Mongkol tells how Darin was involved in an accident, and a needle went through her hand but she was bandaged, got better and went back to work. The notion of a fifteen-year-old working is an alien notion in America but in places like Bangkok where poverty is rife, children are forced to work to supplement family incomes. The cultures in Asia are definitely different from those in America where accidents like that which Darin suffered would be seen as an outrageous incident.
The businesspersons who run the sweatshops are not scrupulous and are likely to cut corners to achieve their goals. During Apple’s inspection of its suppliers’ factories, violations discovered included hiring 15 year olds and falsification of records (Duhigg & Barboza 2012). While they might argue that they are forced to do this because their clients do not pay enough for them to have good working conditions, the truth is that they do this to minimize their costs to make more profit. It is possible for these companies to talk to their clients in America and to request better deals and as Duhigg and Darboza write, Executives at multiple suppliers admit when they talked to companies like Hewlett-Packard and others, they were allowed slightly profits and other allowances if they were used to improve worker conditions.
The common thread that drives all the participants in this business to do what they do is to make more money, and some choose to do it at the expense of others. It is however possible to make a reasonable profit and still ensure that employees do not die working in deplorable conditions.
- Barboza, David and Duhigg, Charles. In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad New York. New York Times. 2012 Online.
- Kristof, Nicholas D. and WuDunn, Sheryl. Two Cheers for Sweatshops: They’re dirty and dangerous. They’re also a major reason Asia is back on track. New York. New York Times. 2014. Online.
- Yesilevsky, Anna. Sweatshops Violate Human Rights. What Is the State of Human Rights? Ed. Tom Head. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Print.