Anti-sweatshop activists have caused an increase in childhood prostitution

Every country starts out poor. Ten thousand years ago, every country was poor. It’s only when a country adopts and maintains widespread economic growth over time that the country becomes rich. The emergence of sweatshops in a poor country is often a sign that that country has climbed onto the ladder of economic growth and upward mobility.

Until fairly recently, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea were poor, third world countries. It was only after they started climbing the ladder of economic growth that they became rich. Sweatshops played a big role in these countries change from being poor to being rich.

More recently, other countries have started having sweatshops. Critics of these sweatshops complain about the low wages and poor working conditions of these sweatshops. But these critics never compare the wages and working conditions of the sweatshops to what the workers had before the sweatshops opened.

I trust the average person to choose the job that is best for him. So if someone is working in a sweatshop, I believe that he is doing so because it is his best option, out of all of his real world options.

All over the world, as countries have developed economically and technologically, people have chosen to move from farms to cities, because doing so gave them a better standard of living. For example, consider this quote from an article about a Nike sweatshop by Johan Norberg:

“But when I talk to a young Vietnamese woman, Tsi-Chi, at the factory, it is not the wages she is most happy about. Sure, she makes five times more than she did, she earns more than her husband, and she can now afford to build an extension to her house. But the most important thing, she says, is that she doesn’t have to work outdoors on a farm any more… 10 to 14 hours a day in the burning sun or the intensive rain, in rice fields with water up to your ankles and insects in your face.”

I trust  Tsi-Chi to make her own decision about which job is best for her. She seems very happy with her decision.

Norberg goes on to write:

“The most persistent demand Nike hears from the workers is for an expansion of the factories so that their relatives can be offered a job as well.”

So while the anti-sweatshop activists who live thousands of miles away claim that these sweatshop jobs are bad, the people who actually work in the sweatshops wish that they had more jobs so their relatives could work there too.

At a Nicaraguan sweatshop, an employee named Candida Rosa Lopezstated:

“I wish more people would buy the clothes we make.”

Ms. Lopez’s statement goes completely contrary to everything that the anti-sweatshop activists tell us to do. While the activists want us to boycott the sweatshop, Ms. Lopez wants us to buy more of their products.

Who knows more about these sweatshops – someone who actually works in one – or people who live thousands of miles away?

I trust Ms. Lopez to choose the job that she believes is best for her. By contrast, the anti-sweatshop activists think that Ms. Lopez is not “enlightened” enough to be able to properly choose the job that is best for her. They want to decide for her. There is a lot of smugness and condescension within the anti-sweatshop movement. The activists think that they are better and smarter than the people who work in sweatshops.

The Christian Science Monitor wrote:

“We examined the apparel industry in 10 Asian and Latin American countries often accused of having sweatshops and then we looked at 43 specific accusations of unfair wages in 11 countries in the same regions. Our findings may seem surprising. Not only were sweatshops superior to the dire alternatives economists usually mentioned, but they often provided a better-than-average standard of living for their workers.”

“The apparel industry, which is often accused of unsafe working conditions and poor wages, actually pays its foreign workers well enough for them to rise above the poverty in their countries. While more than half of the population in most of the countries we studied lived on less than $2 per day, in 90 percent of the countries, working a 10-hour day in the apparel industry would lift a worker above – often far above – that standard. For example, in Honduras, the site of the infamous Kathy Lee Gifford sweatshop scandal, the average apparel worker earns $13.10 per day, yet 44 percent of the country’s population lives on less than $2 per day.”

“In 9 of the 11 countries we surveyed, the average reported sweatshop wages equaled or exceeded average incomes and in some cases by a large margin. In Cambodia, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras, the average wage paid by a firm accused of being a sweatshop is more than double the average income in that country’s economy.”

Why would anyone protest against that?

In China, urban workers are paid more than twice as much as rural workers. These people are perfectly capable of choosing the jobs that are best for them. They don’t need a bunch of activists telling them how to live their lives.

While East Asia has embraced large numbers of sweatshops, sub-Saharan Africa has not. This graph shows that the percentage of the population living on less than $1 per day (adjusted for inflation) has fallen substantially in East Asia, while remaining relatively unchanged in sub-Saharan Africa. (Data source: “How Have the World’s Poorest Fared Since the Early 1980s?” by Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, Table 3, p. 28.)

Writing for the New York Times, Nicolas D. Kristof wrote:

“Africa desperately needs Western help in the form of… sweatshops.”

“… the poor themselves tend to see sweatshops as opportunities.”

“… sewing clothes is considerably less dangerous or arduous — or sweaty — than most alternatives in poor countries.”

“… anyone who cares about fighting poverty should campaign in favor of sweatshops, demanding that companies set up factories in Africa. If Africa could establish a clothing export industry, that would fight poverty far more effectively than any foreign aid program.”

Writing about the appearance of sweatshops in poor countries, Paul Krugman wrote:

“… wherever the new export industries have grown, there has been measurable improvement in the lives of ordinary people.”

Jeffrey D. Sachs said of poor countries:

“My concern is not that there are too many sweatshops but that there are too few.”

Activists claim that the Foxconn factory in China has a “suicide problem.” However, according to ABC News, the suicide rate at the Foxconn factory is actually lower than China’s overall suicide rate.

Just as every country starts out poor, every country also starts out with child labor. Only when a country becomes rich enough can it abolish child labor.

Here are the real world results of what happens when activists protest against child labor in sweatshops. The following three paragraphs are from an article written by Radley Balko:

“In the early 1990s, the United States Congress considered the ‘Child Labor Deterrence Act,’ which would have taken punitive action against companies benefiting from child labor. The Act never passed, but the public debate it triggered put enormous pressure on a number of multinational corporations with assets in the U.S. One German garment maker laid off 50,000 child workers in Bangladesh. The British charity organization Oxfam later conducted a study that found that thousands of those laid-off children later became prostitutes, turned to crime, or starved to death.”

“The United Nations organization UNICEF reports that an international boycott of the Nepalese carpet industry in the mid-1990s caused several plants to shut down; thousands of Nepalese girls later entered the sex trade.”

“In 1995, a consortium of anti-sweatshop groups threw the spotlight on football (soccer) stitching plants in Pakistan. In response, Nike and Reebok shut down their plants in Pakistan, and several other companies followed suit. The result: tens of thousands of unemployed Pakistanis. Mean income in Pakistan fell by 20%. According to University of Colorado economist Keith E. Maskus, studies later showed a large proportion of those laid off ended up in crime, begging, or working as prostitutes.”

That’s really horrible.

Why would anyone do that to children?

July 12, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , . Economics, Politics, Sweatshops.


  1. Dick from Aliquippa replied:

    Great article and lesson. In pure terms, the only way wealth is created “out of nothing” is via human labor. How that labor is applied and directed determines the resulting micro- and macro-society.

  2. amaya73 replied:

    Very interesting post!

  3. Claudia replied:

    Working conditions in developing countries

    Working conditions in third world countries are worse than many people can even imagine, it is known as forced labor and is happening for the most part in developing countries which is hard for people in these countries as there is not much work so many people are stuck not by choice but by the need to survive. Working conditions in third world countries practice unsafe and toxic working conditions that no one should have to endure. The worst part of all is there are children as young as five working to help support their own families. Above all the unfairness workers endure for many of these companies that are making millions they don’t even get fair compensation they deserve they are not even paid enough to be able to afford a living which. Workers in third world countries are treated unfair and unjust and are the heart of many of these multibillion companies.

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