Kristof "Where Sweatshops are Dreams"

Kristof has “praised the malign sweatshop” now he writes about them being a much better job than a job at the dump. Sound familiar? Well it should because I visit the same dump of which he writes and make much of the same conclusion. Although, we don’t see everything the same.

Here’s the comment I left on his blog in response to his column:

In my book “Where Am I Wearing?” I visit the exact same dump in Cambodia. Mr. Kristof is right, it’s hell on earth. I also visit a Levi’s factory. The conditions in the factory were definitely not what one thinks of when they hear “sweatshop,” and I think to call the factory a sweatshop and to call the laborers sweatshop workers is degrading.

At the dump I came to the same conclusion that Mr. Kristof comes to, however I think his argument “sweatshops are good” is too simple, just as is the one “sweatshops are bad.”

I was on the ground in Honduras, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China, and what I saw was that the workers sacrifice a lot to have the jobs. They pay bribes to get them; they move away from their families to have them. The jobs are really important to them and their families (the avg. Cambodian worker supports a family of 6), BUT the workers could be treated better.

Cambodia was actually one of the better regulated industries I found. The ILO has a very strong presence there. For the most part, the labor laws are upheld. The industry’s main problem is corruption and over-unionization (there are about 300 factories and 800 unions!). Much of the progress is a result of activists holding corporations accountable for where they source from.

As for fair trade….

A study conducted by the University of Michigan and Northwestern University found that 1/3 of Americans are willing to pay more for clothes made under good working conditions. There’s a market for fair trade. The challenge lies in how to appropriately label the products.

While I agree with Mr. Kristof’s general premise (there are worse lives than that of a garment worker), I think that this piece encourages apathy. As consumers, we should care who makes our clothes and what their lives are like. We should support companies like Patagonia and Levi’s who are making considerable effort to ensure their products are made under good working conditions.

— Kelsey Timmerman

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