Reports from the Great Sweatshop Debate reports on a recent debate titled: Do Sweatshops Save Lives?

The “Yes” side, represented by Benjamin Powell, an economics professor at Suffolk University made this argument:

…a key fact is that workers chose to work there, doing so because it is the best option available to them. This was a central theme of his talk, with Powell explaining that for many workers sweatshops are a better choice than prostitution, trash scavenging, or subsistence farming.

The “No” side, represented by Bama Athreya of the International Labor Rights Forum, made this argument:

…a sweatshop is a “workplace in violation of core labor standards” outlined by the International Labor Organization (ILO). These include four standards:

* Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
* Elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour
* Effective abolition of child labour
* Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation

She argued that if you have these–along with a functioning industrial democracy and a system to address disputes–wages don’t matter.
…to have a truly “free” labor market, there cannot be political repression and anti-union efforts that hamper workers. Athreya argued for decent working conditions, stating that US history shows that changes were gain through organizing, not benevolent actions on the behalf of employers who suddenly emerge and decide they want to pay more and treat their workers better.

I think they are both right. And, I think that each of them would agree with me. Ms. Athreya wouldn’t argue that there are few better options than a job at a garment factory, and I doubt that Mr. Powell would argue for forced or child labor.

Let’s move on people. This is the same darn debate we were having 10 years ago. Maybe if we work with all of the stakeholders we can come up with a practical solution to all of this.

Someone should right a book about the industry and the roll all of the players, including engaged consumers, have in it. Oh, wait…

To get a full picture of the Great Clothing Debate, WAIW? is now being sold at Amazon with Pietra Rivoli’s “Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy.” Get both for a discount of 5%. Both books were made in the USA and are sweatshop free.

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