The Ethics of International Trade
Playstations and petroleum. Food and furniture. Clothing and cars. International trade makes these items ready and available to the vast majority of the world, and at affordable prices despite the need to import many of these things (or their components) from other countries. International trade lets Americans buy and enjoy products that we can’t necessarily make or find for ourselves in the United States. It can stimulate the economy, create jobs, and generate new and improved products for the world market. International trade can, however, have the opposite effect if left unregulated and unchecked, harming the economy, removing jobs, and creating poor products. Even if such trade is helping the economy, it can result in benefit at the cost of an ethical high ground. Other countries can have significantly less stringent laws regarding trade and work, resulting in significant violations in ethics that leave any economic gain tainted. In a perfect world, international trade would be equal between all countries and inherently beneficial to all involved. Unfortunately, that is not the case. From the items being sold, to the types of labor, to work conditions and unfair subsidies, international trade is rife with ethical land mines, many of which have an adverse effect on the American and global economy.
Not all trade involves such innocent items as iPods and perfume. The World Health Organization issued guidelines in 1991 to keep organ donors from participating in a highly exploitative black market organ trade. 192 countries endorsed it, including the United States, but at least one country, Iran, still has a legal system in place to trade human organs. Questions have been raised even in America as to the benefits of a system for offering payment to donors of organs like kidneys or lungs, something that has potential to greatly increase the amount of organs “donated” and saving many lives in the process. The other side of this issue argues that organ trade is just shy of actual human trafficking, and a legitimized organ trade would make coercion and exploitation unavoidable (Rohter). Taking this business out from “under the table” may save some lives, but possibly at the cost of others.
One of the largest under-the-table businesses in the world is drug trafficking. The “War on Drugs,” regulations, and the DEA have all tried to make dents in this business. Instead of reducing the amount of illegal drugs, it is simply shifting the consumer’s focus to newer drugs. According to an annual report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) issued in 2007, the manufacture of Heroin and Cocaine is the lowest it’s been since 1987, when the INCB started these reports. Cannabis manufacture is at an all time high, but this is largely due to it’s fairly recently acceptance in some states for medical use. Other medical drugs like Methadone, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Codeine and Morphine are all at an all time high in both manufacture and consumption. One would suggest it a simple result of population growth, but rise in the use and manufacture of these drugs far surpasses that explanation. Those drugs are all widely manufactured in the United States, as well as several other countries. However are these used to support a true need for drugs, or are we over-medicating the world?
No matter what the product, someone needs to gather the raw materials, construct it, or package it. Who is it that performs these duties? In America, regulations are in place to ensure these workers are willing and paid, and they are at a responsible age. In other countries, however, where we are buying many goods from, there may be less regulation. Children can be making shoes. Slaves can be mining the diamonds used for our engagement rings. At whose expense are we willing to gain a product? An estimated 158 million children aged 5-14 are engaged in child labor. That’s one in six children in the world (UNICEF)....
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