Ethics and Sweatshops

Topics: Ethics, Business ethics, Sweatshop Pages: 9 (3504 words) Published: February 10, 2013
Ethics and sweatshops
Companies want to maximize profits, while employees want to maximize salaries and benefits. Unfortunately these two desires do not always go hand in hand. The best way for a company to treat its employee how they wish to be treated. Make decisions that are in the best interest of all stakeholders. The Golden Rule still holds true. Companies have a responsibility to its employees and employees have a responsibility to its employer. When leadership treats its workers unfairly, by overworking them and underpaying them in unsafe conditions it is unethical. Allowing sweatshop conditions to continue while you profit, is not displaying leadership or ethical values. The culture of a company is established from the head down. Leadership has the responsibility to incorporate ethical behavior into the fabric of the company. A company’s culture impacts not only the employees, but the community in which it operates and the communities where their employees live. When one hears the term sweatshop, typically, underprivileged, dirty conditions, and underpaid children are what comes to mind. The website Dictionary.com (2012) defines sweatshops this way, “a workshop where employees work long hours under bad conditions for low wages.” A sweatshop is a workplace in which workers are employed at low wages and perhaps under unhealthy or oppressive conditions. The work is often monotonous and the term gives the connotation of the workers sweating throughout their shifts for the benefit of company profit. As the demand for consumer goods increased during the industrial age, sweatshops increased. Once trade barriers were lowered the trend accelerated. Countries around the world have national laws which limit how much and under what conditions children can work. There are international agreements that prohibit children from doing work that is hazardous, prevents them from going to school, or harms their health and development.

Sweatshops are not specific to Asia or Mexico which are the locations we usually hear about in the news. Sweatshops exist wherever there is an opportunity to exploit workers who lack the knowledge and resources to stand up for themselves. The U.S. is no exception as garment factories have been notorious for violating basic labor laws. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as any factory that violates two or more labor laws (veganpeace.com, para. 1). Typical sweatshop employees are young, female, or undereducated. The absence of a living wage, extreme work hours, intimidation and verbal abuse are commonplace in sweatshops. Often the sweatshop environment is unsafe and workers are handling toxins unaware. Laws, regulations, and monitoring can improve working conditions, but are not global, and therefore ineffective in stopping sweatshops. Changing regulations in one region has not proven successful in halting sweatshop practices. According to the website GreenAmerica.com (2012), “companies don’t always let their sweatshop factories stay in one place, if they can shift their manufacturing to ever-cheaper and less-regulated locations. For example, according to Green America’s website (2012), the number of sweatshops in Mexico soared in the 1990s after NAFTA enticed companies to close their US operations and move south. The sweatshops are subcontracted. When contracted prices are driven down so low that factories are unable to pay legal wages or comply with safety laws, the company sweats the profits out of their workers by possibly cutting corners, or leaving the workshops in unsafe conditions. Additionally, workers are not only paid less than a living wage, it could be even lower than minimum wage. A living wage differs from minimum wage by enabling workers to cover the cost of basic needs, such as food, shelter, and health care; minimum wages usually do not cover these costs. In some instances workers might not get paid for overtime or paid on time at all. Some factories have dormitories...

References: Charles Duhigg and Kieth Bradsher (2012). The New York Times, January 21, 2012. How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. (p. A1). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
Dictionary.com n.d (2012). Dictionary.com., Web. 29 July 2012. http://dictionary.reference.com/.
Green America 's Ending Sweatshops Program: What to Know. (n.d.): n. pag. Green America 's Ending Sweatshops Program: What to Know. Web. 01 Aug. 2012. http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/sweatshops/whattoknow.cfm.
Hartman, L., & DesJardins, J. (2011). Business ethics: Decision-making for personal integrity & social responsibility. (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: McGraw Hill/Irwin.
John C. Maxwell, ed., Maxwell Leadership Bible, Second Edition 2007, Maxwell Motivation, Inc. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark McDonald’s article Olympic Uniforms: An XXL Issue in America is S in China (2012) International Herald Tribune. http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/16/olympic-uniforms-an-xxl-issue-in-america-is-s-in-china/?ref=china
Nicolazzo, Richard (2012). Overseas Factory Abuses Are a PR Nightmare for US Companies. PR Week. Op Ed, n.d. Web. 24 July 2012. http://www.nicolazzo.com/na-press-files/Overseas%20factory%20abuses%20are%20a%20PR%20nightmare%20for%20US%20companies%20-%20PRWeek%20US_3.2.12.pdf.
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