Ethics Sweatshop

Topics: Sweatshop, Minimum wage, Developed country Pages: 5 (1994 words) Published: October 20, 2011
Question 1

A sweatshop is a working environment with very difficult or dangerous conditions, usually where the workers have few rights or ways to address their situation. This can include exposure to harmful materials, hazardous situations, extreme temperatures, or abuse from employers. Sweatshop workers are often forced to work long hours for little or no pay, regardless of any laws mandating overtime pay or a minimum wage. Child labor laws may also be violated. Though often associated with third-world countries, sweatshops can exist in any country. Sweatshops have existed in several cultures, including Early American culture beginning in the 1850's. Sweatshops can produce many different goods, from clothing to furniture. Meanwhile, defenders of sweatshops, such as Paul Krugman and Johan Norberg, claim that people choose to work in sweatshops because the sweatshops offer them substantially higher wages and better working conditions compared to their previous jobs of manual farm labor, and that sweatshops are an early step in the process of technological and economic development whereby a poor country turns itself into a rich country. In addition, sometimes when anti-sweatshop activists were successful in getting sweatshops to close, some of the employees who had been working in the sweatshops ended up starving to death, while others ended up turning to prostitution. Prior to 1830, fine clothing had been custom-made, primarily by male members of the organized tailor's guild. Between 1830 and 1850, as the Industrial Revolution gave way to the Second Industrial Revolution, sweatshop production of inexpensive clothing displaced members of the tailors' guild, and replaced them with lower-skilled workers performing piece work at lower wages and in inferior conditions. The trend away from tailors was accelerated by the advent of a practical, foot-powered sewing machine in 1846. Sweatshops were the end of the artisan system that had existed. The terms sweater for the middleman and sweating system for the process of subcontracting piecework were used in early critiques like Charles Kingsley's Cheap Clothes and Nasty, written in 1850. The workplaces created for the sweating system were called sweatshops, and variously comprised workplaces of only a few workers, or as many as 100 or more. In the sweatshop of 1850, the role of the sweater as middleman and subcontractor (or sub-subcontractor) was considered key, because he served to keep workers isolated in small workshops. This isolation made workers unsure of their supply of work, and unable to organize against their true employer through collective bargaining. Instead, tailors or other clothing retailers would subcontract tasks to the sweater, who in turn might subcontract to another sweater, who would ultimately engage workers at a piece rate for each article of clothing or seam produced. Many critics asserted that the middleman made his profit by finding the most desperate workers, often women and children, who could be paid an absolute minimum. While workers who produced many pieces could earn more, less productive workers earned so little that critics termed their pay starvation wages. Employment was risky: injured or sick workers would be quickly replaced by others. Between 1850 and 1900, sweatshops attracted the rural poor to rapidly-growing cities, and attracted immigrants to places like East London, England and New York City's garment district, located near the tenements of New York's Lower East Side. Wherever they were located, sweatshops also attracted critics and labor leaders who cited them as crowded, poorly ventilated, and prone to fires and rat infestations, since much of the work was done by many people crowded into small tenement rooms. Criticism of garment sweatshops became a major force behind workplace safety regulation and labor laws. As some journalists strove to change working conditions, the term sweatshop came to describe a broader set of workplaces whose...
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