Sweatshops In Asia

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Sweatshops in Asia


Sweatshops are factories where workers endure unhealthy and exploitive conditions, such as long hours, unventilated workspaces, low pay, or exposure to toxic materials. Though any such factory can be considered a sweatshop, the term is most often associated with the garment industry. As the economy has become increasingly globalized in the early twenty-first century, sweatshops produce a growing share of the consumer goods sold in developed countries. These goods remain inexpensive because sweatshops keep production costs extremely low.

Many of the most intriguing and widely discussed issues in contemporary business ethics relate to the responsibilities of commercial companies in today's world of economic globalization. The rise of multi- or transnational companies that operate across national borders, an increasing degree of international trade among and reliance on export or import of many companies, and also the trend towards outsourcing work to low-wage countries: all create new ethical issues for modern corporations. And these issues may not be easy to pin down in abstract schemas. Depending on whether sweatshops in Asian countries are owned directly by a transnational company or are used only as suppliers, the issue of sweatshops is either a matter of responsibilities towards internal stakeholders or a matter of social responsibility. But should this division matter? Some suggest that it is precisely because responsibilities towards internal stakeholders are more heavily regulated that many companies have chosen to outsource activities to external contractors. But even though this may allow companies to avoid legal sanctions, it is argued, the issue of (lack of) moral or social responsibility remains.


Sweatshops are workplaces run by unscrupulous employers who pay low wages to workers for long hours under unsafe and unhealthy conditions. For example, in a clothing sweatshop in Japan in the early 2000s, Asian women sewed for ten to twelve hours per day, six or seven days per week, in a dim and unventilated factory loft where the windows were sealed and the emergency doors locked. The workers had no pension or health-care benefits and were paid at a piece rate that fell far below the legal minimum wage. When the company went bankrupt, the owner sold off the inventory, locked out the workers without paying them, moved his machines in the middle of the night to another factory, and reopened under a different name. (Esbenshade 45-50)

The term "sweatshop" is derived from the "sweating system" of production and its use of "sweated labor." At the heart of the sweating system are the contractors. A large company distributes its production to small contractors who profit from the difference between what they charge the company and what they spend on production. The work is low skilled and labor intensive, so the contractors do best when their workers are paid the least. Workers employed under these conditions are said to be doing sweated labor.

Sweatshop practices are an affront to human dignity and violate human rights. Emotional reactions to sweatshop conditions often lead to boycotts. However, boycotts can result in lost jobs instead of ...
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