Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Praise of Sweatshops?

Native Oregonian Nicholas Kristof has an interesting article in today's New York Times, explaining why sweatshops are actually a better alternative for the poor in developing countries than many other alternatives.

I always read labels when I purchase clothing, and being the cheapskate that I am, I have to confess that I do sometimes buy clothes that are made in developing countries. It always makes me feel slightly guilty, because of the sweatshop connotation. I remember walking the streets of Chengdu, China, with my sister, observing rows of women who were bent over sewing machines in dimly lit shacks, exposed to the cold weather in December.

However, Kristof's article is another example of why there's often more to the story than meets the eye. (Hey! I'm a Libra and always see more than one side to a story!) I've had discussions with my dear friend Catherine, who works at Nike, about our ambivalent feelings about what our companies do (my company's associations and projects are not always squeaky clean...), and I've often thought that I might feel guilty if I were ever to work for a big manufacturing company like Nike--whose workers overseas make far less than their American counterparts, BUT more than many of their own country's compatriots.

Food for thought...sweatshops are sometimes the best employment available for unskilled labor in developing countries. And if we come down too hard on outlawing sweatshops, we might be taking away the best employment conditions available.

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