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Global Trade

Let The World’s Poorest Work If They Want

Some people feel sad about people who work in sweatshops. I feel sad for people who want to work in them but can’t.

The idea of an abjectly poor person working 10 hours in a factory that makes cheap clothes to be sent to “richer” people in modernized countries can paint quite a bleak picture. “We should ban those! End them!” some people cry in opposition. But wait. Is that too narrow a view of the world? What if those people work those jobs because they want to? Do they prefer to work it rather than not? What if… sweatshops are good?

Consider that the vast majority of people who work those jobs, do so out of their own will because it’s the best option they have. Frequently, it helps lift them and their families out of a worse poverty than they had before. For some, the only other alternative is subsistence farming, barter trade and no wages at all. The sweatshop work actually improves their lives.

People from western or modernized nations may perceive that work as discouraging or even deplorable but I think it’s a necessary and extremely important step in the improvement of living standards of poorer countries across the globe. These nations don’t have the development that we do and can’t jump up to our standards of living overnight. China’s economic opportunities cannot be compared on ours in America. Each country is at its own stage of maturation. Improvement for most Chinese workers will still look like poverty relative to us, but we must keep in mind that it’s real progress to them.

So it’s frustrating when people want to avoid/ get rid of so-called “sweatshops” or foreign factory jobs. That actually hurts the poor and their families and leaves them worse off than they otherwise would be. Who I am to tell them they can’t work those jobs? Maybe I’m used to people earning more in my country. Does that mean I have the right to tell them they can’t work because of my ideas about how people should be paid? Because I think their wages are “disgraceful”? Who am I to assume I have the higher moral ground and take their current job away if it’s their best option right now?

Forced labor does still exist in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, but this conversation isn’t talking about slavery. For those who are freely choosing to work difficult, grimy, long hour jobs in poor working conditions- I support them in their freedom to do so. It’s not something desirable to me or much of the world, but it is to the world’s poorest, who opt to work them.

The world is growing and evolving rapidly. Foreign manufacturing and factory jobs or jobs that otherwise pay lower than “we think they should be” are helping lead the charge to end abject poverty. After all, global abject poverty is below 10% for the first time in history.

It’s not because the world’s poorest people are becoming more isolated from the advancing world. Globalized trade and exports from poorer countries are connecting and engaging them with the world, for the better.

Those countries and regions are working for wages that lift them out of their relative poverty, even if those wages seem paltry to us. We should not deny them opportunities to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

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