Business Ethics in a Global Context

In a bid to verify if something is morally justified three elements should be considered namely the thing in itself, the intention and the circumstance. These three elements are the sources of morality. On the other hand, morality is about good and evil in the light of human acts. This is because morality is a thing that revolves around the world of humans and not animals. In order to establish whether sweatshops are moral or immoral or amoral it is imperative to understand its meaning and what it really involves. As mentioned above, it warrants this scrutiny only if it involves human beings, not only that, if it puts their lives in danger or risks or lowers their dignity. Therefore, this study seeks to unravel the meaning of sweatshops industry and analyze it in the context of the Western world. Its moral implications will also be considered. To support the study, the views of Pietra Rivoli on Labor standards in the Global Economy Ian Maitland on The Great Non-Debate over international sweatshops and Denis Arnold on Philosophical Foundations Moral Reasoning, Human Rights and Global Labor Practices will be suitably incorporated. The Labor Theory of Karl Marx will also be considered.

Sweatshops Industry
A sweatshop is a place of work where the laborers are subject to excessive mistreatment, abuse, poor remunerations, and slavery bad working conditions that adversely affect the health of workers poor safety measures and unnecessary rules or arbitrary discipline (Sweatshop Watch, n.d.). The U.S. General Accounting Office has formulated another meaning of a sweatshop in that it is an employer whose policies contradict a large portion of federal or state labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, workers benefits policy, or industry registration law (Sweatshop Watch, n.d.).
Looking at the above definitions and assuming that they reflect the universal understanding of a sweatshop, one therefore, can anticipate the position a moralist of good conscience would take in regard to the matter. No doubt that a sweatshop is morally unjustified as portrayed from the above definition. As indicated earlier, an issue is moral or immoral from the point of view of itself as an act its intention and the consequences to the human lives and the circumstances therein.

From history, the word sweatshop was coined in the 19th century to describe a system of operation which overseers made profits by exploiting the workers and the sponsors of the contract. In so doing, the overseers ate both from the money put into the contract for its facilitation and the amount they paid the workers. By analogy, it is like that rich man who wins a government tender to supply computers in an institution. The government pays him an amount that caters for the workers labor, the transportation of the computers, and other relevant miscellaneous. This rich man decides to cut some percentage in the portion of the workers payroll schedule. If the overall salary as funded by the government is US Dollars 1,000,000, the rich man decides to take for himself US Dollars 600,000 and budgets US Dollars 400,000 to pay the workers. Here, he is bound to pay the workers unjustly. This is immoral It is a violation of justice, period.

Morality is about virtue, where virtue is characterized by other virtues in different respects. Traditionally, philosophers talked of four cardinal virtues namely temperance fortitude and wisdom. These virtues, in turn, culminate into justice. In short clear terms, no justice, no morality. The above scenario of the rich man echoes Karl Marx and his comments expressed in the principle of surplus value or what is also referred as Labor Theory of Value. All profits are lawfully entitled to the workers, and when the workers are prevented from accessing them, they are simply robbed. The profits are never rightful earnings of the company owners (Marx, K. cited in Rubi. I.I.2007). The following example further explains this theory A manufacturer gives the laborer 60 worth of the material to make clothes. The laborer spends six hours producing the cloth, and uses 20 worth of petrol to run the sewing machine. In turn she creates a cloth worth 200. Here, the input of the laborer made the cloth cost that much, that is 200. The laborer is then entitled to a 120 payment, or 40 on hourly basis.If a worker is hired by a sweatshop owner who pays him only 30 per hour, the 10 per hour the shop proprietor receives is definitely a rip-off. The factory owner does not warrant the 10. The 10 becomes a surplus value which derives from the unjust remuneration and exploitation of the laborer.

Sweatshops Industry and the Western World
Though much will be said about sweatshops and Western World it is good to consider it as a global problem. Any attempt to wipe it out in the social-economic system should be a commitment of every state not only in America but also in other continents across the board. Just like war on terror is a global concern so do sweatshops industry.

In a study carried out by sweatshop watch (n.d.) it noted that a large portion of garment workers in the Unites States are immigrant women. They literally spend over 60 hours per week in front of their machines. This dedication is not rewarded as there are no just wages or overtime compensation to it. The Department of Labor estimates that 60 percent of the countrys 22,000 sewing shops breach the minimum wage and overtime policies. The conditions for the workers are extremely dangerous not even providing adequate regulations in cases of tragedies of fire or events of this kind. Poor sanitation, low quality bathrooms and toilets is the order of the day. Surveys from the government also indicate that 75 of garment shops in United States do not adhere to the safety and health decrees. That aside, workers face physical and oral abuses and mistreatment but cannot air it out for fear of losing their jobs or deportation.

Overseas, clothing industry laborers more often than not, work for peanuts, working under very harsh conditions. Nearly, every manufacturer will go for cheaper labor costs where workers lack power to stand for their rights. This phenomenon is so rampant today especially with the ongoing liberalization of trade barriers. Bad enough, there are states whose governments spend their time destroying labor associations that might protect the rights of workers. In this sense, apparel production is widely growing occasioned by the elements just mentioned here above. U.S. garment vendors and manufacturers are making such huge profits in this industry.

As mentioned earlier, they set low wages for the laborers with no connection to the production input. Recall, the labor theory of value according to Karl Mark illustrated earlier long.  In Mexico, for instance, garment workers are 70 equally productive as their counterparts in United States, yet they earn 10 as much per hour (Kurt Salmon Associates, c.1998). This is illustrated further in the chart below.

Garment Manufacturing (1998) in U.S. dollars
CountryProductivity(Index)Hourly Compensation(includes wages  benefits)U.S.1008.00Dominican Republic701.15Malaysia651.15Mexico700.85Guatemala700.65Thailand650.65Indonesia500.15Fig.1 Source (Kurt Salmon Associates, c.1998)

Apparel workers get wages that are not sufficient to satiate their daily basic needs. In El Salvador, for instance, the National Foundation for Development establishes that the average sized Salvadoran family or 3-5 people survive below US Dollars 287.21 monthly. In addition, workers at Doall Enterprises make US Dollars 0.60 per hour. This amount only meets 51 of the basic needs required by every unit family in order to survive in relative poverty (National Labor Committee, 1998). In s survey conducted by U.S. Commerce Department in February 17, 1998 it indicated that in Honduras is rather insufficient to cater for a decent normal life for a laborer and family. 0.43 hourly, or 3.47 per day, is the wage for apparel workers in the Evergreen factory in Honduras, meeting only 54 of the basic cost of living bearing in mind the 16 increase in inflation in the subsequent year which will lower the purchasing power due to deficit incomes (National Labor Committee, 1998). According to Independent labor rights organizations in Hong Kong, a normal wage in China for survival would be about 0.87 per hour. Minimum wages are set varyingly from one province to the next however, they never meet the normal living wage. In Shanghai, 0.21 per hour is the minimum wage whereas in Guangzhous is 0.26 per hour (Kernaghan, C. 1998). Lastly, in Los Angeles, California, garment workers are paid 7,200 per year, less than  of the poverty level income for a three person family (Los Angeles Commission, 1999).

Sweatshop Industry  Morality
So many factors ought to be considered when analyzing the moral implications of the sweatshop industry. From the surveys indicated above, it can be noted that quite a good number of labor laws are infringed by owners of apparel industries. Morality and legality are very much related in the sense that impunity in whatever terms is immoral. Institutions or workplaces that do not act according to the labor laws render all their operations illegal. To reiterate, acting in contravention to the law is immoral and garment industry and in this case sweatshops, act in contravention to the law, it follows then that its operations or establishments are immoral. This conclusion draws necessarily from the premises and without the fear of contradiction.

Apparel workers are subject to severe and harsh conditions and without equivalent payment modalities in consideration. This contravenes the principle of distributive justice as when authorities, say the government, apportions goods and services on the basis of generally acceptable set of guidelines, for example the number of hours worked by an individual person or the worker (Business Dictionary, 2010). It had already been mentioned earlier that morality is all about virtue. Justice, in this light, is an aspect of virtue. Therefore, if breaching justice in all its forms for instance, distributive justice, is immoral and sweatshops industry is characterized by elements that violate distributive justice mainly by exploitation and bad remuneration then logically, it draws from the premises that sweatshops industry is immoral.

However, throughout our study, there is no where indicated that sweatshops are slavery camps. It is not a case similar to Israelites slavery in Egypt. Somehow, the aspect of consent vividly comes out. The workers get involved in their daily routine out of consent in spite of the malicious conditions. Respect of conscience is very fundamental in morality. To coerce another persons conscience is not tolerable in moral sense. This becomes the problem whenever one wants to justify sweatshops industry morally. Consider this argument Acting in ones own conscience is moral apparel workers act out of their volition and without coercion, therefore their course is moral. The course of action of the garment workers is moral or better still, it is morally justified in the sense that they act out of their volition. The course of action of the producers or the owners of the garment industry should be carefully examined. In deed, they do not compel the workers to work in those conditions but they indirectly subject them to poor working conditions. They take advantage of their inability to defend their rights.

Therefore, the fact that the apparel workers operate voluntarily does not render the garment industry moral. It is immoral because in spite of acting voluntarily the circumstances in which they work in rule out the moral strength. Recall, the above assertion that morality has three sources namely the act itself must be good the intention must also be good and the circumstances should be favorable. In the case of sweatshops the inability to stand for their rights the fear to lose their jobs and the fear to be deported define their circumstance. These circumstances are unfavorable. Working in sweatshop and making of clothes is not bad in itself, in Latin, actus malum in se. Again, the intention must be to earn a living or making more money which again is not bad in itself. But again, the circumstances are not favorable to the laborers. As a matter of principle all the three elements must be good and favorable to qualify the issue at hand moral.

Well, some may purport that sweatshops industry contribute a lot to the economy of the U.S. or the Western world. Truly, this is so since most vendors are making good profits out of it. No one can dispute that it contributes a lot to the economy. However, on moral grounds the good results must never derive from the bad acts or the bad intentions. Therefore, making huge profits which is a good result for the garment industry and the state lacks moral strength since it derives from the exploitation and poor remuneration of the workers which is a wrongful way to act.

From the onset of our study, we could easily stop writing after we provided the definition of a sweatshop and shout in one accord that sweatshops industry is by far immoral. Its dynamics are more inclined to immorality though a few elements of it justify it morally. Whenever you hear that persons are being exploited in whatever manner, just know that it is immoral. That only, qualifies it as immoral. It does not matter what good fruits or profits a business will harvest what counts is if your business upholds fundamental elements that foster the dignity of the person involved. Whether the person gives consent or works voluntarily hisher dignity must be upheld.

The use of Marx Theory of labor though it does not directly represent our case in study can be interpreted in a manner suitable to our case. My emphasis is that whenever one attempts to interpret it in respect to this case, to do so having the idea of distributive justice in mind. Sweatshops are good and they should not be abolished but what should change is the exploitation faced by the workers. The government in conjunction with the labor unions should endeavor making it a favorable workplace where the rights of workers are respected. I recommend that such companies come up with a comprehensive code of ethics that will protect every staff from misappropriation and misuse. In line with this, employers in garment industries should know that quality production depends on the input of the workers and that there cannot be quality production if workers carry out their activities in bad conditions. Better still, there is never good quality from a slave. This is because their power of creativity is destroyed. So, they produce goods or services as per the wishes or commands of the workers and not from what they can do best. See, never will there be product growth and development in such a situation. This is what determines a good production committed to quality. Last but not least, a society that rewards its workers justly is not only economically impressive but also well-grounded on morality.


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