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Link: the Explainer on Sweatshops

Slate’s always-interesting Explainer posts a small but handy note on the problems of overseas manufacturing. How does the Gap know if its clothes are made by child laborers? Michelle Tsai’s answer: it doesn’t. According to Tsai, the Worker Rights Consortium, a non-profit which has exposed a number of sweatshop abuses, is getting set to issue a report damning the entire strategy of inspections, concluding that the incentives for human rights abuses are so profound in overseas low-wage production that inspections cannot hope to uncover most of the serious assaults against human dignity going on. I look forward to reading that report when it comes out and hope you do too. Until then, take just two minutes to read Tsai’s note.

4 comments to Link: the Explainer on Sweatshops

  • John Stracke

    Great. So the Gap, which checks to make sure they’re not using sweatshops, is really doing no better than CafePress, which doesn’t bother to check.

    I suppose the only way to make sure the factories don’t turn around and abuse the workers when nobody’s looking is to keep looking. The Gap, et al., would have to keep their inspectors in the factory the whole time. These inspectors would have to be non-native, and they’d have to be paid too well for the factory owners to bribe.

    Even at that point, the incentive to trick the inspectors would still be high; factory owners would start looking for other ways to cheat—say, by buying up all the housing in town, and forcing their workers to rent from them at high prices.

  • John Stracke

    A second thought: the difficulty of preventing the factory owners from cheating can be compared to the problems Mattel ran into. They built their own factories in China, but the people running them still managed to use lead-based paint without Mattel noticing. The “incentives are too high” explanation suggests that the factory manager found that he could skim off a significant chunk of money if he cut corners on the paint.

    Even paying that factory manager more might not matter, because that money he could skim off would still be a significant chunk to him. The only real way to solve the problem is to have people whose standard of living is high enough that the money they can make by cheating just isn’t worth it. Of course, that’s incompatible with the idea of setting up shop in poor countries to save money.

  • Yup, John. You can only be sure that your clothes are made sweatshop-free if you buy them from someone who makes them in the usa (not the Marianas Islands with a made in the usa label) or in another country with similar or comparable standards.

  • Tom

    So when will this situation turn around and people start up new factories HERE to compete with these awful goods we’re importing? It can be done, their advertising is in the headlines.

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