Should We Support Sweatshop Labor?

I just started reading an amazing book, The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, where Sachs outlines a simple guideline on how we can eliminate extreme poverty by 2025. His plan is to focus on helping the world’s poorest countries that are stuck in a poverty trap of disease, geographical isolation, environmental stresses, political instability, and lack of infrastructure, technology, medicine, and education.

He stresses the importance of developed countries helping but not through aid alone, but rather helping them reach the first rung of the economic ladder. You can summarize Sachs’ plan using the old proverb

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”

Early in the book, one thing that really caught my attention was his support for (humane and fair) sweatshops. Although they get a lot of bad press in the media, Sachs says “sweatshops are the first rung on the ladder out of extreme poverty”.

In Bangladesh for example, which not too long ago was on list of extremely impoverished, now has a growing economy due to factories exporting cheap goods to developed countries. Prior to this, women has little opportunity to work and get educated, many forced to conceive children. The result was large families with low income, uneducated, vulnerable to hunger and disease, and so the cycle would continue.

Now with the opportunity to work, these women are making the trek form their villages to take these jobs in the city, resulting in as Sachs says:

“a new spirit of women’s rights and independence and empowerment; dramatically reduced rates of child mortality; rising literacy of girls and young women; and crucially, the availability of family planning and contraception have made all the difference for these women.”

Sachs goes on to say that this empowerment of women to reduce fertility rates has gone on to fuel Bangladesh’s rising income, economy and standard of living.

So, to answer my posting title, should be support sweatshop labor?

Sachs argues that not supporting sweatshops is wrong, because would mean that these countries may never break out of their poverty trap. But rather we should support rules and regulations to help govern and maintain safe and health working environments along with fair wages for these workers.