Overseas Sweatshops in Fashion Industry Essay
Exploitation Problem in Fashion Industry
Overseas Sweatshops in Fashion Industry: Introduction
Unfortunately, the fashion industry significantly contributes to labor exploitation worldwide. It is not as explicit as the labor exploitation and child worker issues in the coffee trade, but the levels of injustice are the same. This is a growing problem, especially in the eastern part of the world, as they lack the necessary regulations to stop exploitation and child worker issues. In order to identify and explain these ethical issues better, this paper will give examples about the subject and propose a solution for the problem, and apply utilitarianism theory to the problem. It is clear that the fashion industry is a place where child workers are prevalent and vast numbers of workers are exploited, and there should be fair-trade regulations just like the coffee industry.
Even the Western brands, which are well-known worldwide, exploit their workers and use children for their financial purposes. Smestad states that approximately two hundred child labor is sewing garments for J.C Penney, Puma, and Walmart in their factories in Bangladesh. There are few reasons that allure child labor. First, their wages are lower than adults. Secondly, they are easy to manipulate and abuse (149). More than likely, as numbers suggest, these clothing companies drive their revenues by continuously hiring child labor in their factories located in third-world countries. This may look logical from a financial perspective, but in my opinion, one cannot say that it is ethical. As Smestad mentioned, children are easy to manipulate, unlike people of full age. They can be lured into working much more effortlessly and with lower paychecks. Especially if these kids are living in low-income areas, they might not have a choice to turn down a job. Hilton et al. states that garment workers earn barely enough to live but these companies make great profits (350).
Moreover, we can say that these child workers are working where we call "sweatshops." Sweatshop refers to a working place where most illegal workers are being forced to work. It is a place with deplorable working conditions. Smestad argues that sweatshops represent labor abuse, unacceptable ethics, and human rights violations (151). This is where most child workers are working. Collins states that clothing manufacturers will not tell how these clothes are made, and it is up to us to learn about why they are not using fair labor practices (para. 8).
In many parts of the world, child labor is forbidden by laws. For example, Smestad explains, the US issued an act called Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which defines child labor as oppressive and strictly prevents it by describing it clearly (154). But this is not the case when we consider the problem worldwide. As mentioned above, even the companies in the US find a way to make children work as these regulations are not strict in many parts of the world.
But the real problem is not just the fact that these workers are usually children. This ethical issue is not solely dependent on their age. As Smestad states, gender, personal circumstances, and the global industry play significant roles in this exploitation in the fashion industry (155). In addition, not all exploited workers are children. Each and every one of them have families for which they have to provide. This will take us to the ethical theory that will be applied to these issues.
Certainly, prohibiting companies from hiring these workers could be considered an easy way out for first-world countries such as the United States. It can be effective in relatively high-income countries as they are most likely to provide social benefits for most of their citizens. This may be the actual reason why the world focuses on poorer countries when it comes to child labor and exploitation. When there are more job opportunities that would pay better, it is significantly harder to allure people working for inhumane wages.
Although, this is not the case where these ethical problems are seen to a great extent. In low-income countries, which can be said to be Asia and South America, these people need their jobs as their lives depend on them. Even the children have to provide for their family or work to afford their educational expenses. Therefore, in my opinion, banning these workers from working or fining the companies for hiring them is not a solution. In order to clear any misunderstanding, it is definite that there should be a regulation for these workers, and the companies should be banned from making them work in impoverished, and inhumane conditions. But, in my opinion, making these workers lose their job is not practical or ethical.
Looking from a utilitarianist perspective, one can say that this is useful for both parties. Utilitarianism refers to an ethical theory where the moral value of something is determined by its consequences. First, companies drive their revenues by affordable labor. Secondly, the workers find a place to provide for their family, and children can earn their livings. Without their current jobs, they would not be able to meet their basic needs.
In addition, the founder of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, argued that there are no qualitative differences between pleasures; there are only quantitative differences. Therefore, we can say that the conditions of exploited workers in the fashion industry are horrible, and it is a violation of human rights. But it is also possible to state that they also get something, at least what they actually deserve.
Therefore, it is not anyone's benefit to completely ban the fashion industry from hiring these people. If the consequences are beneficial for both parties, then, in my opinion, it can be considered ethical. It would be unreasonable to think about it from the perspective of one side, as the issue includes two parties. What is not moral is the conditions of these "sweatshops," where children in the fashion industry work. It would be to everyone's advantage to regulating these working environments.
What would be the most viable option? Perhaps the excessive use of fair-trade labels would provide the necessary adjustments. The fashion industry is a market where the brand recognition sells rather than the actual product. Therefore, it would be beneficial for both companies and workers to have a fair-trade label that protects the terms and benefits of the workers, including child labor. Customers would choose the companies with fair-trade tags as it would provide a high social status for them. Even if they do not think accordingly or care for their workers, companies will make the required adjustments to improve their public figure. This would be the utilitarianist solution as the motives do not matter, but the consequences would be advantageous for everyone.
Lastly, as one of the first strengths of utilitarianism is being impartial, above mentioned solution would provide them with equal interests. Child workers and other exploited employees would earn higher wages and work in better conditions, while fashion companies also skyrocket their incomes thanks to their value-added public relations. It would be effective if it is executed strictly and properly worldwide, and no people would have to lose their jobs because of the laws.
Consequently, the fashion industry exploits a significant number of people, especially children, by making them work in the worst conditions possible. Even the most known companies use children as workers in their factories in Eastern countries. In my opinion, the solution for this ethical problem is not issuing regulations that would make these people lose their jobs. The most appropriate measure would be creating strict fair-trade labels that would both improve the image of the companies and the circumstances of these workers. The fashion industry, like the coffee industry, is clearly a place where child labor is common and large numbers of employees are exploited, and there should be fair-trade laws in place.
Collins, Lucy. “The Ethics of Fashion.” Wall Street Journal, 24 Apr. 2014.
Hilton, Brian, et al. “The Ethics of Counterfeiting in the Fashion Industry: Quality, Credence and Profit Issues.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 55, no. 4, 2004, pp. 345–354, www.jstor.org/stable/25123399. Accessed 13 May 2021.
Smestad, Liat. “The Sweatshop, Child Labor, and Exploitation Issues in the Garment Industry.” Fashion Practice, vol. 1, no. 2, Nov. 2009, pp. 147–162, 10.2752/175693809x469139.