Profits and people

19 Jul

Here is a letter I sent to the NY Times (and here is the article I’m referencing):

You reported on the remarkable apparel factory (Knights Apparel) in the Dominican Republic that is paying its workers three times the average wage of the rest of the country’s apparel workers (“Factory Defies Sweatshop Label” July 16). It is truly wonderful that people can realize gains from trade and make one another better off, but the article’s insistence that this is new for developing countries is way off the mark.

In a 2006 study in the Journal of Labor Research, David Skarbek and Benjamin Powell surveyed 11 developing countries and the labor conditions of sweatshops there. For 9 of the 11 countries examined, the average reported sweatshop wage equaled or surpassed average wages (in Cambodia, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras, these wages were more than double the national average). In Honduras, where almost half the working population lives on $2 a day, “sweatshops” paid $13.10/day.

We shouldn’t ignore the benefits Knights Apparel is providing to some of the poorest in the world. We also shouldn’t ignore the fact that the typically demonized sweatshops provide the very same benefits.

Brent Butgereit

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