Should we be concerned about sweatshop ethics?

Evaluating the claims of workers exploitation versus worker consent

Bachelor Thesis, 2017

36 Pages, Grade: 80.00





Chapter 1

Chapter 2
Aims and Objectives

Chapter 3
Literature Review
Power of Choice
Sweatshops- Exploitation or Opportunity
Kantian Ethics
Utilitarianism Ethics
Are MNEs Guilty or Not-Guilty- of breaching their ethical responsibility?

Chapter 4
Findings and Analysis
Results &Discussions

Chapter 5



Appendix 1- Questionnaire
Appendix 2- Consent Form


I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr.Stephen Hogan, deputy HoS undergraduate and my dissertation supervisor for guiding and supporting throughout the course of completing this research paper. I would also like to thank my parents and friends whom supported me in the pursuit of this project.


Sweatshops are have been violating our notions of justice. Although there has been an increased concern on their ethics, they continue to flourish. MNEs claim that workers chose to accept the conditions of their employment therefore making it to an extent ‘ethical’. The workers' choice to accept such conditions is very significant, representing their ability to exercise their autonomy and is an expression of their preferences. The following claims made by MNEs stand supported by sweatshop labor’s consents towards approving harmful conditions yet it may be not as voluntary as it seem. Although sweatshops are wrongfully exploitative and defend the harmful conditions through claiming that workers accept those conditions, they are still of benefit to labor. Sweatshops provide employment for many poor people, improve their standards of living, and exempt them away from poverty wage spiral. Should workers’ choices to accept conditions be respected by third parties? Alternatively, Should we be concerned about ‘ethics’ of sweatshops?

Chapter 1:


When given the word ‘ethics' and sweatshops people perceive it as challenging and impossible to pair them together. The aversion of some for the unethical treatment of workers and harsh working conditions greatly influence the study of moral intensity (decision­making) (Zwolinski, 2006). Yet, with variables held constant their opinions, attitudes, and beliefs it will be studied accordingly. Sweatshop is a factory in which manual labor work for long hours at very low wages and under exploitative working conditions (Webster, 2017). The main implication when studying the ethics of sweatshops is the different opinions and beliefs that surround it. People view sweatshops as a positive shed of light that creates jobs for those unable to find and supplies individuals with an adequate income. (Goldberg, 2001) believes that “anti-sweatshop movement is war on development” and observed “labor­intensive apparel factories overseas are helping raise the standard of living by providing jobs in impoverished countries”. Whereas others view sweatshops as factories that regularly violate wage, child labor, safety and health laws that were mainly designed to protect workers from such exploitation (Redden and Beyer, 1993). Overall sweatshops is a dilemma of subjectivity and is exposed to one's elucidation usually depends on how they come to rest on an ethical decision. There has been an enlarged focus on ethics in business organizations, yet there is still a daunting lack of resources within the theoretical and empirical examination of ethical decision-making (Snyder, 2010, pg.188). An ethical decision is as a decision that is both legal and morally acceptable to the larger community (Jones, 1991). Many people assume that the reason behind their formulated differing approaches is their teachings, knowledge, backgrounds, or experience. However, their approaches are highly influenced from the six dimensions of moral intensity (Ibid). Moral intensity is an issue-contingent model where behavior is highly subjective as it adds significantly to the understanding of the moral process (Jones, 1991).

This study will explore the different perspectives of apparel sweatshops as well as attempt to propose a conclusion towards the ethical concerns revolved around it through Kantian and Utilitarian ethics. This research paper will also introduce ‘consents' to portray the fact that workers choose to work in sweatshops regardless of the fact that not all sweatshops undergo the same procedure of signing consent forms. Persons who work in sweatshops choose to do so although it is not their best response or the maximum welfare they can achieve. Nevertheless, the fact that workers choose to do so is morally significant that must be taken into account when assessing the moral concerns involved in the issue of sweatshops. The initial step is to judge the moral significance of consents through introducing how workers choices have the power (moral magic) to transmute the moral and legal nature of certain interfaces (Hurd, 1996). Finally, to provide further justification the paper will explore the reasoning behind ethical decision making through studying two moral intensity dimensions; magnitude of consequences and proximity. It will critically analyze how the moral intensity model influences decision making specifically when formulating an answer towards the ethics of sweatshops.

Chapter 2:

Aims and Objectives:


To evaluate the key ethical issues associated with sweatshops, through examining workers consents against exploitation

Sub Aims:

- To examine the moral significance of workers consent
- To asses and outline different arguments formulated from sweatshops without being subjective to my own opinion
- To examine the extent in which moral intensity dimensions specifically magnitude of consequences and proximity affect people's decisions towards the ethics of sweatshops
- To examine how magnitude of consequences and proximity play a role in affecting individual's purchasing patterns


- Through the exploration of academic and practitioner literature, critically outline the nature of workers choices; autonomy-exercising choice and preference-evincing choice so assess the extent to which it is transformative in moral and legal nature.
- Through the exploration of academic and practitioner literature, the arguments proposed through defining the threat of sweatshops; exploitation and harsh working conditions. Whereas the opposing argument is, the significance of workers consent and how it is a symbol of their rights and opinion to accept so.
- Through conducting primary research specifically focus groups to determine how individuals unconsciously base their decision of ethical concerns towards sweatshops on the moral intensity model
- Through the exploration of academic literature, critically analyze the moral intensity model along with how to be able to explore it and justify specific hypothesis proposed about proximity and magnitude of consequences.


This report will examine whether or not individuals should be concerned about sweatshops ethics. An exploration of the purpose of sweatshops ethics will be established through outlining two different arguments that portray two opposing theoretical views of sweatshops to laborers. A critical analysis of the worker's consents against workers exploitation in terms of wages, working conditions and violation of laws will be thoroughly investigated. An ethical critique of strategic aims will determine the motivation behind hosting and operating via sweatshops and how this may influence the underlying causes for labor exploitation. A focus on worker's consents will be explored to establish the social impacts of what can happen to laborers if movements continue to oppose the being of sweatshops in our liberalized world. Finally, to be able to draw a conclusion towards the issue of sweatshop ethics a focus group will be conducted with a number of randomized candidates to assess how they formulate their decision about ethical standpoints of sweatshops with the assistance of the moral intensity model framework.

Chapter 3:

Literature Review:

Power of Choice:

The term transformative suggests a change caused to someone or something. Choices or consents have the ability to alter an individual' norms and values therefore seen as transformative (Zwolinski, 2007). Consents are classified as legally transformative in nature because it restricts individuals that sign them from acting upon anything they accepted. It limits third parties from intervening, as there is an agreement present between two parties represented by a consent. Choices are also morally transformative in nature and are categorized under two main stances; independence exercising and preference evincing choice.

A. Independence Exercising Choice:

Choices classified as morally transformative if and only if a choice is acted upon an individual's independent decision (Zwolinski, 2007). Exercising their independence in decisions making represents individuals' personality, aspirations, moral views, norms and values. Exercising their autonomy to make a certain choice represents the individuals' authentic self. A third party is not obligated to interfere with any decision the individual makes even if the intervening might make the person better off. Third parties must take into consideration the individual's right to exercise his or her own autonomy. If workers' independently choose to accept their conditions of employment then their choices are classified as morally transformative in nature. Their autonomous choice is very significant and portrays their entitlement to freedom from interventions made by third parties. How strong this entitlement is against interference? The decisions that sweatshop workers' rest upon represents how desperate they are to survive. Although this type of choice does not represent strong claims to liberty, it does in fact deserve respect as it represents their desire to get their families out of the spiral of the poverty world (Powell and Sharbek, 2006).

Preference-Evincing Choice:

Another aspect of choice; is one that represents their preferences. Taking a scenario where an individual is faced with a gunman's threat “your money or your life”. If the individual choses to give the gunman his wallet then it represents that, he prefers living to the money though he made this decision under threating pressures. Even if it does not comply with the full morally transformative range, it still represents their preference and introduces a new moral landscape. Similarly, workers' choice to accept their conditions is morally transformative as it represents their preferences (Zwolinski, 2006). Relating to the gunman's case, laborers are pressured to choose whether to live in poverty or gain income to support their living but work in harsh conditions. Many workers choose to gain income and support their children, portraying their preference to work in dangerous conditions to living in poverty. Being able to express their partialities, their choices are classified as morally transformative. Groups attempting to abolish the existence of sweatshops suggests that they are harming workers as they are knowingly going against their preferences and rights to independence (Boatright, 2000)

Sweatshops- Exploitation or Opportunity

The following section will tackle two opposing views about the presence of sweatshops, while still taking into consideration that the conclusion to the bigger argument is that taking away sweatshops and protesting against workers' choice is violating their autonomy of rights. The argument proposed is to formulate a conclusion towards concerns of the ethics of sweatshops. To be able to outline a conclusion one must take into effect different moral perspectives; why sweatshops viewed as a facilitator to development and why is it a threat to the beings.

Before tackling the argument, it is beneficial to state some reasons why sweatshops even exist. According to (Wong, 2013) sweatshops are extremely profitable from a business perspective since they operate via low wage labor in third world countries, reducing production costs. Major brands such as Nike, GAP, Converse, Primark, and Marks and Spencer have been accused of allegedly violating requirements of working conditions in factories (Cray, 2001). Companies have been faulted for the exploitation of workers because they disregarded correcting malpractices made by manufacturers. According to (Nike, 2014)'s internal reports 168 factories failed to meet their own standards of manufacturing.


(International Labor Rights Forum, 2013) define sweatshop as a factory that violates two or more labor laws. Sweatshops operate via exploitative wages, long working hours, and harsh working conditions. According to (Australian Broadcast Network, 2013) workers in sweatshops are beaten, tortured, and sexually harassed. Effectively enforcing labor laws in developing countries that host sweatshops would be highly beneficial when fighting against the existence of sweatshops (Portes 1994, 163). Many companies that operate via sweatshops do not only violate labor laws but also the country's mediocre laws. The leading U.S based anti-sweatshop group also known as National Labor Committee found that stakeholders such as subcontractors producing goods for Nike regularly exploit the Chinese Labor Law. Those include violations of minimum wages; where young women work seventy hours a week and are paid in pennies (Kernaghan, 2000). The threats of sweatshop come to light especially when they are hosted in a country where its labor laws are not effective even on paper and does not measure up the slightest to the internationally agreed upon labor standards. Even in developed countries with agreed upon international labor standards by the International Labor Organization such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, exploitation still occurs (Arnold, 2003).

Table 1. Average Hourly Apparel Worker Wages

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The figure above represents how the workers in third world countries are being exploited by in factories to a point where even the minimum wages are below the average to lift a family from poverty spiral wage. The exploitation of laws reached to a point where even independent trade unions in China were sometimes brutally suppressed (McClymer, 1998, 133-38). Sweatshop laborers are not guaranteed insufficient wages; The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation investigated a factory in Indonesia and found that over 80% of their workers are on short term contracts (Muscati, 2014). They give little regard to providing their workers with job security and welfare. Sweatshops also operate via child labor; (The International Labor Organization, 2004) found that 250 million children between the ages five to fourteen work in developing countries that host sweatshops. Those children a deprived from a normal childhood, education, and were sometimes banned to leave the factories and go back home to their families (Ibid).

Investigations conducted by the Guardian Newspaper revealed that MNEs such as Nike and Gap Inc. were using children to manufacture their clothes in India disregarding the presence of “child labor policy” that was introduced in 2004 (McDougall, 2007). MNEs sub-contract to firms that prefer children because they have small hands and undamaged eyesight unlike most of their adult workers. Children are also in their view more compliant and cheaper than their normal slaves (Canadian Labor Congress, 2007). Adding to the unworthy sweats is the working conditions. A newsletter by (Chakraborty, 2007) prevailed to highlight on the catastrophic working conditions present in sweatshops. The newsletter claims “Over 150 garment workers in Bangladesh have died and hundreds more were injured in factory disasters since 2005 that involved fires, blocked exits, and building collapses”.

(Poulter, 2016) states that even refugees were exploited. An undercover Panorama investigation of factories in Turkey found that Syrian refugee children have been manufacturing clothes for M&S and for ASOS (BBC News, 2016). The documentary markers claim to have found seven Syrians working in the factory. Their rights to minimum wages were violated; they were paid well below the Turkish minimum wage reaching just slightly over a pound an hour. Children were employed through intermediaries who paid them in cash on the streets (Ibid).

Adding to their vulnerability, those children were working under brutal and forceful conditions; one of the refugees said, “If anything happens to a Syrian, they will throw him away like a piece of cloth” (Ibid). M&S responded by supposedly seeking action against exploiting Syrian refugees. A Marks and Spencer spokesperson told The Independent that they were not aware of those findings and they are taking action by sending a local team to Turkey to monitor the situation (BBC News, 2016).


Sweatshops are not as awful as people portray them to be, since workers chose to accept them and provide for workers more than other jobs would and is less harmful (Smith, 2015). Adam Smith questioned; “compared to what?” are groups deciding on sweatshops’ ethical standpoint. Many anti-sweatshop campaigners claim that sweatshop labor work an estimation of more than 70 hours per week. Yet (Powell and Sharbek, 2006) paper “Sweatshops and Third World Living Standards” reveled that sweatshop wages exceed average income in between 8 to 10 out of 10 countries surveyed depending on how many hours were worked. According to (Powell, 2006) in nine out of ten countries “working ten-hour days in the apparel industry lifts employees above (and often far beyond) the $2 per day threshold”. In addition, “in half of the countries it results in earning more than three times of the national average” (Ibid)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


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Should we be concerned about sweatshop ethics?
Evaluating the claims of workers exploitation versus worker consent
University of Brighton  (Business School)
Business Ethics
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ISBN (Book)
should, evaluating
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Diala Jarrar (Author), 2017, Should we be concerned about sweatshop ethics?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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