Exploitation or Opportunity? - Uncommon Thought Journal

Exploitation or Opportunity?

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Sample Paper 3 by Irvana Krog - Spring 2011

ChildLabor.jpgDo you think that the low-wage factories of the multi-national corporations, located in countries such as China, Bangladesh or Mexico, represent exploitation or opportunity?


"Every exploitative relationship begins with an initial inequality that makes the taking advantage possible. In exploitative relationship the rich get richer and the poor fall further behind. "- Robert Mayer

Exploitation, in this case economic exploitation, can be defined as using somebody's labor, but in return giving an unfair compensation, or taking unfair advantage of laborer. Exploitation is nowadays mostly taking place in factories of undeveloped countries of Asia, Africa and South America. The workers in factories are paid low, sometimes paid under the minimum wage and also placed to work in very bad conditions. According to Robert Mayer there are two kinds of exploitation: discretionary and structural exploitation. Karl Marx viewed the whole capitalist class as exploitative thing. On the other hand those people in between those multi-national corporations and oppressed workers are in dilemma to call it exploitation or opportunity. The question also is: Is exploitation ok even if it is not harmful and mutually beneficial?

"Hours are long. Wages are pitiful. Workers go there voluntarily, which means--hard as it is to believe--that whatever their alternatives are, they are worse." says Tim Harford the Undercover Economist. Nowadays most Americans and people of other developed western countries are aware of existence of sweatshops and labor exploitation in third world countries such as China, India, and Mexico. We all, including myself, agree that bad conditions and low wages for those workers are unacceptable, but it is also hard for most of us to do anything about it. The reasons for us to judge or do anything about it is because, first we benefit from it by being able to buy cheap products and second we see besides exploitation that those worker have been given opportunity to earn more money. Before we make our decision, we need to look at different theories of exploitation, globalization and spread of capitalism and we also need to evaluate working conditions and opinions of those laborers.

According to Robert Mayer there are two forms of exploitation: discretionary and structural exploitation. The discretionary exploitation or flexible exploitation is the one that raises question of fairness. The laborers are free to choose it they want to work for low wages and in difficult circumstances. Most of the time they are not so desperate that it comes to life and death, but their alternative options are agriculture, day labor or scavenging that will bring even less income and even worse working conditions; so in most circumstance they will choose to be exploited by multi-national corporations. It is the offer that they cannot afford to refuse.

The second form of exploitation is structural exploitation that is considered less evil exploitation. As name structural suggest it is more organized exploitation by free trade laws or market settings and competitions. Mayers in his article gives an example of Wal-Mart 2004 case as structural exploitation. In 2004 all Wal-Mart competitors decided to slash their prices after Wal-Mart decided to keep their prices same. Those competitors were allowed to take advantage of Wal-Mart's bad decision and to make Wal-Mart loose its business.

Marxist theory is that capitalism is based of exploitation. If we look at his theory and globalization of capitalism, we can say that there won't be end to exploitation for many years or never, because someone's labor has to be exploited for capitalism to work. On the other hand Functionalist would probably argue that those exploited workers voluntarily agreed to work for such low wages and that someone has to do the dirty work. They see that for benefit of western world and the benefit of those exploited workers stratification is inevitable.

Before we can even answer our question of exploitation or opportunity, we might want to look at some examples of exploitation in Mexico, China and Bangladesh.
In Mexico they are called Maquiladoras, factories that were establish after North American Free Trade Agreement. Those factories produce parts and products for American, Japanese and some European factories. They employ over one million workers in 3000 factories and under American standards those factories would be considered sweatshops. The workers are paid as little as $10 per day, they usually work long hours and working conditions are poor. The workers live in shacks without running water and where usually pollution is very high from the factories. The argument from NAFTA is that they provided jobs for many unemployed people and that poverty was there before those factories arrived.

Another example is Bangladeshi clothing factories that employ about two million exploited workers, which are mostly young women between age of 14 and 29. Thinking about just the fact that those are mostly young women, makes it easier for exploiters to take advantage of them. According to the article Garment History, the working conditions and pay of Bangladeshi workers are the worst in the world with wage of just 8 cents per hour, comparing to US about 8 dollars per hour. In addition to low wages, workers don't receive their earned wages on time; usually they would receive those months later. Overtime is not paid even though they have to work 14 to 16 hours a day. In 2006 workers organized strikes seeking higher pay and better conditions. The minimum wage has been increased and overtime pay ensured since then. So maybe there is hope that with people power conditions can change to better for those workers. On the other hand the multi-national corporation would say that if they have to keep increasing the wages, that they would have to move their factories to China, where labor at that point would be cheaper. That would obviously mean that two million Bangladeshi would loose their jobs.

Last but probably most known example of cheap and exploited labor is in China. Before mid 1800s China was completely closed from the rest of the world and from Industrialization. Today China's economy is on the unstoppable and very fast economic rise. The big part of that economic rise is because of all production factories from western world moved to China searching for cheap labor and so the cheap products. People from villages are massively moving to the cities to work in those factories because they would earn about $200 per month working in the factories and only about $50 per month if they stayed home and worked on the farms. There is also pressure to modernize with globalization. When Brook Silva-Braga in documentary The China Question interviewed young workers in the factory, they said that despite tough conditions that they have to work and live in, they just want to earn money and be able to buy modern things.

After examining exploitation, I think that low wage factories definitely are not opportunity for people. With globalization of capitalism, there is no stop to exploitation. People in the developing countries are forced to modernize; they are economically forced to work in such factories, so really they don't have options.
As mentioned in the beginning quote, every exploitative relationship begins with initial inequality and that is how I see what capitalism is about, rich exploiting poor.

Works Citied

Harford, Tim. "Quotes." Good Reads, November 2005. Web. 05 June 2011.

Henslin, James M. "Essentials of Sociology" Down to Earth Approach. Custom Publishing. Pearson. 2008.

Mayer, Robert. "Sweatshops, Exploitation, and Moral Responsibility." Journal of Social Philosophy, 2007. Vol. 38 Issue 4, p605-619, 15p. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 5 June 2011.

Rosenberg, Matt. "Maquiladoras in Mexico." Export Assembly Plants in United States. About.com. Web, 5 June 2011.

"The China Question." By Brook Silva-Braga. CNBC. Television, 3 June 2011.

"The Struggles of 2006." Garment History. Posted by Al-Amin Islam. Web Blog, 21 March 2011. Web, 5 June 2011.