This article applies the Kantian doctrine of respect for persons to the problem of sweatshops. We argue that multinational enterprises are properly regarded as responsible for the practices of their subcontractors and suppliers. We then argue that multinational enterprises have the following duties in their off-shore manufacturing facilities: to ensure that local labor laws are followed; to refrain from coercion; to meet minimum safety standards; and to provide a living wage for employees. Finally, we consider and reply to the objection that improving health and safety conditions and providing a living wage will cause greater harm than good.
Earlier versions of this essay were presented to the Annual Meeting of the Society for Business Ethics, Washington D.C., August, 2001; and the American Philosophical Association 100th Anniversary Conference, “Morality in the 21st Century,” Newark, Del., October, 2001. We are grateful to audience members for their comments on those occasions. Thanks also to George Brenkert, Heather Douglas, Laura Hartman, John McCall, Sara Arnold, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay. Special thanks to Ian Maitland and Norris Peterson for detailed written comments; although we continue to disagree with them on some matters, their comments lead to several improvements in this essay.
1 See, for example, Susan Chandler, “Look Who’s Sweating Now,” BusinessWeek, October 16, 1995; Steven Greenhouse, “Sweatshop Raids Cast Doubt on an Effort By Garment Makers to Police the Factories,” New York Times, July 18, 1997; and Gail Edmondson et al., “Workers in Bondage,” BusinessWeek, November 27, 2000.
2 For the purposes of this paper we define the term as any workplace in which workers are typically subject to two or more of the following conditions: income for a 48 hour work week less than the overall poverty rate for that country (see Table 1 below); systematic forced overtime; systematic health and safety risks that stem from negligence or the willful disregard of employee welfare; coercion; systematic deception that places workers at risk; and underpayment of earnings.
3 Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Lewis White Beck, trans. (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 46.
4 In making this claim we explicitly reject the conclusion reached by Andrew Wicks that one must either “fully embrace Kant’s metaphysics” or “break from the abstract universalism of Kant.” See Andrew Wicks, “How Kantian A Theory of Capitalism,” Business Ethics Quarterly, The Ruffin Series: Special Issue 1 (1998): 65.
5 Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 52.
6 Onora O’Neill, Constructions of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 53.
7 Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, Mary Gregor, trans., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 230.
9 Ibid., 255.
10 Thomas Hill Jr., Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant’s Moral Theory (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992).
11 Ibid., 40–41.
12 Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, 245.
13 Ibid., 192–193 and 196–197.
14 Norman E. Bowie, Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999). See 41–81 for further discussion of the second categorical imperative.
15 Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, 255.
16 His latest book is Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor Books, 1999). Martha Nussbaum has developed her own version of the capabilities approach, one that pays particular attention to the unique circumstances of women’s lives. Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
17 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
18 See, for example, Vinod Thomas et al., The Quality of Growth (Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 2000); Deepa Narayan et al., Voices of the Poor: Crying Out for Change (Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 2000); and Deepa Narayan et al., Voices of the Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us? (Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 2000).
19 Thomas et al., The Quality of Growth, xiv.
20 Ibid., xvii–xviii (italics added by authors).
21 Pamela Varley, ed., The Sweatshop Quandary: Corporate Responsibility on the Global Frontier (Washington D.C., Investor Responsibility Research Center, 1998), 185–186.
22 Ibid., 85.
23 Michael A. Santoro, Profits and Principles: Global Capitalism and Human Rights in China (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), 161.
24 For a fuller discussion of this matter see Bowie, Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective, esp. chap. 2.
25 Varley, ed., The Sweatshop Quandary, 95.
26 Better rule of law is associated with higher per capita income. See World Development Report 2000/2001: Attacking Poverty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 103.
27 Ibid., 102. See also the United National Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), esp. 37–38.
28 Human Rights Watch, “A Job or Your Rights: Continued Sex Discrimination in Mexico’s Maquiladora Sector,” volume 10, no. 1(B) December 1998. Available at .
29 Varley, ed., The Sweatshop Quandary, 131.
30 Republic of El Salvador, Ministry of Labor, Monitoring and Labor Relations Analysis Unit, “Monitoring Report on Maquilas and Bonded Areas,” (July 2000). Available at .
31 Edward J. Williams, “The Maquiladora Industry and Environmental Degradation in the United States-Mexican Borderlands,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, Washington, D.C., September, 1995. Available at . See also, Joan Salvat, Stef Soetewey, and Peter Breuls, Free Trade Slaves, 58 min., (Princeton, N.J.: Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 1999), videocassette.
32 National Labor Committee, “The U.S. in Haiti: How To Get Rich on 11 Cents an Hour,” 1995. Available at .
33 Denis G. Arnold, “Coercion and Moral Responsibility,” American Philosophical Quarterly 38 (2001): 53–67. The view of psychological coercion employed here is a slightly revised version of the view defended in that essay. In particular, the condition that cases of psychological coercion always involve psychological compulsion has been replaced with the condition that cases of psychological coercion always involve the victim’s compliance with the threat.
34 Varley, ed., The Sweatshop Quandary, 72.
35 Barry Bearak, “Lives Held Cheap In Bangladesh Sweatshops,” New York Times, April 15, 2001.
36 Republic of El Salvador, Ministry of Labor, Monitoring and Labor Relations Analysis Unit, “Monitoring Report on Maquilas and Bonded Areas.”
37 Varley, ed., The Sweatshop Quandary, 68.
38 Salvat et al., Free Trade Slaves, 58 min. (Princeton, N.J.: Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 1999), videocassette.
40 Varley, ed., The Sweatshop Quandary, 67.
41 Bearak, “Lives Held Cheap in Bangladesh Sweatshops.”
42 “Ernst & Young Environmental and Labor Practice Audit of the Tae Kwang Vina Industrial Ltd. Co., Vietnam.” Available at .
43 United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air Quality, Planning, and Standards, “Toluene.” Available at .
44 See, for example, Varley, ed., The Sweatshop Quandary, esp. 59–398.
45 Campaign for Labor Rights, “The Story of a Maquiladora Worker: Interview with Omar Gil by David Bacon,” September 6, 2000. Available at .
46 International Labour Organization, “SafeWork: ILO Standards on Safety and Health.” Available at .
47 After the complaint was raised in a shareholder meeting Alcoa raised the wages of the workers by 25%. Pamela Varley, ed., The Sweatshop Quandary, 63.
48 Aaron Bernstein, “Sweatshop Reform: How to Solve the Standoff,” BusinessWeek, May 3, 1999.
49 Poverty Report 2000: Overcoming Human Poverty (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2000).
50 Self-esteem is grounded in the conscious recognition of one’s dignity as a rational being.
51 Nike, “An Open Letter Response to USAS Regarding Their National Protest of Nike Through August 16, 2000.” Available at .
53 Frank Denton, “Close Look at Factory for Nikes,” Wisconsin State Journal, July 30, 2000.
54 Ian Maitland, “The Great Non-Debate Over International Sweatshops,” reprinted in Tom L. Beauchamp and Norman E. Bowie, Ethical Theory and Business, 6th ed. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 2001), 595. First published in British Academy of Management Conference Proceedings, September 1997, 240–265.
56 Ibid., 603.
57 Ibid., 594.
58 Such an argument would likely maintain that corporate managers fail to recognize that a public relations strategy that includes higher wages and improved workplace standards is more costly than an alternative strategy that does not. The details of such a strategy would then need to be worked out.
59 Maitland, “The Great Non-Debate Over International Sweatshops,” 602.
60 Ibid., 539.
61 Motorola, “Code of Business Conduct.” Available at .
62 Santoro, Profits and Principles, 6.
63 S. Prakash Sethi, “Codes of Conduct for Multinational Corporations: An Idea Whose Time Has Come,” Business and Society Review 104 (1999): 225–241.
64 Gerald Starr, Minimum Wage Fixing (Geneva: International Labour Organization, 1981), 157.
65 C. J. Bliss and N. H. Stern, “Productivity, Wages, and Nutrition, 2: Some Observations.” Journal of Development Economics 5 (1978): 363–398. For theoretical discussion see C. J. Bliss and N. H. Stern, “Productivity, Wages, and Nutrition, 1: The Theory,” Journal of Development Economics 5 (1978): 331–362.
66 Republic of El Salvador, Ministry of Labor, Monitoring and Labor Relations Analysis Unit, “Monitoring Report on Maquilas and Bonded Areas.” Available at .
67 See, for example, the essays collected in The Economics of Legal Minimum Wages, Simon Rottenberg, ed. (Washington D.C.: The American Enterprise Institute, 1981).
68 See David Card and Alan B. Krueger, Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995). See also the special symposium on Myth and Measurement in Industrial & Labor Relations Review (July 1995) with contributions by Charles Brown, Richard Freeman, Daniel Hamermesh, Paul Osterman, and Finis Welch; David Neumark and William Wascher, “Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania: Comment,” The American Economic Review (December 2000): 1362–1396; and David Card and Alan B. Krueger, “Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania: Reply,” The American Economic Review (December 2000): 1397–1420. For a discussion of the living wage issue in the context of the U.S. economy see Robert Pollin and Stephanie Luce, The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy (New York: The New Press, 1998).
69 Card and Krueger, Myth and Measurement, 389.
70 Richard B. Freeman, “In Honor of David Card: Winner of the John Bates Clark Medal,” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Spring 1997): 173.
71 William Spriggs and John Schmitt, “The Minimum Wage: Blocking the Low-Wage Path,” in Reclaiming Prosperity: A Blueprint for Progressive Economic Reform, Todd Schafer and Jeff Faux (Armonk, N.Y.: ME Sharpe, 1996), 170.
72 Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 255.
73 For a fuller defense of this position see Peter A. French, Corporate Ethics (Fort Worth, Tex.: Hartcourt Brace, 1995), 79–87.
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