Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sweatshops vs. Social Justice Warriors

One thing that the world never seems to have enough of is economic knowledge. The other day, John Oliver produced yet another segment on his show that was full of heart and low on gray matter.

(I know. A third post about John Oliver? At some point, I might have to pay him royalties.)

In this segment, John Oliver took aim at some of America's biggest retail clothing stores and put them to task for continuing to use sweatshop child labor in third world nations.

One of the clips that Oliver used in this video was a news clip from the BBC that was taken in 2000. At the time, it was discovered that some of Gap's clothes were manufactured in a sweatshop in Cambodia, which employed underage children. Specifically, the video shows two young girls who were twelve and fourteen years old at the time. They had lied about their age to work at the sweatshop factory.

Gap announced its plans to enhance its age verification requirements after the BBC aired that discovery. Oliver gives them a backhanded compliment but then the video moves on to show how despite those promises, Gap and other retailers are still continuing to employ child labor throughout the world.

Well, so fucking what?

It's incredibly easy to get on a high horse and start moralizing. Any idiot can do that. And many idiots do. But what Oliver fails to do, yet again, is to ask the more pertinent questions. Case in point, why would a twelve-year-old Cambodian girl lie about her age to work in a sweatshop? Could it be that working at a Gap-owned sweatshop is preferable to the alternative?

In a country that is as poor as Cambodia (the country's GDP per capita is a little over US$1000), childhood, which is very much taken for granted in affluent societies, is a luxury that very few can afford. So, Cambodian children have to work.

If they can't work at Gap-owned or any other clothing apparel-owned sweatshop, a practice that Oliver seems to want to see ended, Cambodian children do have other alternative types of employment to choose from.

For instance, another alternative source of employment that Cambodian children can look forward to is prostitution (see here, here, and here). Of course, prostitution is not the only kind of employment they can pursue. There is also begging (see here, here, and here).

Image Source

If sweatshop work is actually put to an end, might that inadvertently condemn those workers, children and adults, to even worse conditions? Maybe it's possible that working at sweatshops is not the worst thing that could happen to children who live in countries like Cambodia?

But who has time to ask such questions? There are social justice warriors who want to watch faux-intellectual comedy shows and feel smug about their sense of self-righteousness!

Image Source


  1. I'm afraid too many people just want to feel morally superior to others. I'm not sure a whole lot of thinking is involved and what is involved goes something like this: That is unfair, the world should be fair, the world should be equal, the world isn't equal, so we will try to make it equal by doing absolutely nothing except making ourselves feel better moralising about it and not realising that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect solutions to problems at this moment in time. It is sort of admirable if the intentions behind it all are pure, but I think very naive, illogical, and simplistic in very large measures.

  2. But if I can't use the plight of swarthy accoutrements like Cambodian children to signal my virtue, then what am I to do? I might have to resort to cheap populist substitutes like the working-class losers in my hometown whose jobs... went to Cambodia. Gross! I'd rather scour the farthest reaches of the globe for a new swarthy scause for applause before I stoop that low.

    1. All I can think of is Flo Rida's Low now...