Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2012
26 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2011 Last revised: 15 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 15, 2011
It is commonly claimed that workers in sweatshops are wrongfully exploited by their employers. The economist’s standard response to this claim is to point out that sweatshops provide their workers with tremendous benefits, more than most workers elsewhere in the economy receive and more than most of those who complain about sweatshop exploitation provide. Perhaps, though, the wrongfulness of sweatshop exploitation is to be found not in the discrete interaction between a sweatshop and its employees, but in the unjust political and economic institutions against which that interaction takes place. This paper tries to assess what role, if any, consideration of background injustice should play in the correct understanding of exploitation. Its answer, in brief, is that it should play fairly little. Structural injustice matters, of course, but it does not typically matter for determining whether a sweatshop is acting exploitatively, and it does not typically matter in a way that grounds any kind of special moral responsibility or fault on the part of sweatshops or the MNEs (Multinational Enterprises) with which they contract.
Keywords: Exploitation, Sweatshops, Social Responsibility
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