Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Kathy Lee Wasn't So Bad

I realize that there are a number of issues, liberal issues to be more specific, that I need to learn more about before I can take a solid position. Global climate change was one of those issues, and I have been researching it more lately. Another of these issues is sweatshops. I feel like I can’t take a position because I don’t really know how bad the conditions are. My (uneducated) feeling had been that although conditions might be really bad compared to our standards, I wondered if they weren’t much safer than the other job opportunities available.

Nicholas Kristof recently wrote on this very subject ($) in a NY Times column. Here is what he had to say:

Sure, sweatshop work is tedious, grueling and sometimes dangerous. But over all, sewing clothes is considerably less dangerous or arduous — or sweaty — than most alternatives in poor countries.


The problem is that it's still costly to manufacture in Africa. The headaches across much of the continent include red tape, corruption, political instability, unreliable electricity and ports, and an inexperienced labor force that leads to low productivity and quality. The anti-sweatshop movement isn't a prime obstacle, but it's one more reason not to manufacture in Africa.


So companies like Nike, itself once a target of sweatshop critics, tend not to have highly labor-intensive factories in the very poorest countries, but rather more capital-intensive factories (in which machines do more of the work) in better-off nations like Malaysia or Indonesia. And the real losers are the world's poorest people.

Kristof goes on to support an American initiative called the African Growth Opportunity Act that, “allows duty-free imports from Africa,” in a hope to spark manufacturing. If this column were published in the Wall Street Journal, we could dismiss it right away. Instead though, it is coming from one of the few truly loud advocates for the world's poor and endangered.

Before my good friends Lizzie and The Beard call me a fascist in the comments section, I don’t want to make it sound like I have come to any conclusion on this, because I still don't know enough. But I do take it seriously when Nicholas Kristof says that sweatshops will actually help the economies, and the people, of Africa.