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1.3.2 Bringing remote sweatshops within reach

Activity 3

You can judge for yourself how effective campaigning groups have been in revealing the connections between producers and consumers by reading Extract 1, ‘Nike in Thailand: Lern's story’. Posted on the Oxfam
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1.2.10 Summary

  • The shift of the world's manufacturing base from developed to developing economies in the 1970s heralded the beginning of a new global division of labour and the rise of global factories to produce for Western markets. The search for ever-cheaper labour sources undertaken by multinational firms established a new geography of low-cost manufacturing operations which, to this day, remains controversial.

  • The rise of subcontracting as the most flex
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1.2.9 In praise of cheap offshore labour? continued

Significantly, no one from the pro-market lobby is actually denying that sweatshops exist, or trying to cover up the fact that workers in such places have to endure bad working conditions. But, as the subtitle of Krugman's (1997) article suggests: ‘bad jobs at bad wages are better than no jobs at all’. Low as the wages are in the offshore T-shirt or microwave factories compared with those in more developed economies, they tend to be higher than those of other workers around them. The
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1.2.8 In praise of cheap offshore labour? continued

There are two points which are central to this line of thinking. One, according to Wolf (2004), is that the whole process, as odd as it may sound, is about mutual exploitation. Outside firms do indeed exploit the poor by taking advantage of the profitable opportunities that a pool of cheap labour represents. But Indonesian or Chinese workers, for instance, could be said to exploit the incoming firms by extracting higher pay from them and taking advantage of opportunities that previousl
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1.2.7 In praise of cheap offshore labour?

Claims over the benefits of globalisation and the exploitation of cheap offshore labour generate strong feelings and, not surprisingly, divide opinion between those who favour the global marketplace and its detractors. The issue turns on whether the constant search for ever-cheaper manufacturing and service locations is seen as a good or a bad thing. It may appear odd, at first, to suggest that exploiting the poor of another country can, on any measure, be regarded as a good thing, but
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1.2.6 Defining global markets

Global markets for manufactured goods, as opposed to, say, primary commodities such as oil and timber, arose largely in the second half of the twentieth century as trade between countries intensified. The lowering of transport costs and the relative fall in trade barriers enabled firms in one country to compete with a domestic rival in another. The supply of manufactured goods across the globe as a result of worldwide demand, principally from the affluent economies, thus heightened competitio
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1.2.5 Offshore fragments of industry: a pro-market standpoint

From a pro-market standpoint, global market forces and the competitive pressures that they generate leave businesses with no choice but to take advantage of lower labour costs elsewhere. In the textile business or the toy business, lower wage costs are the key to profitability; if your competitors find a cheaper labour source, you either follow their example or go out of business. It is not, so the argument runs, because managers lack integrity or compassion that there are now more manufactur
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1.2.3 Activity 2

Before you read on, I would like you to dwell for just a moment on the significance of this shift from direct investment by Western firms to the establishment of subcontracting ties with overseas partners. Aside from outside firms being able to pass on to the subcontractor t
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1.2.2 Offshore fragments of industry

The rise of global factories in the 1970s owed much to the rapid improvement in transport and communications technologies which took place at that time and which made it possible to keep in touch with, and control, production processes in different parts of the world. Just as significant was the fragmentation of industrial production whereby parts of the manufacturing process could be relocated over vast distances. Sewing in garment and footwear production, for instance, was among the
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1.2.1 Introduction

Looking back over the 1970s, it is perhaps hard now to appreciate just how dramatic were the changes to the global map of industry taking place at that time. As more and more of the world's industry shifted from the affluent nations to the poorer, less developed countries in search of a cheaper labour force, the global economic map had to be redrawn to take account of the borders crossed and the distances traversed by firms from wealthier countries seeking to generate higher profits by reloca
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1.1.3 Introduction continued

The difficulty perhaps is that things which happen at some distance from the everyday routine of our lives are often hard to place or connect with. Moreover, it has to be said that not everyone views factory sweatshops in quite the same way as groups such as Oxfam, or indeed endorses their negative claims about the use of cheap labour in places such as East Asia. For that is what the statements of such groups are: claims. And they are far from uncontroversial.

In fact, it is poss
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1.1.1 Introduction

Many of the smaller branded goods on sale to consumers in Europe and North America – the latest in clothing and footwear or the smart toys and electronic gadgets on offer – are made in factory ‘sweatshops’. Found in the backstreets of modern, Western cities, but more often than not a feature of the poorer parts of the world, factory sweatshops are an integral part of today's global economy. Increasingly, as you can see from Author(s): No creator set

References

Beetham, D. (1999) Democracy and Human Rights, Cambridge, Polity Press.
Brown, C. (2001) ‘Human rights’ in Baylis, J. and Smith, S. (eds) The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Caney, S.(2001) ‘International distributive justice’ Political Studies, vol. 49, pp. 9
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