“In the garment industry, stories about workers who barely eke out an existence on ‘starvation wages’ are legion: Factory workers in New Delhi often describe living in makeshift hovels ‘barely fit for animals.’ A young woman from Myanmar might wrestle with the decision to feed her children or send them to school. In Bangladesh, sewing-machine operators frequently toil for 100 hours or more a week, only to run out of money before the end of the month. Workers have demanded higher pay in all those countries, of course, sometimes precipitating violence between protesters and police. Companies in general, however, have preferred to sidestep the issue altogether. In fact, no multinational brand or retailer currently claims to pay its garment workers a wage they can subsist on.”
In some ways this isn’t the right question to be asking. While clothing brands don’t want the bad PR from low wages, like all businesses, they are incentivized to minimize their inputs and maximize their profits. If capitalistic logic were completely unrestrained, this situation would never change as long as there are low-skill workers.
Questions to Ponder: What institutions have the ability to change this situation and what are effective ways to bring about change? Where are textile industries located in the international division of labor? How do sweatshops impact the places where they locate in the international division of labor?