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Developing countries and sweatshops

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Nicholas Kristof tackles the debate surrounding sweatshops in his essay Where Sweatshops Are a Dream, claiming that the global capitalist economy uses them as a form of cheap labor to lower costs. As the author discusses his case, he describes the measures being implemented to eliminate sweatshops while still arguing for their importance in the developed world. Despite the fact that Kristof's claim is not backed by objective evidence, his argument is compelling to some degree due to his use of rational appeals that result in the creation of an evocative approach to the problem. To his credit, it is agreeable that sweatshops have a real potential to reduce the poverty levels in the developing world.

Foremost, people in developing world have far less access to economic opportunities as compared to their counterpart in the developed world. This scenario implies that they have to engage in whatever activities that generate a reasonable relative to their circumstances. Kristof commences his argument by describing in shocking terms the unpleasant conditions with which such people are forced to live terming them “a Dante-like version of hell” comparable to “a mountain of festering refuse” (Kristof, 2017). The author proceeds to mention that a majority of the families in the developing world best exemplified by Phnom Phen, Cambodia live in shacks surrounded by garbage. He hence makes clear his position that the “central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshop exploit too many people but that they do not exploit enough” (Kristof, 2017). Sweatshops are not the problem in developing nations plagued by poverty; on the contrary, they are the solution.

In anticipation of possible opposition to his stance, Kristof is careful to acknowledge a point of agreement with his audience contending that “I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories” (Kristof, 2017). This initiative to acknowledge the problems synonymous with sweatshops at least demonstrates that he has well-meaning intentions for the readership. Kristof then proceeds to give a personal account of his experience with poverty in developing countries and the role that sweatshops play in alleviating the situation. For instance, he cites East Asia – itself a developing region – where he witnessed living conditions in his wife’s ancestral home improve as a result of sweatshops. In fact, it is only reasonable to understand the Cambodian fascination with factory work. For instance, one acknowledges the benefits of sweatshops on account of safer working conditions. In a period of “tremendous economic distress” (Kristof, 2017) it would only seem reasonable that people adversely affected by poverty take advantage of available income-generation opportunities to alleviate living conditions and especially they offer better working conditions.

Also, Kristof’s argument that “sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause” further support the case that they can help reduce the levels of poverty (Kristof, 2017). His choice of wording, in this case, has the effect of enforcing the real image of the situation in the developing world. Although he acknowledges that he would prefer not working in sweatshops himself, such a point of contention should not be perceived to weaken his stance. People living in poverty do not have the luxury of choice Kristof has. A meaningful approach to the issues only demands that they make practical interventions to improve their living conditions. As Kristof contends, doing other menial jobs likes pulling rickshaws would be less rewarding compared to working in sweatshops.

Despite the fact that a majority of Kristof’s arguments are convincing, they also bear some weaknesses that impact negatively on the overall credence of this article. For instance, the author readily concedes the necessity of institutionalizing labor standards to protect the vulnerable workers in developing countries stating that they “can improve wages and working conditions, without greatly affecting the eventual retail cost of goods” (Kristof, 2017). The effect of this concession is that it at least demonstrates that Kristof considers premises from both sides of the debate on sweatshops. He immediately invalidates the position because labor effects too have the adverse impact of inflating costs of production which in turn discourage companies financially conscious companies from investing in developing countries. Agreeably, such a situation would be far from the ideal situation preferred by residents of such states who depend on sweatshops to improve their living standards. However, this argument is weak since it lacks in statistical data demonstrating the how labor standards stimulate the closure of companies in the developing world.

Ultimately, the article succeeds in capturing the attention of the audience alienated from the reality of the developing world where negligible pay for long work hours is considered a superior alternative to having no compensation at all. Despite the fact that Kristof’s argument loses some credence due to the lack of factual supporting data, such does not necessarily invalidate the glaring truth that developing countries are in urgent need of more economic opportunities for their impoverished citizens. It only makes sense that – given the current circumstances – sweatshops be allowed to operate in the third world but just so long as they conform to labor standards to protect the fundamental human and labor rights of workers. Until the relevant stakeholders design more sustainable solutions for the longer term, sweatshops remain one of the few escalators out of poverty for the developing world in the short term.

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Kristof, N. (2017). Opinion | Where Sweatshops Are a Dream. Retrieved 23 October 2017, from


August 18, 2021
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