Third World

Beyoncé's 'Sweatshops' Help the Poor

Workers in the Bangladesh garment factory make more than their neighbors.

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 "How Much It Sucks to Be a Sri Lankan Worker Making Beyoncé's New Clothing Line," reads a recent headline on Vice's "Broadly" channel.

Well, it probably sucks, a lot. But for many Sri Lankans, the only thing suckier than working at a "sweatshop" is not being able to work at one. This, after all, is the choice that many Sri Lankans face. So, rest assured, Beyoncé is doing more to improve the lives of Sri Lankan workers than all fair-traders and finger-wagging journalists combined.

The Vice piece (and scores of articles just like it) is based on The Sun's exposé claiming that workers who make the singer's new activewear brand, Ivy Park, are nothing more than "slaves" who earn 64 cents per hour. One sewing-machine operator at the MAS Holdings factory says she is unable to survive on the basic wage of 18,500 rupees a month ($126). A seamstress in the factory makes $6.23 a day.

It's a shame that people are still forced to live on such a pittance. Hopefully, with advances in technology and the opening of world markets, their suffering will continue to be mitigated. But until Sri Lanka reaches First-World status, it's important to put Ivy Park, and countless other brands like it, into proper context.

Trading Economics expects the gross average nominal monthly income of a Sri Lankan to be about 9,000 rupees (about $61) this quarter. So, the sewing-machine operator, though not living on Jay Z levels of subsistence, is faring better than most of her neighbors. For her and thousands of her fellow laborers, working for Beyonce offers a higher salary than one they'd have to live with if she weren't ridiculously famous or ridiculously wealthy.

This has generally been the case when it comes to "sweatshops" around the world. You may not be old enough to remember the 1996 teary-eyed apology Kathie Lee Gifford offered the nation after her Wal-Mart clothing line, which Wal-Mart produced, was made in Honduran factories that employed underage workers. At the time, the average apparel worker earned 31 cents per hour in the Central American nation, while one-fifth of the world's population lived on less than $1 a day. After being confronted, Gifford atoned for her sins by promising to warn America about the misery of foreign-factory work.

Here at home, the political play—the attack on Gifford, Michael Jordan and others—was driven by labor unions and their front groups. Soon enough, lazy politicians began advocating for laws that would bar Americans from doing business with countries that allowed sweatshops and child labor. Sure, if you stop these companies, those poor Central American kids will simply return to their idyllic lives in the countryside or head off to top-notch educational institutions. Those who are subcontracted to make Ivy Park clothing at MAS work there for a reason.

Vice reached out to Dr. Kanchana Ruwanpura of the University of Edinburgh, a Sri Lanka garment-industry expert, no doubt expecting her to describe some soul-crushing hellhole. But it got a pretty tepid response. "MAS are essentially top of the range in terms of labour conditions in Sri Lanka," she says. "They're brilliant factories in terms of the build space and the attention they usually pay to the codes they work with. However, I would say that when it comes to wages and freedom of association, MAS don't do a very good job."

So, after having to grapple with two inconvenient facts—that salaries at MAS are better than prevailing wages in Sri Lanka, and that the factory is probably a relatively modern and safe place to work—the Vice reporter drops a debatable proposition on the reader. "Disturbingly, MAS workers are not allowed to unionize, despite the obvious benefits unions bring."

I hope private-sector workers in Sri Lanka will be free to organize—or not to organize—one day. But the formation of unions now would almost certainly undermine MAS's bid to make Western sportswear, and those jobs would move to Malaysia or Bangladesh or Pakistan. Wherever those jobs go, Beyoncé—who is running a business, not a charity—is an inadvertent force of good.

In fact, if you want to help the world's impoverished, you should probably buy her products. The more demand there is for tight-fitting, overpriced celebrity clothing lines, the more factories there will be for Sri Lankans to work in. As those workers have more choices, salaries will rise, and so will quality of life. This competition will impel employers to increase productivity, and if Sri Lanka doesn't revert to its old ways the economy will grow. The children of these workers will turn to white-collar professions. And before you know it, factories will be taken over by automatons, and the Sri Lankan middle class will grumble about how the Indonesians are stealing their jobs.

COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

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  1. There are no comments.

    There are no words.

    There are just…

    1. Hitlers?

    2. Dude, scroll down.

  2. “In fact, if you want to help the world’s impoverished, you should probably buy her products.”

    What the heck will I do with Beyone’s clothes?

    And what’s wrong with sweating? We have sweatshops here. They’re called ‘saunas’.

  3. Paul Krugman, before he succumbed to the effects of advanced Bush Derangement Syndrome, once pointed this out. Sweatshop labor is a natural, and possibly required, step on the road to becoming an industrialized economy. They’ll grow out of it when they’re ready.

  4. Rhianna’s sweatshops are better.

    1. OH NO YOU DIDN’T.

    2. Now that is an obscure euphemism.

  5. The sweatshop issue is a perfect example of the irrational, emotional basis for many of the Left’s positions.

    People work in sweatshops because they believe that is their best option. Those who want to ban sweatshops never think of the displaced workers being forced to go to their second best option.

    1. When I was in college, the explanation I was given was that by closing sweatshops and throwing these people completely out of work, it would inspire them to revolt against their oppressors and create a workers paradise. Seriously.

      1. Retards are gonna retard.

  6. around 35,150.43 rupees

    Oh, come *on*, David!

    1. Of course, that’s just an estimate.

  7. Would be a surfboard

  8. “””basic wage of 18,500 rupees a month””

    “””The gross monthly average income of a Sri Lankan is around 35,150.43 rupees””

    “”So, the sewing-machine operator, though not living on Jay-Z levels of subsistence, is faring better than most of her neighbors.””‘

    How do you come up with that answer since 18,500 rupees is much smaller then 35,000 rupees?

    1. yeah, that caught my eye too. maybe he meant 35,150.43 a year? bc it kind of undercuts the entire point of the article..

    2. From the original story:

      “One sewing machine operator said that she was unable to survive on her basic wage of 18,500 rupees a month ($126). The newspaper claimed on average seamstresses earn ?4.30 a day ($6.23), although acknowledging that workers at the factory were still being paid above the legal minimum wage of 13,500 rupees a month.”

      It’s a typo.

      It’s supposed to be 13,500 average. Not 35,150.

      1. No, minimum wage is minimum wage, its not “gross monthly average income”, unless everyone is making minimum wage.

        1. It needs to be corrected.

          Still, 35,150.43 is a typo.

    3. According to the Sri Lanka Department of Census and Statistics, the average worker in Sri Lanka earns Rs. 25,778 monthly. So Beyonce is paying a little less than what the average worker earns. But given that many of those workers are probably working in higher skilled or more difficult jobs it seems like a perfectly fair wage.
      The higher number is likely average household income, which is Rs. 46,207 (or rather was in 2013, which was the citation I found – http://www.statistics.gov.lk/h…..tineng.pdf)

    4. Yep, they should fix this.

    5. Yeah, the effed up math completely undercuts the article’s point. Beyonce (or whoever is actually running this thing) is paying HALF the average wage in Sri Lanka to make these products.

      Considering in the USA somebody making half the average wage would be a burger flipper at Burger King, it should make you wonder at the quality of the goods being produced…

  9. *sigh* Libertarians are such heartless rubes. These workers *DESERVE* $15 an hour. You can read for yourself where that worker said she can’t get by. How is she supposed to afford her cell phone bill, internet service, Coach bag, daily Starbucks on the way to to work. I just… GAH!

    Glad I bought this free range, organic 6 pack of FDR’s Hard Smug Soda to help calm my nerves… *chug chug chug*

    1. Glad I bought this free range, organic 6 pack of FDR’s Hard Smug Soda to help calm my nerves… *chug chug chug*

      Stealing this one.

    2. Jone’s has a new competitor.

      1. Jone’s Barbeque and Footmassage?

  10. There has never been a time in history when more people have been lifted out of abject peasantry than over the past 15 years–which is how long it’s been since China joined the WTO and made its abundance of cheap, unskilled labor available to the world.

    Hundreds of millions of former peasants have gone from making less than a dollar a day to joining the world’s middle class in only fifteen years–and all because their government refused to “protect” their cheap labor from “exploitation”.

    1. “and all because their government refused to “protect” their cheap labor from “exploitation”.”

      um…no….but rather….

      “and all because their government decided to exploit their own uneducated lower class for the benefit of the country as a whole”

      China has terribly abused their ‘peasants’ while clawing up the world economic ladder. Granted…China doesn’t allow other countries or multinationals to abuse their cheap labor, but this is only so they can get the most out of it themselves.

      1. Calling the Chinese peasants uneducated is incorrect.

        Back during the boom, when companies were having trouble finding Chinese factory workers (mostly as a result of the one child policy), some companies started looking in India. India’s peasant population, however, is uneducated vis-a-vis China. One of the things the CCP got right was that it taught all the peasant children how to read and do some basic math–skills that are necessary for factory work. India didn’t do that. They put the emphasis on training STEM–and left their peasants illiterate. When Indian peasants are displaced by a factory, they can’t get jobs in that factory. Chinese peasants, on the other hand, were thoroughly employable in that situation–because they were so well educated.

        “China doesn’t allow other countries or multinationals to abuse their cheap labor, but this is only so they can get the most out of it themselves.”

        IF IF IF that were true, why would it be a bad thing?

        Employers only treat their employees well so they can get the most out of them–and that’s a bad thing?

        To whatever extent the government treats company employees well, it’s because they don’t want to alienate their employers–and that’s a bad thing?

        1. Wow. Are you actually questioning the abuse of the peasant class in China? You need to educate yourself.

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    1. Do the Sri Lankans know about this?

  12. “The Sun’s expos? [claims] that workers who make the singer’s new activewear brand, Ivy Park, are nothing more than “slaves” who earn 64 cents per hour.”

    Ever notice how progressive outrage is selective?

    You’d think comparing non-slavery to slavery would be extremely offensive to progressives.

    You get a free pass, though, if you’re doing it in the name of something progressive.

    I wonder if they’d get upset if animal rights activists referred to deer hunting season as a “holocaust”.

    1. I’m guessing deer season is “worse” when viewed through the prism of prog-logic!

  13. Related:
    “Pope declares ‘bloodsucker’ bosses who make ‘slaves’ of their workers and set unfair contracts are guilty of a mortal sin”
    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new…..z49Ctc5WRF

    1. I expect to see Eight, in theaters promptly. Hopefully, to save money on writers, they just squish Seven and 50 Shades Of Grey together and we end up with [*Spoiler Alert*] Dakota Johnson’s head in a box at the end. Alternatively, they could just make Saw IIX.

  14. Okay. I accept the argument that a shitty job is likely better than no job at all. But what if the countries where consumers bought the clothes required the manufacturers to ensure that some minimal standard is met – perhaps regarding safety, or child labor, or the like? Not necessarily even minimum wages.

    Wouldn’t that be something that could improve the workers’ lives even more than the shitty job does by itself?

    1. Tariffs are often used to that end. But rabid free-traders think that’s utter verboten.

      1. “Tariffs are often used to that end. But rabid free-traders think that’s utter verboten.”

        “Rabid free-traders” like people who aren’t stupid enough to fall for simplistic lies?

        1. What “simplistic lies” would those be? That free trade is always good and tariffs are always bad? You mean that “simplistic lie”?

    2. There are already groups who do this kind of certification and stores like Walmart and others require this before you can sell to them.

      Beyonc? is using the best factory in Sri Lanka for this reason. It probably passes some audits. Wonder if Vice left that out

    3. “But what if the countries where consumers bought the clothes required the manufacturers to ensure that some minimal standard is met – perhaps regarding safety, or child labor, or the like? Not necessarily even minimum wages.”

      Child labor, prison labor, etc. are already actively policed–especially by prominent brands like Apple and Wal*Mart. I believe there are already laws in effect on that, but more importantly, no consumer brand wants their brand name tarnished by association with child labor or prison labor. And that does far more to stop such abuses than any easily corrupted government regulations ever will.

      The other thing to remember is that imposing our own qualitative preferences on other people always ends in tears. I left home at 14 and worked my way through prep/boarding school. Between 14 and 16, I had to mostly work under the table. I’m sure people thought they were doing me a favor by making it so hard for me to find work. And for wanting to help me, I wish I could tell them all to go fuck themselves.

      Some of the meanest, nastiest things ever done to the poor have been done with “good intentions”, but if you’re trying to impose your own qualitative preferences on other people, then your intentions are not good. You’re an evil person. You don’t know that making a few dollars a day in a factory is a bad deal from other people’s perspectives, and you have no right to impose your personal qualitative preferences on them.

    4. “Okay. I accept the argument that a shitty job is likely better than no job at all.”

      Do you now?

      “But what if the countries where consumers bought the clothes required the manufacturers to ensure that some minimal standard is met”

      Because it sure seems like you don’t.

      If those requirements make the products too expensive the factories won’t be built, they won’t make anything, and those poor innocent indigenous peoples or whatever will have no job at all. No one is being forced to work in these factories. These are grown adults making rational choices with their lives. When your options are work in a rice paddy or beg on the streets of a third world shit hole of a country or work in the bright, shiny, and safe factory those weirdo Americans just built making twice or three times what other laborers make the choice is clear. These people work in this factory because they want a better life for themselves and their children, and all that extra money helps them get that. Nothing is more patronizing than some educated western git deciding that a person is better off destitute than “exploited”.

    5. So in other words what if the governments of the countries where consumers bought the products overrode the preferences of the workers and got them fired?

  15. Wouldn’t that be something that could improve the workers’ lives even more than the shitty job does by itself?

    What possible business is it of the government to tell you what kind of conditions your clothing manufacturer must have in a factory? That is between the consumer and the producer. If you don’t want to buy clothing made with little orphan hands that is your choice. Or are progressives not really about choice?

  16. This is a gross simplification on both sides of the argument.

    poor labor conditions and sweatshops are certainly a step on the development cycle. Has there been a western country that didn’t have sweatshops at some point? But there has to be an actual ‘development cycle’ for sweatshops to be arguable good. If this is the start of an incipient Sri Lankan garment industry, then bravo. The folks laboring in the factories will provide the necessary stepping stone for their kids and grandkids to enjoy a higher standard of living stemming from a developed industry.

    But….if the sweatshops only exist in Sri Lanka because there is cheap labor that can be taken advantage of, then no….the sweatshops are exploitive and should be broadly condemned. Because the minute the labor becomes less cheap, the factory will move on to the next third world impoverished country to take advantage of them.

    Details matter.

    1. …until there are no more low wage countries left. Details matter. Taiwan used to make clothes and now it doesn’t. As each country “graduates” the world is richer and overall global demand increases speeding along this process

      1. Taiwan is a poor example. They had a quite diverse economy at the point when the garment industry was booming, so a transition to higher value manufacturing was steady and easy. For them sweatshops were just a step on the path.

        But you didn’t at all address whether this is the case for Sri Lanka. Are sweatshops a step to a growing economy, or are they are temporary exploitation that will leave the workers with a closed factory, useless skills, and an utterly destroyed local economy. There are a multitude of examples of what happens when a community relies to much on a single employer and the consequence to that community when that is lost.

        As I said….it is not a simple good/bad as the author implies. The facts on the ground matter.

    2. They can be replaced with automation, too.

      You don’t seem to be considering the alternative. When all you have to offer is your physical labor, your options are limited. What they were doing before the factory came to town offered them less than what they’re doing in the factory.

      People leave subsistence farming and peasantry behind for factory work because they prefer factory work tp peasantry. Never mind the development records of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and China.

      You seem to be missing that the alternative for these workers is worse than the factory–and that’s why they’re choosing the factory. Regulating away their opportunity to escape peasantry is mean and nasty–regardless of your motives.

      1. I am considering the alternative. It is you who seem to fail to understand the details.

        Local agro economy. Dirt poor, unskilled labor. sucks, but stable, barely.

        Factory comes to town, employees the most capable, brings money into town. Agro-economy falls apart, loss of supply chain, infrastructure and skill sets.
        So what happens when factory leaves? The capable leave also, local agro-economy never recovers and community collapses. Not so good anymore.

        Sweatshops are fine if there is a net benefit to the community and investment in local skills and infrastructure accompanies it. If there is none of the latter, it is a problem and frankly you are pretty na?ve to not understand that.

    3. “Details matter.”

      Yes, they do, and your claims are false in particular as well as in general.
      “Because the minute the labor becomes less cheap, the factory will move on to the next third world impoverished country to take advantage of them.”
      And thereby serially improve the lives of people in country after country.

      1. wow. up your reading comprehension. I made no claims, I simply pointed out that this is not a one sided issue and is far more complex than the author pretends.

        Sweatshops are not always beneficial, “serially improving the lives of people”. This is na?ve and childish.

    4. “But….if the sweatshops only exist in Sri Lanka because there is cheap labor that can be taken advantage of, then no….the sweatshops are exploitive and should be broadly condemned. ”
      Nope, even if sweatshops were a permanent feature they’d still be better than the laternative or they couldn’t operate. So they’re a good feature regardless. Protip: If you have to use the word “exploitative” to condemn something, it’s not a bad thing.

  17. The gross monthly average income of a Sri Lankan is around 35,150.43 rupees. So, the sewing-machine operator, though not living on Jay-Z levels of subsistence, is faring better than most of her neighbours.

    Wow! So sweatshops turn out to be OK after all–because the pittance the workers at Beyonce’s sweatshops are paid is more princely than the pittance their neighbours up the street are being paid.

    By that yardstick I look forward to seeing Mr Harsanyi defend slavery as not so bad after all because slaves are at least getting something to eat each day plus a roof over their heads–in comparison to the penniless hobos across town who have to sleep outdoors and eat maybe two or three times a week. Since slaves are better off than hobos, ergo that must make slavery okey-dokey, right?

    1. “Wow! So sweatshops turn out to be OK after all–because the pittance the workers at Beyonce’s sweatshops are paid is more princely than the pittance their neighbours up the street are being paid.”

      Gee, how sophomoric of you!

    2. “Wow! So sweatshops turn out to be OK after all–because the pittance the workers at Beyonce’s sweatshops are paid is more princely than the pittance their neighbours up the street are being paid.”
      Yes and if poor people being paid more is not good enough for you then fuck you. If you have a better job off for them then make it otherwise shut the fuck up.

      “By that yardstick I look forward to seeing Mr Harsanyi defend slavery as not so bad after all because slaves are at least getting something to eat each day plus a roof over their heads”
      Except of course slaves aren’t getting anything they couldn’t get otherwise, because without slavery they’d have other, better, choices. Justifying economic choices has nothing to do with justifying coercion.

      “Since slaves are better off than hobos, ergo that must make slavery okey-dokey, right?”
      Except that it’s you making the claim that salves are better off than hobos, not us, so you’re the one justifying slavery.

  18. …the formation of unions now would almost certainly undermine MAS’s bid to make Western sportswear, and those jobs would move to Malaysia or Bangladesh or Pakistan.

    Unless, of course, Malaysia and Bangladesh and Pakistan also had unions.

    Frankly, I am surprised that a libertarian site like reason.com would be bashing trade unions given that trade unions are an exercise of the same freedom of association which allows people to form chambers of commerce, public companies, and political parties while a country is better off withOUT trade unions is a bedfellow of the strain of authoritarianism which restricts the formation of political parties or public companies.

    1. Bashing trade unions? No.

      Bashing trade unions with compulsory membership for employment? Yes. This is not freedom of association.

      1. And trade unions practicing thuggery to keep non-union workers off a strike site?
        You BET!

        1. And sabotaging non-union worksites? Although to be fair, I’m sure the Chamber of Commerce does the exact same thing. Don’t they?

        2. @Sevo: So you are using the chicanery of some trade unions to tar and feather ALL unions. By that yardstick you might well use the chicanery of some of some businesses (e.g. the banks which caused the crash of 2008) to smear ALL banks and corporations in general.

      2. This is not freedom of association.

        Indeed not! But you may have noticed that Harsanyi isn’t bashing the unions of Sri Lanka for being closed shops or any other such chicanery. He is bashing their mere existence by claiming Sri Lankans would be better without unions of ANY sort. That is the equivalent of him claiming Sri Lankan business would be better off without the Sri Lankan chamber of commerce (or its equivalent).

    2. I’m kinda surprised that an libertarian in America would give two fucks about trade unions or the lack thereof in BFE… outside of the price they pay for a t-shirt.

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  20. RE: Beyonc?’s ‘Sweatshops’ Help the Poor

    We all know it is better to let these people in Bangladesh to starve to death then work in a sweat shop.
    Just ask any millionaire socialist who is for social justice.

  21. As someone living in Sri Lanka, the claim that MAS factories are Sweatshops is ridiculous. The entire sun story and the ensuing nonsense is just stupid
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  23. I can’t say for sure, but my guess is if it were say, Donald Trump, that was useing sweat shops people like Beyonc? and her ilk would have a problem with it. As would the entire left and the media. Like Leonardo De Caprio flying 1000s of miles in a private jet to preach to us about “global warming”, if you support left wing causes and democrats you can get away with hypocrisy.

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