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Global Labor Justice and the Limits of Economic Analysis

  • Joshua Preiss (a1)
Abstract:

This article considers the economic case for so-called sweatshop wages and working conditions. My goal is not to defend or reject the economic case for sweatshops. Instead, proceeding from a broadly pluralist understanding of value, I make and defend a number of claims concerning the ethical relevance of economic analysis for values that different agents utilize to evaluate sweatshops. My arguments give special attention to a series of recent articles by Benjamin Powell and Matt Zwolinski, which represent the latest and best defense of the economic case for sweatshops. In the process, I challenge Zwolinski’s “non-worseness claim” (NWC), and the idea that opposition to sweatshop wages and working conditions fails to respect that the autonomy of would-be sweatshop workers. Ultimately, I conclude that even if the economic case for sweatshops rests on a solid empirical foundation, agents possess good reason to advocate for better wages and working conditions for sweatshop workers, and to prefer less exploitative or coercive relationships. Sweatshop labor undermines a compelling vision of free markets, according to both Kantian and republican conceptions of freedom, and the relationships formed by those who participate in such markets.

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