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Sweatshops, Choice, and Exploitation

  • Matt Zwolinski

This paper argues that sweatshop workers’ choices to accept the conditions of their employment are morally significant, both as an exercise of their autonomy and as an expression of their preferences. This fact establishes a moral claim against interference in the conditions of sweatshop labor by third parties such as governments or consumer boycott groups. It should also lead us to doubt those who call for MNEs to voluntarily improve working conditions, at least when their arguments are based on the claim that workers have a moral right to such improvement. These conclusions are defended against three objections: 1) that sweatshop workers’ consent to the conditions of their labor is not fully voluntary, 2) that sweatshops’ offer of additional labor options is part of an overall package that actually harms workers, 3) that even if sweatshop labor benefits workers, it is nevertheless wrongfully exploitative.

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