Sweatshop Regulation and Workers’ Choices
The choice argument against sweatshop regulations states that public officials should not prohibit workers from accepting jobs that require long hours, low pay, and poor working conditions, because enforcing such regulations would be disrespectful to the workers who choose to work in sweatshops. Critics of the choice argument reply that these regulations can be justified when workers only choose to work in sweatshops because they lack acceptable alternatives and are unable to coordinate to achieve better conditions for all workers. My thesis is that the presence of unacceptable alternatives to sweatshop labor or barriers to coordination cannot justify sweatshop regulations such as minimum wage and maximum hour laws. Although officials should promote alternatives to difficult and dangerous sweatshop labor, they should not do so by limiting workers’ and employers’ options through coercive regulation. And the fact that sweatshop workers may face coordination problems does not undermine the claim that sweatshop workers choose to work in sweatshops, just as other workers face coordination problems but nevertheless make occupational choices. Furthermore, efforts to restrict sweatshop workers’ choices are morally risky and may not promote workers’ wellbeing or wellbeing in general.
KeywordsSweatshops Autonomy Labor Regulation Wages Wellbeing
I thank the editor, two anonymous referees, Javier Hidalgo, Chris Freiman, Haley Harwell, Gordon Sollars, and participants in the “Freedom and Justice in the Workplace” panel at the 2016 International Leadership Association meeting for helpful comments on prior drafts of this paper. I thank Elizabeth DeBusk-Maslanka for editing assistance.
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