Ethics and Sweatshops Essay Sample
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Introduction of TOPIC
Companies want to maximize profits, while employees want to maximize salaries and benefits. Unfortunately these two desires do not always go hand in hand. The best way for a company to treat its employee how they wish to be treated. Make decisions that are in the best interest of all stakeholders. The Golden Rule still holds true. Companies have a responsibility to its employees and employees have a responsibility to its employer. When leadership treats its workers unfairly, by overworking them and underpaying them in unsafe conditions it is unethical. Allowing sweatshop conditions to continue while you profit, is not displaying leadership or ethical values. The culture of a company is established from the head down. Leadership has the responsibility to incorporate ethical behavior into the fabric of the company.
A company’s culture impacts not only the employees, but the community in which it operates and the communities where their employees live. When one hears the term sweatshop, typically, underprivileged, dirty conditions, and underpaid children are what comes to mind. The website Dictionary.com (2012) defines sweatshops this way, “a workshop where employees work long hours under bad conditions for low wages.” A sweatshop is a workplace in which workers are employed at low wages and perhaps under unhealthy or oppressive conditions. The work is often monotonous and the term gives the connotation of the workers sweating throughout their shifts for the benefit of company profit. As the demand for consumer goods increased during the industrial age, sweatshops increased. Once trade barriers were lowered the trend accelerated. Countries around the world have national laws which limit how much and under what conditions children can work. There are international agreements that prohibit children from doing work that is hazardous, prevents them from going to school, or harms their health and development.
Sweatshops are not specific to Asia or Mexico which are the locations we usually hear about in the news. Sweatshops exist wherever there is an opportunity to exploit workers who lack the knowledge and resources to stand up for themselves. The U.S. is no exception as garment factories have been notorious for violating basic labor laws. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as any factory that violates two or more labor laws (veganpeace.com, para. 1). Typical sweatshop employees are young, female, or undereducated. The absence of a living wage, extreme work hours, intimidation and verbal abuse are commonplace in sweatshops. Often the sweatshop environment is unsafe and workers are handling toxins unaware. Laws, regulations, and monitoring can improve working conditions, but are not global, and therefore ineffective in stopping sweatshops. Changing regulations in one region has not proven successful in halting sweatshop practices. According to the website GreenAmerica.com (2012), “companies don’t always let their sweatshop factories stay in one place, if they can shift their manufacturing to ever-cheaper and less-regulated locations.
For example, according to Green America’s website (2012), the number of sweatshops in Mexico soared in the 1990s after NAFTA enticed companies to close their US operations and move south. The sweatshops are subcontracted. When contracted prices are driven down so low that factories are unable to pay legal wages or comply with safety laws, the company sweats the profits out of their workers by possibly cutting corners, or leaving the workshops in unsafe conditions. Additionally, workers are not only paid less than a living wage, it could be even lower than minimum wage. A living wage differs from minimum wage by enabling workers to cover the cost of basic needs, such as food, shelter, and health care; minimum wages usually do not cover these costs. In some instances workers might not get paid for overtime or paid on time at all. Some factories have dormitories for the worker to live in. By providing dormitories the workers are readily available to work when needed, but are paid less because rent is taken directly from their wages.
When business leaders are ethical they create an ethical environment and ethical company culture. The ethical environment fostered by leadership encourages ethical workers to act ethically; at the same time, it stops unethical people from doing bad things. This should translate into fewer instances of sweatshops being used to manufacture products. According to Hartman and DesJardins (2011), “ethics is normative, which means that it deals with our reasoning about how we should act” (p. 13). Business ethics is a code of behavior a business consistently follows while doing business. Business ethics not only applies to how a company interacts with its customers, but with society as a whole. Businesses are at their root about making money, and this is not unethical.
However, how companies makes money is what causes ethical issues to arise. An ethic company knowingly doing business with an unethical company put its company at risk of taking on its actions and identity. Intentionally seeking out locations with the lowest human rights protections because it translates into lowest cost and wages is unethical. Human rights are universal. As Hartman and DesJardins (2011) state, “the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights list more than 26 human rights that are universal” (p. 115). The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights article mentions how we should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. It also states in another article that we all have the right to equal pay for equal work, without discrimination. The articles speak of just and favorable compensation for an existence with human dignity (p. 113). The challenge is applying the theory of human rights to real life situations such as sweatshops.
Ethical issues and human rights concerns arise with manufacturing sweatshops overseas because children are often exploited to work from a very young age or adults earn mere pennies. Other human rights issues concern discriminatory practices against women, certain races and even sexual orientation within the workplace. Most people have grown accustomed to seeing the Fair Trade label on certain manufactured goods and then assume that the company selling them is ethically sound. However, this label is not a guarantee sweatshops were not involved in manufacturing. The Fair Trade label is an indication the company follows part of a program designed to guarantee fair and stable prices, local sustainability and fair trade for farmers and agricultural workers in developing countries alongside guaranteeing decent and safe working conditions. However, a Fair Trade label does not mean a product is environmentally friendly, and it cannot guarantee the product or some portion of the product was not made in a sweatshop.
U.S. companies that use foreign suppliers, whose labor standards are far lower than our manufacturers are in a sense accused of supporting, condoning, and perpetuating sweatshop practices for the sake of profits. The issue of using overseas manufacturing has recently come back under the microscope with the XXX Olympics when it was discovered the U.S. uniforms were manufactured abroad. It has been the world has become smaller, meaning, because of technology, and lower trade barriers. In an interview on CNN, the New York designer Nanette Lepore said American manufacturers could certainly have made the Olympic apparel, noting there are “factories just dying for this kind of an opportunity.” Ms. Lepore, who said she manufactures all her clothes in the United States, said producing clothes abroad is not much cheaper than making them at home. “Because we’re representing America, this is an opportunity to show off our manufacturing skills,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be because it’s cheaper” (p. 1, International Herald Tribune).
The decisions business leaders make reflect their personal integrity and impact society. According to the normative approach businesses must considers being fair, just, and trustworthy in order to be ethical. With the normative approach there is an assumption of underlying values. Maxwell says about Leviticus 18, “God reviews His higher standards regarding relationships, religion, and the rights and responsibilities of community members” (p. 139). Maxwell goes on to explain how the standards are even higher for those in leadership positions. For this reason, it is imperative the leadership embrace ethical values. If the values or under
lying beliefs of a company are not ethical, then the responses to the normative approach will not be
Social ethics is another approach to consider. Hartman and DesJardins (2011) argue social ethics, “it raises questions of justice, public policy, law, civic virtues, organizational structure, and political philosophy” (p. 15). Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) urges companies to examine their decisions from a social aspect and consider their decisions impact on all stakeholders instead of just themselves (p. 15). According to Mark McDonald’s article Olympic Uniforms: An XXL Issue in America is S in China (2012), “Ralph Lauren outfitted U.S. teams in the past two Olympics — Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010. All those uniforms were made abroad, but drew considerably less outcry than the recent made-in-China revelations. There is a U.S. election coming up, of course, which complicates things, and unemployment remains high” (p. 1, International Herald Tribune). There is no indication the U.S. Olympic uniforms were made in sweatshop conditions, however, the idea of the uniforms being made abroad stirs up questions of the conditions in addition to the loss opportunity for American workers. Although, sweatshop practices may be an accepted practice in business, we who are called have to remember that we are in this world, but not of this world.
Our ethical values should be shaped by our desire to be like God. The scrutiny Ralph Lauren is undergoing is not new to U.S. companies. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Nike was also the target of controversy. Nike was criticized because of its use of sweatshops in developing countries to make their products more cheaply. Nike was of course not the only company to come under fire, but they received huge negative press possibly because they were thought to target low-income children with high priced products. This is unlike Walmart, how has also come under scrutiny, but discounts its products passing on savings from cheap labor. This is not to say overseas manufacturing is evil. What should be kept in mind is many products used daily in the U.S. are manufactured overseas. In recent news Apple has announced that an outside organization is conducting an audit on the working conditions of the plants where their products are built. One article, Overseas factory abuses are a PR nightmare for US companies by: Richard Nicolazzo (2012) says, “The news comes on the heels of stories in The New York Times and a 60 Minutes piece that sharply criticized the ‘notorious’ Foxconn City plant in Shenzhen, China, which human rights advocates claim 230,000 employees are subjected to long hours, coerced overtime, and other deplorable working conditions. Not surprisingly, Foxconn disputes the allegations” (p. 1). According to Nicolazzo (2012), “How bad is it?
The 60 Minutes story showed video of nets surrounding the building to prevent suicidal workers from plunging to their deaths from the roof” (p. 1). He also cites, “Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Last year, two explosions at iPad factories killed four and injured 77” (p. 1). Companies conduct product quality inspections of their overseas suppliers. There are also companies that conduct audits of overseas suppliers for working conditions. Some of the auditing groups conducting inspections are partly funded by American companies such as the Fair Labor Association (FLA). Nicolazzo’s article points out, “Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, has been quoted as saying, ‘The FLA is part of a corporate social responsibility industry that’s totally compromised. The auditing has proven to be weak, and real solutions need a lot more than auditing. It takes empowering workers’.” (p. 2)
In order to ensure ethical treatment of workers corporations should have inspections conducted by completely independent organizations. There need to be certain benchmarks to measure against. Having independent organizations inspect factories and farms that allow auditors to speak directly with employees, get a better picture of the working conditions. Once inspections are completed, follow-up inspections should be conducted regularly in order to ensure the necessary improvements are made. In general, most people want to do business with companies where supplier’s employees are treated humanely. Failing to make efforts to ensure ethical treatment of the people working to build a company’s profit is risky. Missing the mark in corporate responsibility can cost companies money and customers. When this occurs all stakeholders lose. The New York Times by Charles Duhigg and Kieth Bradsher Published: January 21, 2012How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work “Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. ‘The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,’ the executive said. ‘There’s no American plant that can match that’.” (p. A1). It is morally unacceptable to not look for alternatives to sweatshops. Our convictions are what we should use as our guide toward the right path. Setting standards that speak to our ethics means making changes when necessary. This cannot be done unless one is willing to take steps to evaluate themselves and their company practices. One popular tool which can be used is a SWOT analysis. This exercise gives one an opportunity to put in writing what it sees as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Since a SWOT looks at internal and external aspects, it is a valuable tool to identify needed changes. Aspects to consider in order to move away from a sweatshop culture are fairness, safety, generosity, value, respect, and responsibility.
Our standards should be to care for the interest of others, develop others for leadership, be good stewards by properly managing finances, be honest, and live with integrity. Considering all levels of employees with a company a team can change the dynamics of the culture. According to Maxwell, Paul worked at team building with a diverse group. Paul talked to the Ephesians about the attitude they had corporately. He could also be considered a coach (p. 1464). Another leader we see in the Bible is Moses. Maxwell outlines lessons of leadership we can learn from Moses, one of which is to share the load. He states, “Moses chose to set his ego aside and share his leadership responsibilities with others. He would give them both the responsibility and authority to do the work; the task now became a team effort” (p. 205). In order to accomplish the vision the people had to work together as a team. There needs to be trust among the team that comes from knowing them individually, cooperation, common vision, and strong leadership.
Jesus, the great servant-leader has shown us how. He sets the standard. There is a need to develop real alternatives for working children and their families. Some feel the people is sweatshops are choosing to do so, and therefore consenting to the working conditions. Being employed in this way is often a choice between sweatshops and starving. Corporations set up sweatshops with the reasoning that they are needed to compete. But the reality is corporations are making a profit and simply want even more of a profit. If CEO’s took even a small pay cut, they could afford to pay their workers a living wage. A slight decrease in advertising budgets could be the alternative needed to increase wages of factory workers. Companies may say they are victims of the global economy when, but the reality is, these same companies help create and maintain this system that encourages sweatshops. Employers must keep in mind that employees are real people, and not property. Employers have a responsibility to ensure safe working conditions.
Fair wages based on industry averages is a realistic expectation for employees. A benefit packages that allow the company to remain in business, and helps employees maintain their health is a win for all parties. Employers and employees have basic responsibilities to each other. We all owe one another dignity, respect, safety, fair pay, and our best work, regardless of our position in the company. This means sweatshop conditions would not be acceptable for children or adults. People deserve to be paid a living wage, meaning enough to meet their basic needs and help them towards a better future. The alternative is to educate employees about their rights. All people have the right to education. Withholding the opportunity for education from a child is unethical, and sure to continue a cycle of poverty for them and their children. Allowing people to advocate for their rights without the fear of retaliation is a means to combatting sweatshops. It take government and non-government groups working together to make change. We need full disclosure of how people are treated, how much people are paid, and where products are made. Having independent groups, outside of the industry, monitor for conditions and pay will help end sweatshop environments.
A stakeholder is a member of a group whose support is necessary for the company to continue to do business. In other words, a stakeholder is any group that has a vested interest in operations of the company. Leadership, employees, the environment, and customers are all stakeholders. If leadership creates an ethical company culture, the employees are positively impacted, the environment is considered when conducting business, developing products and disposing of waste. Leaders influence their followers to behave in a certain way. If leadership is strong ethically, the company’s manager, supervisors, and even subcontractors can be influenced to act ethically as well. Customers can also be considered a stakeholder because we have influence on the business. Customers are an important asset to companies, and we can advocate for change by affecting the financial status of the company with our purchase choices. The media and special interest groups could also be stakeholders. If customers stand up and demand change, change happens.
We all benefit from purchasing products made ethically that generate income for families here in the U.S or abroad. When one suffers, we all suffer, directly or indirectly. Ethics is a lifestyle. Ethics cannot be put into different categories based on work or home. Unethical behavior in business is unethical behavior in home life. Our actions follow us from the workplace and into our communities and extended family. The Golden Rule says that we are to do unto other as we would have them do unto us. This could mean inconvenience, less profit, or reporting unethical behavior of others. We must ask ourselves what our ethics are revolved around; purity, nobility, trustworthiness, holiness. We are simply stewards, the earth and the fullness thereof belongs to God. We must keep in mind that we are children of God and so are our employees. Our responsibility as humans and Christians is to act with integrity and in all that we do, do it as if unto the Lord.
Charles Duhigg and Kieth Bradsher (2012). The New York Times, January 21, 2012. How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. (p. A1). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all Dictionary.com n.d (2012). Dictionary.com., Web. 29 July 2012. http://dictionary.reference.com/. Green America’s Ending Sweatshops Program: What to Know. (n.d.): n. pag. Green America’s Ending Sweatshops Program: What to Know. Web. 01 Aug. 2012. http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/sweatshops/whattoknow.cfm. Hartman, L., & DesJardins, J. (2011). Business ethics: Decision-making for personal integrity & social responsibility. (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: McGraw Hill/Irwin. John C. Maxwell, ed., Maxwell Leadership Bible, Second Edition 2007, Maxwell Motivation, Inc. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Mark McDonald’s article Olympic Uniforms: An XXL Issue in America is S in China (2012) International Herald Tribune. http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/16/olympic-uniforms-an-xxl-issue-in-america-is-s-in-china/?ref=china Nicolazzo, Richard (2012). Overseas Factory Abuses Are a PR Nightmare for US Companies. PR Week. Op Ed, n.d. Web. 24 July 2012. http://www.nicolazzo.com/na-press-files/Overseas%20factory%20abuses%20are%20a%20PR%20nightmare%20for%20US%20companies%20-%20PRWeek%20US_3.2.12.pdf.