Many people perceive “exploitation” of working people in poor parts of the world as a problem; and because in poor countries, child labor is typically quite common, it is no wonder that this article is also about children.
I wrote an article about Child labor (to the Extremes) a year ago; readers’ reactions were rather emotional than rational, as this is a relatively sensitive topic. Now I would like to do something quite similar. Many people perceive “exploitation” of working people in poor parts of the world as a problem; and because in poor countries, child labor is typically quite common, it is no wonder that this article is also about children. For example, I have a friend who does not want to buy certain products made by desperate people in appalling conditions; appalling compared to conditions we are used to here and now.
And what do I mean by the word “exploitation”? Well, for the purpose of this article, let’s skip the Marxist theories of surplus value; by “exploitation” I mean what is commonly meant today when some companies import products from third world countries that were made by people much poorer than we are, so they did not have to pay them too much. The law of supply and demand applies everywhere, so where there is little to eat, people will be glad to work in the heat with poisonous fumes for a loaf of bread, while in the rich Europe of the twenty-first century, many despise a job as a cashier while saying it is slavery; and by the way, I do not find anything bad on that job, I was also working that way until I had better working opportunities.
For a person that thinks rationally, just one argument (defending those who “exploit”) could be enough: If the employees work voluntarily for the employer (if the employer does not force them to work for him, which would be seriously condemnable slavery), then he is just helping them, because he improves their situation. How come? Well, only the fact that someone takes a job voluntarily (even if it is a job with bad conditions) means that his situation was improved (otherwise he wouldn’t take the job). I do not say that such worker is doing well, but thanks to his employer he is doing better than without him; of course, working sixteen hours a day with toxic environment is certainly not good, but it is probably better than dying of hunger (at least for the person who accepted the job; if it was not the case, he would rather starve).
By purchasing products made in third world countries under horrible conditions, we do not harm those people, on the contrary, we help them; this implies, among other things, that various attempts to sabotage firms that “exploit” poor people, ultimately harm those people even more. Why? Well, if the demand for things produced in the third world countries increases, then the motivation for entrepreneurs to start a business and compete with other companies also increases, and that is ultimately good for their employees; on the contrary, if the demand is smaller, then the opposite effect happens – the law of supply and demand applies regardless of whether we like it or not. By not buying some products just because they were produced by kids in Asia, and you rather buy something else produced in Europe in compliance with hygiene and safety conditions, you will cause little more poverty for those children you compassion with.
Not to mention that “appalling working conditions” is a very relative term; working conditions are mostly related to living conditions, which depends on how rich the society is. Previously, even in Europe when it was not a very rich place (compared with today’s Europe), the working conditions were often also quite terrible; they improved after the Industrial Revolution, although many people believe in the opposite (mostly because the Industrial Revolution is associated with child labor – which we are told in schools – while the fact that children had been working hard in the fields from dawn to dusk before is ignored). The peak of ignorance, in my opinion, is when people swear at employers from different time or place for not providing working conditions comparable with the current ones; whether it is demonizing factory owners from the 19th century or companies that now employ workers from developing countries.
For a better understanding... Let’s imagine a very advanced civilization of aliens who are no longer doing manual labor (they see it as something torturous and cruel), as it is only done by robots in their world; this society is extremely resource-rich and travels through space. Imagine that once they arrive at Earth, some find that they are pleased to be served by human waitresses in restaurants; when we take into account the enormous wealth they have, such waitresses will be paid, for example, a 50 000 dollars per month. Logically, many people will have an enormous interest in this job and will be happy for it. When suddenly... many aliens will try to make these restaurants go bankrupt to protect people; after all, it is unacceptable for the waitresses to be tortured there by physical labor for such a ridiculous wage!
The above example is a very accurate analogy; although for these aliens, physical work is almost a torture and something totally unacceptable, it is quite common for us at our stage of technological development, not to mention that being a waiter for 50 000 dollars a month is a dream job for many people. Why? Simply because compared to other working possibilities, this is the best one; it is exactly the same with workers from developing countries, who can work either for some European or American company for (from our perspective) little money in (from our perspective) terrible conditions, or they can be without job starving, or they can do even something worse. A completely absurd, arrogant and, above all, ignorant approach to the whole thing is when someone does not compare the offered job with the other offers near the place those people live in, but rather with other offers that are here, which they cannot accept; it is exactly the same if someone was trying to forbid employing a waitress for 50 000 dollars a month, because in his civilization it would be a terrible job, while ignoring that she would otherwise do something worse.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that, that although we may find the working conditions in some parts of the world appalling from our point of view, we should not forget about their other possibilities; if they voluntarily choose a job, it means that from their point of view it is the best choice they have (if they knew about a better offer, they would choose that one). Fighting against them having this possibility can only harm them; if you want to help them, then buy the goods they produce, increase market demand for it and that will cause competition to grow. And that would actually improve their conditions.
Who is him?
Urza is Czech anarcho-capitalist author, he has written about thousand of libertarian texts on the web and printed media and also the first Czech book on anarcho-capitalism. He lectures at schools and conferences, made a number of videos and is often invited to many discussions.