We are living in globalization era! People are much more connected than ever before! As Mark Zuckerberg calls it, we are advancing human potential; we can connect with the world and access every idea, person and opportunity. But also, it means that not only individual people are able to connect to outer world but countries as well. With the rise of economic liberalism, economies of the world became very closely connected. Now most of the things in supermarkets are produced somewhere else in a foreign country. Markets are connected. Production is connected. Labour is connected. But not workers’ rights. Many people around the globe still have to work in similar conditions like in sweatshops or even in sweatshops itself.

Sweatshop is a term which refers to factories or workshops where workers are employed at very low wages under poor conditions. The workers may be children or adults who work very long hours, sometimes difficult and dangerous jobs in a place where laws may be violated.

Between 1850 and 1900, sweatshops had become pretty common in the industrial world, namely London and American cities on the east coast. With the rise of migration, manufacturers understood that they can employ immigrants in low paid jobs and do not bother about working conditions in factories because, in many cases, immigrants were glad to get any job at any wage, no matter how low. Also, the changes in social and economic conditions which led to rapid population growth produced a large population of people who were willing to accept any job at any conditions, even it would neglect the worker.

However, many things have changed since then. Workers started to struggle and express their dissatisfaction about working conditions. With the rise of democracy after mid 20th century, it seemed that things are getting better because workers gained more and more rights. However, it was an illusion, because most of the improvements in workers’ rights happened only in developed countries. Sweatshops have not been abolished globally to this day and workers in many countries around the world still struggle with their rights, even though they are working for corporations from developed countries. As Ravenhill (2013) argues, globalization enables corporations to relocate in places where they can find workers which they can mistreat and keep under poor conditions, thus lowering costs and maximizing profits.

It is not strange that Ravenhill states such a thing because throughout the past 20 years, there have been designed many international economic agreements, such as NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement), TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), the establishment of the WTO (World Trade Organization) and the attempt to agree on a Multilateral Agreement on Investment at the OECD, to liberalize economic activity, where  non-business social interests tried to influence the content, but was unsuccessful (O’Brien and Williams, 2013). As  O’Brien and Williams (2013) argue, it is very difficult to bolster labour rights in a globalizing and liberalizing economic world because it is just not suitable for global corporations.

Therefore, we have examples, like these:

  • The Walt Disney is the world’s second largest media conglomerate which focuses on entertaining children.  Paradoxically, The Walt Disney uses as well children labour. It has sweatshops in China, Haiti and Bangladesh where clothing for the company are produced. The workers are being paid less ten 50cents per hour, working long hours in poor conditions and may be as young as 14 years old (Chamberlain G., 2011).
  • Apple is a technology giant. Everybody knows iPhones, iPads, iPods and etc. However, not everybody knows that those devices were produced under illegal and abusive conditions in Chinese factories. As China Labour Watch claimed, workers are working without adequate protective equipment, at risk from chemicals, noise and lasers, for an average of 69 hours a week (Garside J. and Arthur C., 2013).

To conclude, I believe that with the greater connectedness comes the greater responsibility because now we are able to see, able to reach, able to influence. The world is still and will ever be in developing stage and there are many things to do because workers  around the world are still being exploited  and with global corporation unwillingness to change it, it will never change. However, as O’Brien and Williams (2013) explains, corporation activities can be influenced either by the state or the market. Therefore, ordinary people can influence corporations by influencing the state and the market.

Renatas Makarovas

References:

Chamberlain G. (2011) Disney factory faces probe into sweatshop suicide claims. The Guardian. [Online] Available from:  http://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/aug/27/disney-factory-sweatshop-suicide-claims [Accessed: 2015-12-07]

Garside J. and Arthur C. (2013) Workers rights ‘flouted’ apple iPhone Plant. The Guardian. [Online] Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/05/workers-rights-flouted-apple-iphone-plant [Accessed: 2015-12-07]

O’Brien R. and Williams M. (2013) Global political Economy. 4th edition. Palgrave Macmillan. 195 – 198p.

Ravenhill, J.  (2013)  Global Political Economy. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press. 126 – 127p.

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