In reading Maitland's "The Great Non- Debate Over International Sweatshops," examine if he presents the charges against sweatshops adequately and rebuts them.  Assess if this is an example of what...

In reading Maitland's "The Great Non- Debate Over International Sweatshops," examine if he presents the charges against sweatshops adequately and rebuts them.  Assess if this is an example of what is right or wrong with Capitalism as an economic system.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Maitland does present the arguments against the sweatshops in a fairly accurate manner.  Maitland does not run from the charges levied against the sweatshops such as "child labor" and "abuses of human rights."  I think that he relies a bit too much on the idea that those who wish to bring awareness to the situation are sensationalist and doing this for publicity.  His words about Kernaghen's efforts in this realm seem to suggest a desire for media coverage: "[t]his image, accusations of oppressive conditions at the factory and the Claiborne logo played well on that evening's network news."  While he is right in that media coverage of the sweatshop "plays well," it does not take away from a problem that exists.

Maitland's rebuttal against the claims are driven by peripheral persuasion in which he hopes that the reader accepts his premise of affirming classical liberalism.  For example, he critiques the argument that the sweatshop lacks a "livable wage" by suggesting that sweatshop wages "are comparable wages in the labor markets where they operate:

According to the International Labor Organization
(ILO), multinational companies often apply standards relating to wages, benefits, conditions of work, and occupational safety and health, which both exceed statutory requirements and those practiced by local firms.

In another critique, Maitland argues that workers who work in such areas as sweatshops fulfill the tenets of economic liberalism if they choose to do so out of their own free will.  Maitland cites the World Bank as a source for this analysis:  "The appropriate level is therefore that at which the costs are commensurate with the value that informed workers place on improved working conditions and reduced risk."  In Maitland's eyes, the idea that the workers are pawns of "evil capitalists" reduces their autonomy and sense of choice, the very essence of the argument against the sweatshops in the first place.

Maitland's conclusion is one that affirms the marketplace as the realm where the issue of sweatshops must be resolved.  He cites examples where action taken to "improve the conditions of the marketplace" have contained "tragic consequences."  Using economic analysis, Maitland is able to affirm the marketplace's power to self- correct, embracing classical liberal approaches.  In this, Maitland suggests that if one really wishes to improve the life of the workers in question, they will support the market in self correction and ensure that it is ethically appropriate to embrace not exceeding market standards in the name of economic understanding.

What Maitland fails to really address is how the obscene levels of wealth that companies who employ sweatshops generate come at the cost of dire poverty.  Maitland places faith in the marketplace, but there is a point in which metrics other than the marketplace can be used to determine if action is needed.  Metrics such as keeping an eye to the maintenance of the social order or even seeking to demand that businesses allocate profits for other socially conscientious ventures are ignored in his analysis. Can the marketplace put a value on the psychological damage involved in child labor?  This faith in the capitalist metric of the market is where the discourse regarding how to improve capitalism must take place.  Problems aside, the globalized world has embraced it and thus finding ways to improve it becomes the responsibility and crucible faced in the 21st Century.