I don’t believe any good Catholic would say they are happy with the situation of so many sweatshops operating in China et al. The problem is what to do (or not do) about it. I am giving my students a research project premised on a single sentence- “How can I avoid buying sweatshop products?”. We are simultaneously studying the good Pope Benedict XVI’s “Caritas In Veritate”- specifically paragraphs #21, 22, 25, 27, 35, 36, 37, 38, 40, 41, 44, 48, 49, 51, 60, 63, 64, 65, 75, and 76. You can follow along at home!
The point being that the current situation of having an American/global economy so heavily dependent on the backs of people living decidedly unfree existences in backwards and/or police states- this is not moral and it is not sustainable. It is akin to the overt slave economy. This may be an issue that involves a lot of prudential judgments- but if your son or daughter or mine was facing a lifetime of working in a sweatshop with little hope of having the freedom to organize with other workers, or having a shot at a living wage, a safe workplace environment etc.. I think we would all call the world to a halt and demand something better- and fast.
The Free Market/Free Trade scheme isn’t consistent if the human beings, the workers, are not also free to move about the world without being taxed, tarriffed, or otherwise harassed. And most everyone would declare that having a borderless world for people would be most impractical. Well, if corporations are legal persons then perhaps they should be regulated like people who are interested in immigrating.
And just like with health insurance, I think it behooves us to see that we are living in a new Barbarian Age, and so the churches must step in and organize some of the material world to make it more just and livable- with fair trade opportunities developed between brother and sister parishes around the world- as CRS is doing on a modest scale.
I would welcome any suggestions for locating solutions for an end to the sweatshop economy that is global and keeping competition between workers one pushes wages and living standards down while disparities in wealth increase between and inside most countries participating.