Sweatshop Economics Must Not Continue

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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.


49 Responses to Sweatshop Economics Must Not Continue

  • Blackadder says:

    No doubt the conditions in so-called sweatshops are often horrible. You won’t improve the lot of anyone in the developing world, however, buy declining to buy products produced in sweatshops, or by trying to get them shut down. Jobs with low pay and poor conditions exist because the people who work there don’t have any better options, and you generally don’t help a person by taking away his best option, however awful in an absolute sense.

    In my post yesterday, I noted that global poverty and inequality has declined significantly over recent decades. It’s not clear that that would have happened absent sweatshops, a fact that should be borne in mind.

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Assuming free choice is involved, Blackladder is correct. In other words, there is an important difference between sweatshop labor resulting from laborers selecting the best of unattractive options versus laborers who have no other legal option because they are slaves, and slave labor does exist in some parts of the world. Historical economists who have studied the sweatshops of newly industrialized Great Britain now pretty much all agree that as bad as those environments were they actually provided the workers with a superior standard of living than their other options, which were often simple starvation. Widespread starvation has been a normal condition throughout world history until very recently. Hobbes was wrong in many things, but his description of life as nasty, brutish, and short was spot on correct for most people throughout the world well into the 20th century. Many things have contributed to economic progress, but probably the most important are free markets protected by the rule of law. I certainly agree that there can be necessary and appropriate regulation of markets, but many well-intended regulations advanced by social reformers have produced adverse unintended consequences that dwarf the social affliction they were designed to remedy.
    The botton line is that not buying goods from companies that employ workers in sweatshop conditions may help wealthier workers in developed nations and may even make one feel good, but it probably hurts those who are already the most vulnerable.

  • Your overall aim here is clearly good, and I think people are certainly right to want to see conditions in third world factories get better. Two things that might be worth keeping in mind:

    1) Often in an effort to “keep from buying from sweatshops” people simply avoid all products made in third world countries. They assume that if a shirt was made in Indonesia, it must have been made under inhuman conditions. In most cases, however, they have no way of knowing, so what they end of doing is simply punishing Indonesians in general, rather punishing bad factories and buying from good ones. (On the flip side, such movements are seldom wide-spread enough to have any real effect, so I suppose one could argue that their attempt to boycott the third world isn’t hurting anyone that much.)

    2) The video if factually incorrect that globalization has lowered wages in poor countries overall. It may be correct that wages have fallen in Mexico since NAFTA, but Mexico was manufacturing products for the US long before then. Since the early ’90s, Mexico has in turn seen low end manufacturing jobs move farther south to Nicaragua, Hunduras, Colombia, etc. and across the Pacific to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. (Further, Mexico is actually a market for goods made in Asia and elsewhere; it’s not just in the US that cheap shirts made in China are being sold, but in Mexico too.) Overall wages have increased, not decreased in globalization. The problem is just that they are often increasing from very, very low levels.

  • Tim Shipe says:

    I can only accept the “sweatshop” concept if there was a clear line of progress leading from a peoples acceptance of harsh, low paying work into middle-class opportunities for themselves and most definitely their children. This seems to be the way it worked here in the U.S. as workers used their political and other freedoms to advance collectively- drawing upon unions and other political tools including muckraking journalism. Of course, success brings a new set of challenges/temptations, and we didn’t find the right calibration of corporate and labor powers in our own system.

    But without these type of freedoms in repressive nations, and with corporations using their power advantage to say – hey if you unionize, if you start collective bargaining power plays- we just leave you an empty factory and move to where the workers can just suck on it coutesy of the police state apparatus. If this is the current situation- and the proof of this for me is how everyone ended up in China- the land of one-child limits and no religious freedom- not so easy for muckraking journalists to just poke around either to provide a true narrative of the average Chinese life. I have many reasons to be suspicious of an American economy so warmly connected to the biggest and meanest psuedo-Communist dictatorship around. Can’t be good

  • Blackadder says:

    I can only accept the “sweatshop” concept if there was a clear line of progress leading from a peoples acceptance of harsh, low paying work into middle-class opportunities for themselves and most definitely their children.

    I think this is precisely what we have been seeing over the last few decades. Here, for example, is a description of the effect of a Nike factory in Vietnam:

    Ten years ago, when Nike was established in Vietnam, the workers had to walk to the factories, often for many miles. After three years on Nike wages, they could afford bicycles. Another three years later, they could afford scooters, so they all take the scooters to work (and if you go there, beware; they haven´t really decided on which side of the road to drive). Today, the first workers can afford to buy a car.

    Since 1990, when the Vietnamese communists began to liberalise the economy, exports of coffee, rice, clothes and footwear have surged, the economy has doubled, and poverty has been halved. Nike and Coca-Cola triumphed where American bombs failed. They have made Vietnam capitalist.

    I asked the young Nike worker Tsi-Chi what her hopes were for her son´s future. A generation ago, she would have had to put him to work on the farm from an early age. But Tsi-Chi told me she wants to give him a good education, so that he can become a doctor. That´s one of the most impressive developments since Vietnam´s economy was opened up. In ten years 2.2 million children have gone from child labour to education. It would be extremely interesting to hear an antiglobalist explain to Tsi-Chi why it is important for Westerners to boycott Nike, so that she loses her job, and has to go back into farming, and has to send her son to work.

  • Tim Shipe says:

    Without some big regulatory change- which seems to be the Magisterium’s intent behind calling repeatedly for a global economy that has a just juridical framework- I still think we can make strides by doing business through the global Catholic Church via CRS and diocesan/parish contacts operating fair trade cooperative relationships bypassing the big box network on as many individual products as possible. Just like I would prefer a Catholic non-profit health insurance option to a completely Government-only one. There is a Catholic difference to every field- from education, to medicine and pharmaceuticals (think birth control, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia), to economics/business – this Pope is very clear about warning us away from any single ideological view or overeliance on technical solutions that ignore the humanity involved at every turn of every economic transaction. Check out the Pope’s call for a new synthesis of Christian humanism applied to the development of economies that include holistic considerations that interrelate- he would also include ecological and promotion of healthy families at the core. Working in sweatshops for 12 hour shifts over 6 or 7 days certainly isn’t suitable for someone in a Catholic family- we can’t leave people with this option or nothing at all- it ain’t right folks- gotta come up with something better than apologetics for shopping Walmart- reminds me of the old argument against ending slavery- the slaves would be worse off and the economy would be destroyed- well no one says we can create a perfect world, but we are charged with creating civilizations of love- I don’t see a sweatshop standing in that kind of civilization so I’m not going to accept rationalizations- doesn’t fit into my understanding of our Catholic social doctrine

  • Blackadder says:

    Working in sweatshops for 12 hour shifts over 6 or 7 days certainly isn’t suitable for someone in a Catholic family- we can’t leave people with this option or nothing at al

    I’m all for giving people better options (and if people did have better options than working at sweatshops there would be no sweatshops – you wouldn’t need a law for that). Trying to shut down sweatshops, though, isn’t giving people a better option. It’s taking an option away, and in particular it’s taking away an option that people judge to be better than the available alternatives.

    reminds me of the old argument against ending slavery- the slaves would be worse off and the economy would be destroyed

    It seems to me that the main problem with this argument was that it was false. Abolishing slavery didn’t destroy the economy and ex-slaves were better off than they were before. That’s not the case for sweatshops.

  • Jim says:

    I would recommend a book titled “The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace” by John Medialle, a professor at Univ of Dallas.

    I have read it four times and I’m still unpacking it.


    He writes that until you have equity, you will never have equilibrium. Labor must come before capital and that is one of the main tenets of Catholic Social Teaching. The bottom line to ending sweatshops is worker ownership of the means of production, which is the main tenant of Distributism as advanced by GK Chesterton and Hellaire Belloc.

  • Tim Shipe says:

    I’m interested in the NIke factory in Vietnam example- I wonder how it worked that the workers went from destitution to being able to afford cars- did that happen while no positive changes took place at work- like a healthy increase in wages, better working conditions and so forth which would actually take the factory out of the sweatshop category? Is this typical? Does the Vietnamese government do a better job of protecting their people who work for foreign companies than the Chinese? I had thought that the whole reason for going to these kind of countries was the fact that the government would be on the side of the companies to help keep the workers in line so they wouldn’t press for higher wages and more investment in safe working environments? I wouldn’t submit that every factory in every poor country is necessarily a sweatshop, but it would seem that the purpose of locating half a world away from a pure business profit motive is the cheap labor- and the promise that that cheap labor would remain so- otherwise why not stay in the U.S. and save on a lot headaches and travel expenses?

    The trick for me would be to follow the American way and see a shift to domestic markets in every nation so that you don’t have a system where most production in the world is geared for sale in relatively few countries- like American consumers should not be the main source of income for the third world workers to fight over for perpetuity. Has the open trade system had enough time to bring about a better system- fitting in with the CAtholic social teaching theme of the universal destination of goods/resources?

    I think that having international bodies like the WTO representing the interests of multinational corporations needs a strong element of human rights protectors- so that workers are competing with their basic rights as humans and workers respected by all participating trading partners- this would seem fair and necessary given our fallen nature and the fact that the love of money is the root of many evils- or so says the Bible.

  • Blackadder says:

    I had thought that the whole reason for going to these kind of countries was the fact that the government would be on the side of the companies to help keep the workers in line so they wouldn’t press for higher wages and more investment in safe working environments?

    The point of going to developing countries is that labor is cheaper. Labor is cheaper, however, not because the government will come in and bust heads if people demand higher wages, but because the average wages in the countries are so low. Wages in multinational owned factories may be low by American standards, but they can be several times the prevailing wage for other sources of employment.

  • The modern term is “developing country,” not “third world.”

    reminds me of the old argument against ending slavery- the slaves would be worse off and the economy would be destroyed

    If the slaves would be worse off, there would’ve been no problem with giving them the choice to be free. If they thought they’d be worse off, they’d volunteer to be enslaved. I’m all for ensuring that factory workers overseas have choices. Closing sweatshops restrict the freedom to choice though.

    American consumers should not be the main source of income for the third world workers to fight over for perpetuity.

    Why not? If Latin American farmers were limited to domestic markets and not of the millions of Starbucks customers in the US, those farmers would not be able to afford to send their kids to school.

  • I had thought that the whole reason for going to these kind of countries was the fact that the government would be on the side of the companies to help keep the workers in line so they wouldn’t press for higher wages and more investment in safe working environments? I wouldn’t submit that every factory in every poor country is necessarily a sweatshop, but it would seem that the purpose of locating half a world away from a pure business profit motive is the cheap labor- and the promise that that cheap labor would remain so- otherwise why not stay in the U.S. and save on a lot headaches and travel expenses?

    I work fairly directly with the operations group which deals with our Chinese manufacturers are work, so I can explain some of the details here. (This is dealing with consumer electronics, so we’re talking pretty advanced factories, not sweatshops, but the logistics are similar.)

    One thing many people don’t realize is how incredibly cheap it is to ship things to the US from China, so long as you have the six weeks to send it across in bulk via cargo ship. For instance, when we bring in a container load (about 2,500) of laptop computers by sea, all packed up in their retail packaging ready to go onto a store shelf, the shipping cost from Shanghai to the distribution center in the US is about $5/laptop.

    With shipping so cheap, even a very small difference in the cost of manufacturing becomes worth while — especially because the profits made by each company along the supply chain are often very small.

    Most of the factories that make product for US companies in China are not actually owned by the US company — they’re owned by a local company which makes products to order, which the US company then buys. The US companies do this because it saves them start-up costs, and the difficulties of dealing with local government. (In many developing nations, local government basically runs of bribes and shakedown schemes — such as claiming the deed to your factory is forged and threatening to confiscate if you don’t buy a new one — and US companies typically don’t want to deal with it for legal reasons.)

    These locally owned factories will compete for business with each other, and manufacture for multiple US brands. So the HP, Sony, Dell and Toshiba laptops you see in Best Buy may actually have been made in the same factory. The different factories also compete with each other for labor. Building a high quality factory takes a lot of capital, but turning the capital into a good return requires a high output with few mistakes. More experienced workers tend to make product faster and with fewer mistakes — so if a new factory wants to get up to speed quickly their best approach is to poach workers from another factory with an offer of higher wages. All of the factories end up hiring and training new workers as well, but it helps to have a certain critical mass of experienced workers to provide on-the-line training and such. So wages do tend to rise over time through competition between the manufacturers.

    Expansion out into new areas can provide a way to keep wages from rising too high, but this again runs into the problem of inexperienced workers being less productive. And once you have a lot of experienced workers, it becomes tempting for a competitor to build a factory and poach some of that expertise. If you’re the first factory into a new are, you get lower wages for a while, but then others move in and they creep up.

    The more established areas move into more high value types of factories — and there’s also a value to being near to rail lines and ports, so businesses can’t chase endlessly into the wilderness in search of lower labor costs, because they start to incur other costs that make up for it.

    Why do businesses bother sourcing in the developing world when wages are rising? Well, businesses are very willing to be temporary — and there’s not necessarily a huge investment for them when most of the factories are locally owned. Also, as those developing markets see their wages rise, they become customers as well as sources of labor. For instance: most cell phones are currently manufactured in China. But it’s not just a source of cheap labor. There are more than twice as many cell phone users in China as in the US.

  • P.Diddy says:

    While I can appreciate the intent of this post, Blackadder and others have done a great job explaining how among a continuum of choices sweatshops may not represent the least desirable choice given the circumstances.

    I would like to add that from our perspective, as Americans living in 2010 with possibly the most posh existence the world has ever known, this appears downright inhumane and barbaric. And on many levels it is. But poverty and prosperity are relative, in large measure.

    The sad reality is, from a perspective of solidarity, the most Catholic thing you can do is to continue to patronize goods from such third-world nations and simultaneously pray for the transformation of the culture from within.

    For further reading on wealth and poverty:


  • Chip says:

    I laud the effort to ensure that workers, all over the world, are allowed to work in safe, clean, and humane conditions. IT will certainly not increase the cost of my XXL/X-Tall sweatshirt to reduce a shift in a factory to 8 hours, or to make the minimum work age 18 instead of 13.

    But we risk much, I think, when applying US standards of living as a measure of the humanity/inhumanity of a particular living/working condition, and the justice of any particular wage.

    Start in the US. I can live very well in Jonesboro, AR on a salary of $45,000/year; I can at least rent a house, pay my bills, and basically take care of my needs and the needs of a young family. Take that same $45,000 to New York City, and I am at or below subsistence level; I cannot drive, I cannot buy a lot, and I am much poorer than when I left home in AR.

    Same applies in Memphis, TN vs. Jonesboro; rents are lower in Jonesboro, and I can live better there than I can in Memphis.

    Now stretch it across the Pacific. In many countries, $45,000 would make me a rich man, or at least move me well into the upper middle class. This is why, I would think, remittances are so helpful to families in developing countries; the available capital moves the family into a different economic stratum.

    SO, while the work of organizations such as these is important in correcting the abuses that inevitably occur when people are involved (cuz we’re a greedy bunch when left to ourselves, sometimes), it doesn’t make sense to decry every instance of people being paid $0.47/hr as an egregious offense against humanity. How does making that $0.47/hr materially affect the living standard of that family? If that $0.47/hr were not available to that worker in Swaziland, what would their alternative be, and how would their standard of living change?

    It also doesn’t pass the smell test that standards of living would be forced *downward* by the arrival of a manufacturer supplying, say, Wal-Mart. Were people conscripted by force into the factory, and removed from better-paying positions in much nicer factories in order to slave for the Waltons? Doubtful. SO what’s the real story?

    As well-intentioned as I think folks like this start, I wonder if their agenda isn’t much more driven by a hatred of anything “corporate”. The factories they depict shuttered and empty didn’t get that way because an evil corporation decided to screw over a town and its citizens; they got that way because the manufacturer was forced, by competition, to decide between competition and extinction. Some of those companies *died*; they didn’t move to China. Once they died, though, Chinese manufacturers were able to make the case that they could offer similar quality for much less. Once China’s standard of living (and wages) started to rise, manufacturers looked for even lower-cost areas to move into; thus, Swaziland, Haiti and Bangladesh start to benefit from the rise in the standard of living in China (which, I would bet, imports a lot more Bangladeshi clothing than we do).

    I agree with P.Diddy’s closing comment, with one caveat: We *should* continue to purchase goods from developing countries, but in addition to *praying* for the transformation of the culture from within, we have to be willing to *work* for that same transformation, by holding businesses accountable for knowing the conditions under which their inventories are produced.

  • Thinking about this, I’d make two additional points:

    1) One of the major differences here, I think, is between different views of history. In a more progressive view of history, the primary reason that we no longer see the worst conditions of the Industrial Revolution in the US is the work of unions and the work of journalists exposing repressive corporate practices to public outrage. Now, I think those were in fact very minor factors, and that the primary reason we no longer see those conditions and those levels of pay is because companies simply can’t get workers to work that way any more as a result of economic development and competition for labor. These different views will lead to different conclusions as to what we should do now.

    2) The solution from a more economistic point of view is not necessarily just “do nothing”. US Companies choose which contract firms in developing countries to work with based on a number of factors, and if they do refuse to deal with firms which behave in inhuman ways (forcing female workers to take birth control; unsafe working conditions; etc.) they will drive local firms to improve conditions overall. There will probably continue to be much worse firms doing work for the local market, but if US firms use their purchasing power to drive incremental improvements (not the kind of “have US working conditions and pay or give the jobs back to US union workers” that domestic interests have in mind, but insisting on working with the better factories in the region) that will help drive conditions upwards faster. It will also tend to benefit not just the workers, but the products and the companies that make them in the long term.

  • Duke says:

    You have forgotten “white trash” and “Honky” as long as you want to visit the old labels/terms.

    Dynamite article! Makes a person think about the choices that we make each day and the affect it has on the rest of the world and our local economy.

    I never shop at Walmart and haven’t for years. I would rather purchase meat from our local meat market and drugs from our small town Drug Store, etc. and Fresh produce from the farmer’s market or visit the growers themselves.

    “The Jungle” was largely responsible for changes in the meat industry. However, recently the changes in that industry are for the negative with most labor from Mexico or Latn America– and conditions (and pay) regressing –as well as safety for workers and eaters of said meat.

  • Tim Shipe says:

    I agree that having a global minimum wage would be a tough sell given all the factors that go into determining local living standards- but having all corporations participating in global trade being charged with legal responsibilities for basic human rights and decency which allow traditional families to take root and potentially flourish – for economic security is only one factor in determining that. That should be the goal- just like the video showed with dog and cat fur items being banned, so too, could member nations in trade pacts make certain contractual obligations legally binding without going overboard with insensible regulations and running into the reverse problem of giving too much power over to union bosses for example.

    The fact remains that Pope Benedict is directly calling for a “new humanistic synthesis” in the wake of the current global economic crisis. “The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.” #21 Caritas..

    This is what I am trying to do- scrap what hasn’t worked and try to retain some of the positives, but recognizing that there isn’t a pure ideological solution out there- which is why I’m attracted to more solidarity/subsidiarity economic relationships spring up between Catholics who happen to live in the developed/developing sectors of the global society. There is also an ecological concern which the Pope brings up that must be brought into the discussion at some point as well- I was thinking of that when it was brought up at how cheap it is to ship goods around the world- and I have read that the cargo ships use pretty poor quality fuel and are big polluters of the oceans- one doesn’t have to embrace the all-encompassing theory of man-created Climate Change to be aware of our stewardship duties in the “Care for God’s Creation” and how that affects humanity as well.

  • Mike Petrik says:

    Re third world: Well, admittedly third world is an imperfect descriptor in that it really refers to unaligned nations during the Cold War. Back in the day economists used to refer to undeveloped countries or UDCs, but PC precursers soon claimed that the term was too harsh and demanded that it term be abandoned in favor of lesser developed countries (or LCDs), which proved to be understood as demeaning, which is why we now have developing countries — a term that makes no sense at all since all countries are developing in different ways and at different paces. But these days “feelings” trumps truth all the time. It is kind of funny in a pathetic sort of way.

  • Duke says:

    “Wal-Mart has such a strong command over the retail market that it alone affects the wages of many workers and the fate of many factories around the world. In a recent series the LA Times described how Wal-Mart’s demands dictate lower wages, harder work, and longer hours, while eliminating jobs in factories from Honduras to China. No longer is this humongous corporation putting only America’s factories out of business, it has now turned to pitting factories in countries around the world against each other in an impossible race to the bottom.

    Wal-Mart was removed from KLD & Co.’s Domini 400 Social Index because of what it called ‘sweatshop conditions’ at its overseas vendors’ factories. KLD, which provides social research for institutional investors, said Wal-Mart hasn’t done enough to ensure that its vendors meet ‘adequate labor and human rights standards,’ according to a statement distributed by PR Newswire. KLD also cited charges that the company hasn’t been forthright about its involvement with a Chinese handbag manufacturer alleged to have subjected workers to 90-hour weeks, exceptionally low wages, and prison-like conditions. The Domini 400 is a benchmark index for measuring the effect of social screening on financial performance. (1/03)

    Some of the abuses in foreign factories that produce goods for Wal-Mart include:

    * Forced overtime

    * Locked bathrooms

    * Starvation wages

    * Pregnancy tests

    * Denial of access to health care

    * Workers fired and blacklisted if they try to defend their rights

    The National Labor Committee reported in September 1999 that the Kathie Lee clothing label (made for Wal-Mart by Caribbean Apparel, Santa Ana, El Salvador) conducted sweatshop conditions of forced overtime. Workers hours were Monday to Friday from 6:50 a.m. to 6:10 p.m., and Saturday from 6:50 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. There are occasional shifts to 9:40 p.m. It is common for the cutting and packing departments to work 20-hour shifts from 6:50 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. Anyone unable or refusing to work the overtime hours will be suspended and fined, and upon repeat “offenses” they will be fired. This factory is in an American Free Trade Zone. (http://www.nlcnet.org/KATHLEE/elsalvinfo.html)”

    From Voice of American Workers trade article.

  • The modern term is “developing country,” not “third world.”

    Exactly right. That term is quite Modern. It should be done away with.

    While we’re at it, let’s revive “negro,” “oriental,” and “groovy.”

    The term “third world” has been used over the years by peoples from these countries, sometimes prefaced by the word “so-called.” Other terms used today among global social movements are “Two-Thirds World” and “Global South.”

    But the term “developing world” was rejected long, long ago.

  • Other terms used today among global social movements are “Two-Thirds World” and “Global South.”

    But the term “developing world” was rejected long, long ago.

    Rejected by whom, exactly?

    There is a certain silliness to trying to use a single term to cover countries as distant from each other and diverse as India, Honduras, Vietnam and Kenya. I’ve heard some writers differentiate between the “developing world” and the countries in the “bottom billion” where development seems to have “stuck”.

    But I’m not clear that there’s some sort of clearing house of “approved terminology for people who care” in charge of sorting out whether “developing world” is an acceptable term or not.

  • Well, admittedly third world is an imperfect descriptor in that it really refers to unaligned nations during the Cold War. Back in the day economists used to refer to undeveloped countries or UDCs, but PC precursers soon claimed that the term was too harsh and demanded that it term be abandoned in favor of lesser developed countries (or LCDs), which proved to be understood as demeaning, which is why we now have developing countries — a term that makes no sense at all since all countries are developing in different ways and at different paces. But these days “feelings” trumps truth all the time.

    Hard to call China “undeveloped.” “Lesser developed” sounds awkward. Pre-Tsvangirai Zimbabwe wasn’t “developing.” At any rate, I’ll use whatever the most commonly accepted term at the moment happens to be. I use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” instead of “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion.” I use “illegal immigrants” instead of “undocumented immigrants.” “African-American” or “black” instead of “negro.” And “developing” instead of “third world.”

    I’ve noticed that “OECD” and “non-OECD” is getting popular. They don’t roll off the tongue well but they are more precise terms so that’s good.

  • Rejected by whom, exactly?

    By global social justice movements, as I said.

    “Developing world,” “bottom billion,” etc. are terms that assume the values and commitments of capitalist modernity. Continue to use them if those are your values and commitments.

  • There is a certain silliness to trying to use a single term to cover countries as distant from each other and diverse as India, Honduras, Vietnam and Kenya.

    Use of terms like “Global South” and “Two-Thirds World” are precisely NOT meant to “cover” the diversities of these countries, but as an expression of solidarity of the oppressed peoples of these countries. The terms do not unite the countries, but unite particular classes among the countries.

  • Pope Benedict XVI Message Lent 2010 says:


    VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Conversion to Christ gives people the strength to break the bonds of selfishness and work for justice in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said in his message for Lent 2010.

    “The Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love,” the pope said in the message released Feb. 4 at the Vatican.”

  • Chip says:

    I believe the discussion of terminology is a rabbit trail. I’m just sayin’.

    To return, I hope, to the main point of the article and prior discussion, though, it seems to me that there exists a basic divide in ways of looking at corporations vs. small businesses. And not-coincidentally, there seems to exist a certain almost snobbery about not doing business with the Wal-marts of the world. Having, as I do, four children (and now regretting that I don’t have more, as I stand on the threshold of my 50′s) gives me a slightly different perspective on the place of Wal-Mart in my local economy.

    I would *love* to be able to buy meat at my local butcher shop, and to patronize local farmers all the time. I would love to be able to buy only clothes manufactured in the United States. Unfortunately, I cannot raise a family of six and do that; it costs too much! And since my diet is varied, and I like lettuce in January, I have to buy it from somewhere warm enough to *produce* lettuce in January. And since I don’t want a slaughterhouse in my neighborhood, I have to have meat trucked in from Arkansas and Mississippi, where the animal farms are. As much as I would like to be able to feed and clothe my family from the local economy, I cannot!

    Simplistically, I blame the union movement for these developments; the reason I can’t buy a pair of shoes made in the US is that I cannot afford to pay the added costs loaded onto the shoes by the provision of generous union benefits, and shortened shifts. I have had to wait an extra month for a suit I ordered (at 6’9″, I have to have them made (in the US)), because the factory was negotiating a contract dispute with their **union**.

    See, long ago, unions stopped being about making working conditions humane and pay dignified, and started to be about how much they could negotiate being paid for how little work. Unions, IMHO, have become the proletariat mirror of the “evil corporations”, in that they jockey to see how *little* work can be done for the dollars spent. And so the manufacturers of my clothes and other goods move overseas in order to escape the burden, and millions of jobs disappear.

    So as nice as it would be to localize everything, it isn’t practical. And as nice as it would be to impose US wages and working conditions on every country around the world, it wouldn’t be fair to guys like me, who are trying to feed and clothe the next generation, to impose those costs in a feel-good attempt at one man’s view of “social justice”. We should, as Catholics, be about *improving everyone’s lot*, not about making everyone equally miserable. And we should be about raising everyone’s standard of living by providing opportunities for people, not by redistributing wealth and just handing it over to folks. We create far more problems in that way than we solve (see the welfare system in the US from the mid-sixties till the mid nineties for an example; nothing did more to destroy the Black community than that!)

    We *can* help our brtothers and sisters in need! But it would be wrong to take from others by force of law in order to do it!

  • P.Diddy says:

    There are many Catholics who have not intellectually reconciled themselves with the fact that we live in a fallen world. This manifests itself in a worldview which effectively seeks to make everyone equally miserable, ala, socialism.

    Among a number of excellent points Chip discusses is the fact that the Wal-marts of the world actually do more to help the poor of the world than the snobs who won’t shop there.

  • Duke says:


    In this small town of 4000, our merchants do very well at competing with Walmart. We intentionally support them and the quality and care they provide. I do not think that makes us snobs, do you really?

    We are lucky to still have small town meat markets in the upper Midwest. The owner is more selective and responsible for the meats he chooses. Ground meats especially!

    It is far superior to the products processed through the meat-packing facilities. Also, the workers do not join unions as much in the meat-packing facilities for obvious reason. (Being many illegals, etc.) The wages are half of the wage paid for the same job in 1970. The conditions much worse. Speed-ups and injuries with knives, etc., See the Postville, Iowa story recently in the news. (And that was a Kosher plant.)

    The book, THE JUNGLE, helped change working conditions for the (largely immigrants) meat-packing workers NOT because Americans gave a whit about the conditions of the workers but because Americans did not want to eat sausage that might have a worker or rat ground up in it. (As brought out by the book.)

    I basically feel the same is true with products today; dog food kills my beloved Fluffy and I don’t want those Chinese products….most people don’t care about those workers but let Fluffy get sick and I care. That is my sense of Americans and myself included. I am trying to change. It isn’t easy!!!

    I do not live in California and need to purchase veggies too, but go to other grocery stores. (Just not Walmart.)

  • Chip says:

    Snobbery might be a bit harsh, but it is a choice you consciously exercise. And you and others in town obviously hav ethe means to exercise that choice; if you did not, all the good intentions in the world would not keep you out of Wal-mart if you had to feed your family.

    It’s akin to neighborhood choice, I suppose. If I can afford a $450,000 house in Collierville, TN, why would I choose to move to my neighborhood in Bartlett, with average home prices in the low $200′s? And if I can afford to live *there*, why would I move to Raleigh, where the same house costs only $130,000? I make any of these choices because I have the means to make them. If I could afford to drive an Escalade instead of this 10-year-old Expedition, you bet I would be driving one; can’t right now, though, since I have tuition to pay and groceries to buy for all these little girls who still live at my house.

    If your townsfolk did not have the means to buy higher-quality, higher-priced meat from your local butcher, he would have two choices: Either lower his quality, thereby enabling a lower price, or to accept less profit on the items he sells. If the margin is low enough, he then goes out of business. If it works well for y’all, great!

    But who shops at Wal-mart in your town? I would guess it’s NOT the insensitive rich folks who just don’t care about the social justice implications of enabling a behemoth bad corporate actor like Walmart; I am betting it’s the folks who can’t afford to shop at your local butcher shop and other small retailers, but who would like a consistent quality of meats, vegetable, and other staples of life. We could kill off Walmart tomorrow; where would that leave the thousands employed by Wal-mart, and where would it leave the poorer folks to shop? I don’t know, but I bet they wouldn’t be buying the same quality meats you’re able to procure from your guy. (BTW, how much does a pound of ground chuck cost from your guy?)

    So…I apologize for the snobbery accusation. But it still sounds a bit “Let-them-eat-cake”-ish…

  • Duke says:

    The small retailers, meat market, lumber yard, etc…were here long before Walmart. We hope to keep them in business. The prices are competetive. The people are friendly. No snobbery here as no one here is rich. Our Van is 1998 and just had a new engine in it. We do have some nice bike trails and not much traffic so that is an alternative in good weather. (Not now…we live 2 states north of you in Jonesboro.)
    The rich folks live in new sub-divisions far away from
    this old town along the Mississippi. And it costs to drive across the river to Walmart–30 minutes away. They surely do not miss our patronage as the parking lot is always full.

    We have worked for Walmart- in our family -in the past and used the 10% discount the employees are given.

    Is it snobbery to want to keep an old small town way of life and support our business’? We all struggle to find the best way to survive, small town America too.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “Labor is cheaper, however, not because the government will come in and bust heads if people demand higher wages”

    Well, sometimes that does happen. It’s not the least of the reasons why places like China are popular to do business.

  • Duke says:

    And todays price for quality ground beef is 2.69. I am sure box stores have 80% ground much cheaper. Some of us need low-fat…me in particular. Not enough bike riding lately. Have a good day!

  • RL says:

    Well, sometimes that does happen. It’s not the least of the reasons why places like China are popular to do business.

    I have heard nasty stories about such things. I’m not sure it done by or the behest of the government though. Sounds to me like that at some foreign companies there is a general lack of regard for the workers’ dignity that is aggravated by the fact that they are managed by petty tyrants.

    That said, I’m not so sure that sort of a work environment is something Western corporations are looking for or appreciating. The draw to China for example is, as stated above, being able to reduce labor costs to stay competitive PLUS by providing jobs there that will produce expendable income for the workers, there will be a huge market of new consumers that can afford to buy the products they are making. Maybe that thinking it reeks of “anything for a buck”, but the reality is the existence of a great many lives are benefited or at least have the opportunity to be benefited.

  • Duke says:

    We “poorer folks” shop at our local $ollar Store-8 blocks away. I did not know The Waltons needed our money so badly. I guess we should take pity on them? Who doesn’t sell imported products these days? And jobs are supported at by shopping at other stores too.

    Seriously, how do you resolve the conflict of a government like China (still Communist last I checked) that has a one-child policy and supports abortion? Did they change that?

    I understand that people need jobs everywhere and buying from China supports people there and supports an emerging middle class. That would be true in other developing countries that are not so repressive wouldn’t it?


  • Chip says:

    I guess I would ask, first, Duke…how will NOT buying from companies that manufacture in China help to change China’s one-child policy? What will change oppressive regimes like that faster than anything is giving more people in those countries the economic means to decide that the government should not be making those kinds of decisions for them!

    The people working in factories in China making…well, some of everything are not the Chinese government. And they don’t *make* policy, they *live under* it. China’s changes over the last 30 years have come, not because people decried the status quo from outside China, but because exposure to Western democracy and economic prosperity stirred a desire in the hearts of Chinese folks to have something *different*.

    And to address your earlier question, Duke, of *course* it’s OK to preserve your town;s way of life, and to support the merchants who enable it. I wouldn’t drive 30 minutes through the country to Wal-mart either, if I had the option of using the gas money instead to pay just a little more, and shopping 5 minutes away. Again, though, your town’s economy allows for that (and is actually a strong counter-argument to the “evil Wal-mart kills small businesses” mantra). $2.69 ain’t bad for a pound of chuck; I think we are paying just a little less than that, but then, Memphis is the transportation hub of the known universe or something.

    And again, apologies for the “snobbery” comment; that was too strong. Parochialism might describe it better; it’s just that the conditions under which you live (rare, by percentage of population, I bet) are not the conditions under which most people live. And if I wanted to patronize meat boutiques in Memphis similar to your small-town merchants, I would get hammered. Those types of stores here cater to the hormone-free, organic, grass-fed crowd who feel they must buy products like that, and who make the economic decision to do so. I can’t afford to eat like that, unfortunately, at least, not until the 9-year-old is out of college…

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Have any of you read the book “A Year Without Made in China” by Sara Bongiorni? I have been meaning to because the premise sounds interesting. Bongiorni, her husband and their two young kids attempted to go an entire year without buying ANYTHING made in China… and it proved to be a lot more difficult than they thought. From what I gather, they were pretty solidly middle-class financially, definitely not poor, yet even they found it next to impossible to avoid ‘made in China.’ For lower income people, I imagine it is impossible.

    Again, it’s another reflection of the fact that we live in a fallen world, and though we do the best we can to promote good and avoid evil, we will never achieve absolute, total non-cooperation with evil in this life.

  • Boycott American products! The US slaughters innocent Iraqis and Afghans, aids Israel in the slaughter of Palestinians, tortures and kills prisoners, isn’t democratic (see 2000 presidential election), pollutes like it owns the world, doesn’t provide its people with basic health care, and gives handouts to its wealthy bankers while its ethnic minorities are placed in slums where they don’t even receive a proper education. And remember, when you buy American, you’re paying for some American women’s abortion or a float at one of America’s many gay pride parades.

  • Duke says:

    I understand the conditions in China. It makes me feel very conflicted, frankly.

    I’ll have to tell my family I’m going down to the meat “boutique” ..classier than what we call it. Meat markets -as we call them here- cater to deer hunters and farmers. No one cares about the organic, hormone free etc stuff around here too much. Organic chickens here are called free range and only means raised the way grandma used to. (Free to peck and scratch the way God intended.)

    Who knows what it will be like in another decade? Maybe the $ollar Store will again be a 5 & 10 cent Store like in the 1960′s. Cheaper products and competition going the way it is.

    It would be a challenge to buy products from everywhere but China. I would rather WATCH someone else do that on a Reality Show and learn from them. Sounds like an interesting book to read. Maybe the library will have it. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Jim Keady says:

    I think your students (and anyone else interested in the sweatshop issue) might enjoy checking out http://www.teamsweat.org. Team Sweat is an international coalition that I founded to fight against Nike’s sweatshop abuses.

    I am a Catholic activist and former professional athlete and I have been fighting for 12 years on the front lines in solidarity (a key theme in Catholic Social Teaching) with the factory workers that produce for Nike.

    How did I get involved in this work? It all started as a research paper for a grad class I was taking while pursuing my masters degree in theology. The paper was titled:

    “Nike and Catholic Social Teaching: A Challenge to the Christian Mission at St. John’s University.”

    If you’re interested in reading it, drop me a line at jim@educatingforjustice.org.

    Peace, Jim Keady

  • Tim Shipe says:

    I just checked out Jim Keady’s stuff- he’s the real deal folks- he has walked the walk, made real-life sacrifices, put in the time and mileage to find out the truth- and he’s Catholic- I’m going to pick this guy’s brain and heart to find out more- to take more responsibility for this issue of sweatshop labor- I want to take this thing far and beyond the normative ideological pissing contest- that means finding sources that have ground level information that is trustworthy. People who give up lucrative careers because something smells rotten in Greece- these type of guys grab my attention. I would recommend that the defenders of sweatshop economics take a look at Jim Keady’s stuff as well because this debate ain’t goin’ away just yet!

  • Roxy says:

    Blackladder claimed that “global poverty and inequality has declined significantly over recent decades,” a misleading statement based on using GDP to measure standard of living.

    More money flowing into an economy does not always translate to better living— in many “developping” countries, there are growing gaps between the rich and poor, and an unhealthy dependency on bigger economies (and corporations) for jobs and products (such as the US.) Self-sustainability, more options and consumer choice ease away poverty— not more money. The increase in money is often artificial, as any sweatshop laborer in LA will tell you (most of the money goes on increasing rent and product-prices, which remain high in developping areas due to lack of competition.)

    In short, boycotting sweatshops directly might not work, but reducing our reliance on them does. Otherwise, we are feeding into a global dependency.

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