Exploitation as a Path to Development: Sweatshop Labour, Micro-Unfairness, and the Non-Worseness Claim
Series/Report no.Éthique et économique/Ethics and Economics;Volume 10, Numéro 2
Sweatshop labour is sometimes defended from critics by arguments that stress the voluntariness of the worker’s choice, and the fact that sweatshops provide a source of income where no other similar source exists. The idea is if it is exploitation—as their opponents charge—it is mutually beneficial and consensual exploitation. This defence appeals to the non-worseness claim (NWC), which says that if exploitation is better for the exploited party than neglect, it cannot be seriously wrong. The NWC renders otherwise exploitative—and therefore morally wrong—transactions permissible, making the exploitation of the global poor a justifiable path to development. In this paper, I argue that the use of NWC for the case of sweatshops is misleading. After reviewing and strengthening the exploitation claims made concerning sweatshops, most importantly by refuting certain allegations that a micro-unfairness account of exploitation cannot evaluate sweatshop labour as exploitative, I then argue that even if this practice may seem permissible due to benefits otherwise unavailable to the global poor, there remains a duty to address the background conditions that make this form of wrong-doing possible, which the NWC cannot accommodate. I argue that the NWC denies this by unreasonably limiting its scope and is therefore incomplete, and ultimately unconvincing.