drpeter

Senior Member
I received an email this morning from Ben Silver about the situation regarding the harsh treatment of workers in large Asian garment manufacturing companies and factories. They included the following link which is mainly about a company in Penang, Malaysia. I was born in Kuala Lumpur and raised there, and I have been to Penang, ages ago during colonial times. The article saddened me, to say the least. I thought readers of AAAC would be interested in knowing this information.

The American retail landscape is flooded with garments from Asia, given to us through the aegis of famed companies like Brooks Brothers, LL Bean and J Crew. It might be wise to consider what we are supporting with our clothing dollars as we purchase these garments. There may not be very many other alternatives, given the intersection of price and availability. Not all of us can afford Savile Row or Neapolitan tailoring. Perhaps the efforts of the western companies to change working conditions in the Asian companies might be the right way to go. As an Indian, I am very much aware of the history of colonial exploitation of Indian indentured labour in the West Indies and South America by the mercantile profiteers of the old British Empire. Even the Irish were sent to indentured labour sites in the Empire by the English. It seems colonial habits die hard, even aeons after decolonisation!

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/28/style/malaysia-forced-labor-garment-workers.html
 
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richard warren

Senior Member
Whom are we supporting with overseas purchases? The workers who make the garments, who, however bad their jobs may be, would have worse jobs (or none) if they lost the jobs they have.

So, yes, please do consider whether your tender sensibilities are worth the price to the people who would suffer.

In addition, if the people in the US who could afford it (the virtue signaling class) were to put an end to overseas manufacturing, the other group who would suffer are the poor in the US, who would have to pay higher prices.
 

poppies

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Whom are we supporting with overseas purchases? The workers who make the garments, who, however bad their jobs may be, would have worse jobs (or none) if they lost the jobs they have.

So, yes, please do consider whether your tender sensibilities are worth the price to the people who would suffer.

In addition, if the people in the US who could afford it (the virtue signaling class) were to put an end to overseas manufacturing, the other group who would suffer are the poor in the US, who would have to pay higher prices.
There are some purpose-built companies whose main value proposition is their ethical stance via Western-style working conditions throughout their value chain. This of course results in the higher selling prices you mention, and these companies are almost definitionally limited in their offerings as well. Such companies mix charity and "straight" business in ways that I don't believe are sustainable at a mass scale.

The question is, are Western-style working conditions an objective benchmark? If they are, then it's going to make more business sense to manufacture locally in Western markets; developing nations would simply lose a huge amount of jobs and many folks would have to go back to "worse" subsistence farming jobs.

If they're not an objective benchmark, then it strikes me as a little awkward to demand of particularly impoverished people that they give up their jobs to assuage subjective concerns.
 

poppies

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Additionally, I would argue that low-wage garment manufacturing jobs are one of the best options available to many folks in the developing world for them to save capital that could eventually be put toward starting a business or retiring altogether. An imperfect option, of course, but maybe the best thing available.

Unexpected negative consequences tend to follow whenever one interferes with the free interactions of labor purchasers and labor suppliers.

Truly forced labor is, of course, objectively abhorrent and should never be assisted.
 

drpeter

Senior Member
Whom are we supporting with overseas purchases? The workers who make the garments, who, however bad their jobs may be, would have worse jobs (or none) if they lost the jobs they have.

So, yes, please do consider whether your tender sensibilities are worth the price to the people who would suffer.

In addition, if the people in the US who could afford it (the virtue signaling class) were to put an end to overseas manufacturing, the other group who would suffer are the poor in the US, who would have to pay higher prices.
I beg to differ.

No, we are not supporting those workers who make those garments. That they should be happy at the pittance we provide for them is infinitely condescending on the part of our companies. We are supporting the greed of our companies who want to maximise their profits no matter what the cost in the welfare of the workers or even the quality of the garments.

It really isn't a question of the tenderness of anyone's sensibilities that is at issue here. It is simply the decent treatment of people wherever they are. If our businesses were not eager to obtain products for the cheapest possible price and then sell them at higher prices, thereby maximising profits for the CEOs and the shareholders, they would pay decent wages and have them manufactured in this country employing our own workers, and sell them for reasonable prices. Perhaps a smaller share of profits, but is profit the god that we must worship at all costs? Should the greed of our companies and their shareholders be paramount? Some years ago, I heard that Nike manufactured "fancy" sneakers in Indonesia at a cost of 89 cents per pair and then sold them in the US for around $90. Even given overhead and other expenses, that is a huge margin. At whose expense? Both the workers in Indonesia and the customers in the US are being exploited in the service of greed. Greed might be good to some, as Gordon Gekko claimed back in the eighties, LOL Not to me.

It is also a fallacy (very convenient for us to rationalize our behavior) to think that if those workers did not have the jobs we deign to provide for them at awful wages, they would starve to death. They will find work elsewhere. Our companies are not their sole means of livelihood. People do live reasonably well in countries where there aren't these kinds of low wage jobs with foreign companies. There are domestic companies that also employ people in a variety of jobs.

A final point is quality. When you pay low wages and manufacture at low cost, quality suffers. You have cheap, poorly made garments that flood our markets, and we have our own consumers who live with that. Items of high quality can be made overseas if you find good craftsmen. Savile Row tailors are using Indian tailors with good results after training them in making clothes to the specifications they demand. But those tailors are also paid well.

The article in the link talks about attempts to rectify some of the evils in the system, rather than abandon the enterprise altogether. Treat those workers with a little fairness. I think some of the companies contacted by the investigators agreed to make changes. Is that such a bad thing?
 

drpeter

Senior Member
There are some purpose-built companies whose main value proposition is their ethical stance via Western-style working conditions throughout their value chain. This of course results in the higher selling prices you mention, and these companies are almost definitionally limited in their offerings as well. Such companies mix charity and "straight" business in ways that I don't believe are sustainable at a mass scale.

The question is, are Western-style working conditions an objective benchmark? If they are, then it's going to make more business sense to manufacture locally in Western markets; developing nations would simply lose a huge amount of jobs and many folks would have to go back to "worse" subsistence farming jobs.

If they're not an objective benchmark, then it strikes me as a little awkward to demand of particularly impoverished people that they give up their jobs to assuage subjective concerns.
You raise good points.

I think they can be an objective benchmark. At least, we can try to provide working conditions and wages that are somewhat closer to such a benchmark, and that will greatly ease some of the inequities highlighted in the article. That said, I also think we are short-changing workers in the West by exporting manufacture overseas at the huge scale we are employing. Very little is manufactured in our country now, in terms of goods used by the average consumers every day.

In these matters, it is not two extremes that we need to pit against one another. There is usually a via media. A little less profit, a little more sharing of the profit with those who make the products. Why is that anathema, as many folks might think? The extreme income inequality in the US is really quite unconscionable, and surprisingly, Americans don't seem to be concerned about that.
 

drpeter

Senior Member
Some data on CEO vs average worker incomes:

https://www.statista.com/statistics...ceos-and-average-workers-in-world-by-country/

The United States has the highest ratio with CEO salaries at 265 times the average worker's salary. Interestingly India is next at 229, mainly because the last two decades (the last decade with an extreme right-wing government) have seen enormous wealth concentrated on a few individuals and companies.

This next piece talks about rates of increase. A quote:

"Since 1978, and adjusted for inflation, American workers have seen an 11.2 percent increase in compensation. During that same period, CEO’s have seen a 937 percent increase in earnings. That salary growth is even 70 percent faster than the rise in the stock market, according to the Economic Policy Institute. "

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/22/her...creased-compared-to-yours-over-the-years.html
 

poppies

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
You raise good points.

I think they can be an objective benchmark. At least, we can try to provide working conditions and wages that are somewhat closer to such a benchmark, and that will greatly ease some of the inequities highlighted in the article. That said, I also think we are short-changing workers in the West by exporting manufacture overseas at the huge scale we are employing. Very little is manufactured in our country now, in terms of goods used by the average consumers every day.

In these matters, it is not two extremes that we need to pit against one another. There is usually a via media. A little less profit, a little more sharing of the profit with those who make the products. Why is that anathema, as many folks might think? The extreme income inequality in the US is really quite unconscionable, and surprisingly, Americans don't seem to be concerned about that.
The reason it is anathema is that businesses are generally expected to act on behalf of their owners, and it is a dereliction of that duty to pay more for labor (or really any input) than the market demands. Nothing wrong with charity, but it's not business, and generally business is more sustainable than charity over the long run.

There are, let's say, more enlightened, broad ways of viewing this, involving analysis of how higher wages reduce turnover and improve quality. Generally, however, consumers have voted with their wallets that they view clothing as fairly utilitarian and disposable, and they don't care very much about quality and just want to pay as little as possible.
 

drpeter

Senior Member
The reason it is anathema is that businesses are generally expected to act on behalf of their owners, and it is a dereliction of that duty to pay more for labor (or really any input) than the market demands. Nothing wrong with charity, but it's not business, and generally business is more sustainable than charity over the long run.

There are, let's say, more enlightened, broad ways of viewing this, involving analysis of how higher wages reduce turnover and improve quality. Generally, however, consumers have voted with their wallets that they view clothing as fairly utilitarian and disposable, and they don't care very much about quality and just want to pay as little as possible.
Again, good points, @poppies. A balanced analysis.

I understand the pressures on various executives, including CEOs, to maximize profits for the owners. I wish there was a way of convincing these owners that it is in everyone's interests to be more enlightened, and to share profits to at least some extent. Workers being given year-end bonuses is a start -- but I would like to think that this is not charity. It is a means to improving and maintaining good morale. And a bonus is something given to workers because they deserve it for having worked hard for their employers. Isn't a happy, satisfied worker a boon to the owners too?

As an example, let me cite the policies of Kodak (recently in the news in connection with the pandemic, but not in a good way, unfortunately) in the 1970s. I lived in Rochester, New York for about six years while doing my PhD in cognitive psychology, and then working on a NIH funded research grant, at the University of Rochester. I got to know many Kodak employees in town, and also university scientists who consulted with Kodak. Kodak's policies then with regard to their employees was not only humane, but very decent and generous. They looked after their people in many ways, with bonuses and all sorts of benefits, and a pension when they retired. This was at all levels in the company, engineers, technicians, sales people and administrative and executive staff. People used to say that Kodak took an almost parental, or paternal care when it came to their workers. The saying was that, once you went to work for Kodak, you were all set -- they looked after you until the grave and even beyond! Now I have no idea whether such policies have survived, almost fifty years later. Probably fallen by the wayside, because Kodak fell on hard times quite some time ago with the change to digital photography, and I don't think they recovered all that well.

Perhaps we can show consumers what many in this forum know quite well: Buying cheap, low-quality clothing (or anything, for that matter) is really a false economy. It's being penny wise and pound foolish. A good, well-made raincoat, say, will give you ten or fifteen years of service, provided you maintain it well and take some care of it. A shabbily-made one will last you a year or two, then fall apart. In the long run, the cheap coats you buy every two years will cost you more than the well-made, but more expensive coat. Another example: Years ago, I used to buy very comfortable leather shoes and sandals from Clarke's of England, well-made and serviceable for a long time. Then I bought a pair that had been made in China, and was much cheaper in price. I did not buy it because it was cheap, I bought it because it was the only pair of shoes by Clarke's I could find in town. Well, the shoes literally came apart in two weeks! The soles had come loose from the uppers. I returned the pair and fortunately, I got my money back.

Please note that this concern is not anything against Chinese or overseas manufacturing in general. They make outstanding electronic goods and computers, for example, in various parts of Asia. But if we choose workers who are paid the lowest possible wages the market will bear, we may get skill levels that are also correspondingly low. Cui bono? The owners and shareholders? In the long run, won't people want better quality?

I know, it's probably a losing argument. I doubt if the vast American consumer population will be convinced. After all, they can't be convinced to take better care of their own bodies, LOL, judging by the reports we read about the variety of health problems we have related to our lifestyles.
 
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TKI67

Super Member
I believe there are distinctions of relevance, but often the information to understand and make them is unavailable to the typical consumer. For example, a person in another country being paid a low wage to operate a sewing machine when no better paying work is available is an entirely different proposition if the working conditions are made more extreme or dangerous.

As to poorer people being pressured to overspend to buy domestic, it seems to be a reasonable economic proposition that any greatly increased demand would eventually have a positive effect for the consumer on per unit pricing.

Regardless, I can afford MIUSA goods and seek them out. I can find an excellent USA suit for $600 or less (much less if I shop things like the J. Press sales). Some of the American goods I have bought over the years seemed quite pricy (Alden and Quoddy), but they have held up so well for so long that the costs over time have been quite good. Some may not offer huge extended use benefits, but they offer other benefits of quality (Southwick, Hertling, Gitman for O'Connell's), and I simply content myself with fewer of them.

I grasp the concept of value to the shareholder, but as regards maximization of short term earnings through practices like unbridled human exploitation and environmental degradation: No good CEO or board wants to be the subject of that news story. I believe, maybe wrongly, that by buying US (and many Western Europe) products I am much less likely to be supporting abusive and dangerous practices. As much as I can, I extend this practice to all purchases.
 
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