Ethics of Sweatshops: Managing Global Labor Standards in the Sporting Goods Industry.
For more than ten years concerns surrounding global labor practices in the sporting apparel industry have been under a lot attention from the public (Arnold and Hartman 2003; Young 2004). Since mid- 1990 a number of multinational sport companies such as Nike and Adidas Group have started to be criticized by the press for proving seriously poor working conditions in its overseas factories (The Guardian 2010; Mail Online 2011). It has been brought to the public attention that the majority of sporting goods especially shoes and athletic apparel are produced in so called “sweatshops” where workers are made to work extremely long shifts for very little wages and have their human rights violated.
The problem of sweatshop labor raised a significantly important ethical dilemma and made many sport corporations weight improving work environment for their employees against maximizing profits. The following case study carefully analyses the problem of sweatshops looking specifically at the examples of sport organizations and raises both ethical and economic inquests. Moreover this case study attempts to propose different ways in which businesses can respect their employees while at the same time stay economically profitable and maintain their competitiveness in the industry.
Although mangers of the overseas sweatshops comply with the local law, sweatshops’ workers receive wages below living level, work long shifts and usually are not paid overtime (Powell and Zwolinski 2012). For example one of the contacted factories of Nike paid their workers as little as $2 per day while living cost was $4 per day. Secondly workers of sweatshops are usually exposed to a hazardous working environment that could be dangerous for their health or safety. In 1997 Nike became the subject of health and safety controversy when it came to light that workers in one of Nike’s contract factories were exposed to very dangerous toxic fumes (Connor 2001).
Moreover it has been proven that in some factories workers are humiliated in front of others and very often are an object of serious mental and physical abuse including kicking, slapping in the face and name calling (Mail Online 2011). The report published by Global Exchange (Connor 2001) demonstrated that in some Chinese factories of Nike, workers were not allowed to talk during work and if they did so they were fined $1.2 to $3.6 and at other Indonesian factory workers who made mistakes were force to stand in the sun for prolonged period of time (WSWS 2011).
Nike however was not the only company who was accused of breach of labor practices. Even though the mangers of sweatshops made a lot of positive changes since 1990 when the majority of sweatshop accusations took place, the problem of unethical labor practices still occur. Only recently The Guardian (2012) claimed that Adidas- an official sportswear provider for the 2012 Olympic Games produced Olympic uniforms in the sweatshop conditions in Indonesia where workers had to work “65 hour weeks for as little as 34 pence per hour” (The Guardian 2012).
Ultimately few important questions arise. Can treatment provided for sweatshops workers be morally justifiable? And should multinational enterprises be responsible for operations of their contractors?
Critics of sweatshops
The opinions are conflicting. First of all, critics of sweatshops argue that labor practices at overseas factories do not meet rules of international labor law standards proposed by the International Labor Organization (ILO 2013). They are against a number of core ILO conventions including Abolition of Forced Labor Convention, Minimum Age Convention, Hours of Work Convention and Discrimination Convention (ILO 2013).
Moreover sweatshops are very distressing for individuals who are affected by them (Powell and Zwolinski 2012) are against internationally proclaimed human rights within social institution.