Who Really Benefits From Sweatshops?

Monthly Review
Sept 12, 2013
David L. Wilson

Consumers are ultimately the ones responsible for dangerous conditions in garment assembly plants in the Global South, Hong Kong-based business executive Bruce Rockowitz told the New York Times recently. The problem is that improved safety would raise the price of clothing, according to Rockowitz, who heads Li & Fung Limited, a sourcing company that hooks up retailers like Macy’s and Kohl’s with suppliers in low-wage countries like Bangladesh. “So far,” he said, “consumers have just not been willing to accept higher costs.”

Rockowitz isn’t alone in blaming consumers in Europe and the United States for sweatshop conditions in the apparel industry. The idea pervades popular culture. When 1,129 Bangladeshi sweatshop workers died in the Rana Plaza collapse in April, a lawyer in the United Kingdom proposed raising money for the victims by having consumers pay a voluntary “T-shirt tax” on clothing stitched in Bangladesh. “This isn’t just the fault of companies who supply cheap clothes,” barrister Victoria Butler-Cole explained.

But people rarely ask whether the facts support this idea. How much money do we really save because of cheap labor in the Global South?

Calculating the “T-Shirt Tax”

The quick answer is: nickels and dimes. Although estimates of the percentage of labor costs in clothing’s retail price “vary by product and location of production,” World Bank senior economist Zahid Hussain wrote in 2010, “it is clear from published academic research that labor costs typically constitute 1-3 percent for a garment produced in the developing world. Hence, large increases in labor costs do not require correspondingly large increases in retail price.” The Worker Rights Consortium, a group monitoring sweatshop conditions, came to a similar conclusion (PDF) in 2005.

Significant wage increases and improvements in conditions at Bangladeshi apparel plants would probably add 40 or 50 cents to the price of a $10 T-shirt, at most. And this is assuming, as Bruce Rockowitz does, that manufacturers and retailers would pass the extra cost on to us.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

john pavlovitz

Stuff That Needs To Be Said

Just The Messenger

News, Politics & Opinion


Be revolutionary. Tell the Truth.

The New Americana

Conservatism isn't dead

Psychology Corner

Everyday Psychology

Brave Girls Club

Life-Changing Fun for Women


A voice of reason in the land of Stupidparty, pointing out the banal and often contradictory positions in StupidpartyLand, USA.


Be Rational. Be Outspoken. Be Heard.

Art & Life Notes

Zooming in on the the big picture

Global Watchdog

Media Accountability Coalition

TFN Insider

The Official Blog of TFN and the TFN Education Fund

Erasing 76 Crimes

The human toll of 76+ countries' anti-gay laws. The struggle to repeat them.


Challenging the official story...

The Progressive Cynic

Modern American politics is filled with partisanship, legalized corruption and extremism. On this site you will find articles on a variety of subjects and points of view that are not normally portrayed in the corporate media--don’t expect any sugar-coating, pandering or interest money propaganda here.

Tiny House Design

Design a More Resilient Life

Modern Atheist .org

Replacing belief with wonder - and understanding.

D.A.W.N. Democracy Against War Now

|| Do unto others as you would like to be done onto || Give as you would like to receive || Love thy neighbour as thyself ||

%d bloggers like this: