History proves that human communities have always included people who seek to enslave other individuals. In antiquity and the Middle Ages, the brutally defeated tribes and entire nations became slaves to the victors. Despite the change of epochs, slavery remains hiddenly inherent in society. Disguised as a desperate option of earning money for a cheap workforce in the Third World Countries, it corrodes not only the bodies of the exhausted workers in sweatshops but also the minds of those western and prosperous consumers who do not stop this modern manifestation of hidden cruelty by choosing to keep buying the products.
The study of the issue does not lose its relevance because since the writing of the article Two Cheers for Sweatshops(2000), a qualitative improvement of the discussed situation has not happened. The authors of the article, Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, are holders of the Pulitzer Prizes for the defense of democracy (for example, they conducted a study of the democratic movement of Tiananmen Square), and they have numerous other awards for journalistic activities and active public position in the protection of human rights and liberties. Traveling to the Third World Countries, including Asia and Africa, they have made a lot of observations regarding the social and working conditions of the local population. Particular attention has been paid to the sweatshops that produce goods for famous Western companies, attracting cheap, almost slavery labor. Their article Two Cheers for Sweatshops leads to the conclusion that sweatshops are a necessary evil and the best option for a workplace in the developing countries that can not be liquidated, as it could ultimately lead to economic stagnation. Such a position requires a critical review since there are some circumstances not considered in the article, for example, the significance of agriculture in underdeveloped countries. Also, it is substantial to understand whether there are alternatives to sweatshops and what can be done to improve the situation. Thus, despite such positive moments in Two Cheers for Sweatshops as the very fact of discussion of such an acute topic, the demonstration of extensive personal observations, and the bright emotional component, the article has significant drawbacks. They include excessive subjectivism, the lack of references to official sources and clear data, the avoidance of the root causes, and the absence of constructive proposals for solving the problem.
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Summary of Two Cheers for Sweatshops
The article of Kristof and WuDunn is the result of primary personal observations after traveling through Asia. The story begins with a trip to Thailand and an acquaintance of the authors with the local worker Mongkol Latlakorn, who tells that his fifteen-year-old daughter Darin is working hard at a factory in Bangkok and receives $2 per day. He considers such a job very profitable and is afraid that the daughter can lose it. Darin works at a sweatshop and sews clothes for export to America. The very fact of heavy child labor and the positive attitude of Latlakorn deeply affect the authors. At the same time, the journalists note a low standard of living of the family that forces them to consume even beetles. Because of this kind of poverty, people choose to work in sweatshops and tolerate the bullying of the managers.
Further, Kristof and WuDunn describe their experience of traveling to China in 1987, where they have visited Dongguan. The situation with almost slavish labor is repeated on the example of a teenage girl (one of 100 workers) who works for the Hong Kong company 7 days per week, with a daily payment of several dollars. The journalists refer to the discussed work style by mentioning more examples of penury that forces people to accept the big companies’ rules to feed and protect their families (like the story of Nhem Yen from Cambodia). The authors criticize sweatshops however, at the same time, they note that the workers do not consider them as an exceptionally negative phenomenon. Asians treat sweatshops normally and continue to work there, depending on the number of goods bought abroad. Kristof and WuDunn consider such labor organizations to be unfair, but they recognize that sweatshops are practically the only way to overcome economic stagnation in Third World Countries. They bring attention to China and South Korea, suggesting that in other countries, similar enterprises will also contribute to the economic transformation in the future. Finally, they conclude that it is practically impossible to significantly influence the work of sweatshops since influential companies can simply move production to other cities, etc. Nevertheless, the living conditions of the workers could be improved if the consumers bought more goods from them. From my point of view, the last statement is controversial and has an alternative solution.
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Attractive Aspects of the Article
The studied article has several significant advantages. The first one is the choice of the very idea for observation and study. It can be assumed that such a topic could become a subject of wide criticism and bring many challenges. Nevertheless, the authors boldly approached the coverage of the sweatshops, focusing on their negative aspects first namely, on low earnings, non-compliance with safety rules, and a high level of fatigue.
The use of examples from personal observation turns an article into a private study of a practical nature. Using some artistic techniques (for example, description of appearance and general characteristics of Mongkol Latlakorn), the authors entice the reader and allow them to better imagine those people from the story, to empathize with their life tragedy, and to feel sympathy for them. It is necessary for the reason that the journalists use insufficiently factual information and data, emphasizing the emotional component, which is the third positive point.
The article can hardly be called scientific because it is written in a mixed style. Appealing to the feelings of a reader, the authors use penetrating examples of the consequences of poor existence. For this reason, they write about how a needle has gone through the fingers of Darin during sewing, or how a woman from Cambodia had to choose a mosquito net to protect at least one child from malaria, etc. Obviously, the goal of the presented article was to draw attention to the problem of poverty in the countries of the Third World, which forces people to work in sweatshops. The emotional component, personal experience (strengthened by the author’s authority), and their courage to discuss this topic reached the attention of the reader and caused a desire to support the workers from the developing countries.
Excessive Subjectivity and Insufficient References Facts
Despite the strong aspects, the article has several weaknesses, which in some ways cast doubt on its objectivity. The first of them is excessive subjectivism. It should be recognized that Kristof and WuDunn focus only on their own considerations and do not turn to specific organizations or studies to produce more arguments. They do not mention enterprises where the mentioned persons (Darin or a woman from Cambodia) have worked, and simply stating that the managers are abusive toward the employees also does not give any data. On the other hand, they give some statistics, such as infant mortality in India: Every year 3.1 million Indian children die before the age of 5, but they do not indicate the source of information (Kristof & WuDunn, 2000). For such a case, by making loud and fundamental statements, the authors level the significance of the scientific part of the article, which should have been supported by the relevant quotes. As an example, the study of Talpur and Ratcliff (2016) is devoted to examining the harmful effects of sweatshops on workers. Researchers focus on the difficult labor conditions of women and their need to survive for the sake of children. Nevertheless, the authors use some external sources and are more accurate when discussing some facts and figures, but the majority of their information is not supported. Thus, the lack of objectivity in Two Cheers for Sweatshops leads to the shortcoming connected with the consideration of only the superficial characteristics of the Asian society.
Exploration of the Consequences Instead of the Root Causes
In addition to the above, the article demonstrates the problem of surface analysis. Kristof and WuDunn do not study the causes of poverty in the region, discussing them only as a reality that must be combated. Asian peoples are considered poor by default. It is said that they choose where to work by themselves, although in fact, they do not have much choice. Under this angle, sweatshops can be perceived as an inevitable option of economic support. Nevertheless, it should be noted that initially, the peoples of Asia had strong positions in agriculture, which were lost because of the intervention of Western countries, companies, and banks, and due to the forced imposition of labor and trade conditions (Hickel, 2011). Thus, once prosperous farmers became dependent on the imaginary benefits of industrialization and sweatshops as their worst manifestations. This aspect should be understood clearly to properly approach the search for a solution to the problem.
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Undetermined Plan of the Problem Solution
Finally, the authors of Two Cheers for Sweatshops do not offer a worthy plan to help Asian workers. They suggest buying goods made in sweatshops but do not consider more global assistance and protection. The solution to the problem could be the reform of the international labor legislation with the establishment of a single minimum wage. Moreover, an insignificant (up to 2%) increase in the prices of company commodities could contribute to an increase in salaries offered in sweatshops by 100% (Hickel, 2011). Such conclusions could be made if an interdisciplinary approach and appropriate sources were used, taking into account theoretical explorations. Nevertheless, Kristof and WuDunn have bypassed this point without offering anything better other than actually reconciling with the reality and increasing the turnover of monopolists’ products.
The critical analysis of Two Cheers for Sweatshops has shown that the article touches on the painful and still relevant topic of hard working conditions in sweatshops. The personal observations of the authors and their emotional presentation of the material attract attention and evoke interest in the issue. At the same time, excessive subjectivism does not allow the readers to assess the prospects objectively. The lack of references to other sources and the use of insufficient accurate and specific data cast doubt on the validity of the article in some aspects. Besides, the authors do not offer a constructive solution to the sweatshop problems, considering them an inevitable, but temporary evil for developing economies. Despite it, I believe that the problem can be solved through legislative reforms and a proper pricing policy.