TEXAS FAITH 101: Should Americans boycott sweatshops in places like Bangladesh?

Dallas Morning News,

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

Should we Americans boycott sweatshops in places like Bangladesh?

That’s the question many people are facing after a horrific fire in a Bangladesh sweatshop recently killed more than 1,100 workers. But it isn’t always an easy one to answer.

As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof explains in this link, workers in some underdeveloped nations see a sweatshop as preferable to conditions they otherwise might work in. Here’s how Kristof put it in a 2009 column:

“I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.”

In essence, sweatshop employees may be making a rational decision to work in places most Americans would not set foot in. The demand for their goods leads to jobs that pay better than in other parts of a developing nation’s economy. And in better conditions, as hard as that might be to imagine

On the other hand, our demand for their goods is why sweatshops exist. And while those facilities may be better than others in a country, they also can be exploitative and even deadly.

I am also including a link to an interview that ran in The Dallas Morning News Points section. The Q&A is with Texas Tech professor Benjamin Powell, author of the forthcoming Sweatshops: Improving Lives and Economic Growth. He explains why he thinks Americans should not boycott sweatshops.

What do you think?

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

The exploitation is a symptom of a greater spiritual problem. Sharing on a practical level how one can get rid of the exploitive nature through spiritual realization is more productive than fighting the symptoms. Don’t blow on the boil, operate!

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.