On Friday the 27th, the UW Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) is holding a rally in the quad against the UW’s use of sweatshop labor. SLAP aims to have colleges adopt the Designated Suppliers Program, which requires college apparel suppliers to “including the right to organize and bargain collectively and the right to be paid a living wage” amongst other things.
I am happy that they have chosen to try and influence the purchasing decisions of the UW directly instead of advocating legislation, but SLAP is quite misguided. Sweatshops are demonstrably good for 3rd world workers, and even if the existence of sweatshops does indicate a problem, critics should focus their attention on the causes and not the symptoms. If a worker chooses to work for a sweatshop, which probably has pretty poor working conditions, it means that all other alternatives were even worse. SLAP and others often advocate sweatshops paying a “living wage,” but this will inevitably create and insider problem, where already hired workers are paid very well, but other potential workers who would are willing and able to work for those wages or lower are unemployed. The usefulness of higher income decreases as income increases so, if anything, SLAP should implore sweatshops to hire as many workers as it possibly can instead of paying a privileged few higher wages.