Whenever you buy a pair of trainers, a new top or any type of clothing, do you consider who made them or how they were made? Would you still buy the trainers if you knew that a twelve-year-old Vietnamese girl working in sweatshop conditions had manufactured them?
The main ethical problems involved with these large trans-national companies like “Nike” are that firstly, children well below the minimum working age are able to work in huge factories by showing unreliable identification, secondly most workers are labouring in sweatshop conditions, they are being abused of their human rights and finally, the wages that they are being given are very low although they are the legal minimum for that particular country. However, TNCs argue that they have detailed codes of conduct which include all of the human rights points and that they have monitors checking working conditions and any sign of child labour. They guarantee that children have not made their products. But is this the truth?
Apparently not! A recent undercover documentary called ‘Panorama’ proved that TNCs such as “Nike” had sweatshop conditions and child labour happening in their factories. In its defence, “Nike” told ‘Panorama’ that its monitors were not doing enough to crush out child labour and that they will reform how they employ people and ask for more reliable sources of proof of age. They said that this is not usually the case in the rest of their factories. But again ‘Panorama’ proved them wrong by showing that all these problems were occurring in a lot of the factories.
The sad truth is that most of the workers cannot afford to buy the products that they produce because they get paid so little. Only five percent of the market value goes too the person made them. At first this may seem that the TNCs are exploiting the workers but in fact they are paying the minimum requirement for that particular country. Even if this seems to be a considerably less amount of money than their western equivalent would get paid, it is because that the cost of living is much less than in the west. The whole industry makes large sums of profit in this way.
On the bright side TNCs provide work for many poor people that otherwise would be jobless. They give wages that really help support people’s families living in underprivileged rural areas. Even in deprived parts of rich countries, TNCs support and sponsor community schemes which will improve conditions for those people. TNCs have now allowed private monitoring associations to keep the human right issues and child labour at bay. Also, they make great clothing for us to wear.
On the whole, it seems that TNCs are trying much harder to stamp out child labour and sweatshop conditions. So for the time being, a consumer should feel safe about buying the logo. But they should be wary, just in case the TNCs start to return to their old habits and whatever happens, they should never stop asking questions!