Sweatshops, Choice, and Exploitation

Document Type


Publication Date



Ethics and Political Philosophy | Philosophy


This paper argues that a sweatshop worker's choice to accept the conditions of his or her employment is morally significant, both as an exercise of autonomy and as an expression of preference. This fact establishes a moral claim against interference in the conditions of sweatshop labor by third parties such as governments or consumer boycott groups. It should also lead us to doubt those who call for MNEs to voluntarily improve working conditions, at least when their arguments are based on the claim that workers have a moral right to such improvement. These conclusions are defended against three objections: 1) that sweatshop workers' consent to the conditions of their labor is not fully voluntary, 2) that sweatshops' offer of additional labor options is part of an overall package that actually harms workers, 3) that even if sweatshop labor benefits workers, it is nevertheless wrongfully exploitative.


Reprinted in Laura Hartman and Joseph DesJardins, eds., Business Ethics: Decision-Making for Personal Integrity & Social Responsibility, 2nd edition (McGraw Hill, 2011), pp. 312-25.

Reprinted in Andrew Morriss, ed., Global Labor and Employment Law for the Practicing Lawyer (Kluwer Law International, 2010), pp. 597-647.

Reprinted in David Schmidzt, ed., Creating Wealth: Ethical and Economic Persepctives (Cognella Academic Publishing, 2010).

Reprinted in Harriet Baber and Denise Dimon, eds. Globalization and International Development: The Ethical Issues (Broadview, 2013).