How to Defend Sweatshop Labor

To what extent should those of us concerned with justice in the global economy worry about exploitation? As I understand it, this question is in part a question about fairness and where, if at all, it applies. On one plausible view, exploitation, in the most basic, morally problematic sense, arises in bargaining situations: one party exploits another party when and only when it uses its superior bargaining position to win terms favorable to it in the agreement being made between them. (The resulting unfair agreement can also be said to be exploitative, in a secondary sense, if it resulted, or could only have resulted, from a wrongfully exploitative bargaining process.) What distinguishes morally problematic exploitation from morally innocent ways of “taking advantage of an opportunity” (e.g., sitting outside on a fine day) is certain fairness expectations: the exploiting party uses its superior bargaining position to get the other to accept an unfair agreement, in breach of an obligation to instead offer and negotiate toward fair terms. Regardless of what is fair, the party with the upper hand doesn’t budge.
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