Sweatshops, Exploitation, and the Nonworseness Claim

Business Ethics Quarterly:1-22 (forthcoming)


According to the nonworseness claim, it cannot be morally worse to exploit someone than not to interact with them at all when the interaction 1) is mutually beneficial, 2) is voluntary, and 3) has no negative effects on third parties. My aim in this article is to defend the moral significance of exploitation from this challenge. To that end, I develop a novel account of why sweatshop owners have a moral obligation to pay sweatshop workers a nonexploitative wage despite the fact that their relationship is entirely optional. More precisely, I defend two main claims. First, I show that sweatshop owners are morally obligated to pay sweatshop workers a nonexploitative wage even though they have a right not to hire them and even though that will require them to pay sweatshop workers a wage that is higher than the one they voluntarily accepted. Second, I explain why this obligation on the part of sweatshop owners is not defeated by the fact that other individuals not party to the transaction would benefit even more than sweatshop workers from receiving this additional level of pay.

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Michael Kates
Saint Joseph's University of Pennsylvania

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