United States economist Michael Watts said in the film, The End of Poverty? that "capitalism cannot operate without free labor." The term free labor has evolved in meaning over the centuries. In Feudal Europe, free laborers were known as serfs who worked the land in return for protection. During the colonization of America, free labor took the form of slavery. Slaves were forced to work in exchange for food and shelter. Recently, free labor has taken on a new definition around the globe. Cheap labor or sweatshop labor is the new free labor that drives modern capitalism.
In its most basic form, capitalism is an economic system in which property, goods, and services are privately owned. Prices, production, and distribution of goods are determined by competition in a free market. (Conley). Ideally, capitalism should benefit the masses, but capitalism has lead to the extreme stratification of wealth. For example, "the richest 20 of the world's population holds 82.7 of the world's income, whereas the poorest 60 of the world's population accounts for only 4.6 of the world's income" (Conley). The rift between the capitalist class and the working class has caused exploitation between employers and laborers. Employers take more capital from laborers than they repay in wages.
This phenomenon has grown to infinite proportions with the rise of the corporation. As legal entities, corporations such as Apple and Nike have become so powerful that they have displaced religions and governments in their hunt for economic control. Corporations drive the rapidly globalizing capitalistic economy. Corporations employ millions of people and are purely self-interested in making profits.
[...] Yet many of the worst sweatshops exist in China. A factory that produces sneakers for the German-based company Puma has some of the worst wages. Workers reportedly make 35 cents an hour, yet "Puma had profits of $66.2 million" (Feitelberg) in 2005. Proponents of sweatshop labor practices like to equate China's exploitation of workers as a necessary part of their Industrial Revolution. Some progressive economists often cite America's own Industrial Revolution as an example. Factory work with low wages and little regard to workers' rights were rampant throughout American cities during the early 1900s until civil rights groups, unions, and the Federal government decided to step in. [...]
[...] Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl Wudunn. "Two Cheers for Sweatshops." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Sept. 2000. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. Nike, Inc. FY 2012 Q3 Earning Release Conference Call Transcript. Nike Inc.com. 22 Mar. 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.
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