I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories.
Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty.
At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.
When I defend sweatshops, people always ask me: But would you want to work in a sweatshop? No, of course not.
But I would want even less to pull a rickshaw. In the hierarchy of jobs in poor countries, sweltering at a sewing machine isn’t the bottom.
The best way to help people in the poorest countries isn’t to campaign against sweatshops but to promote manufacturing there. One of the best things America could do for Africa would be to strengthen our program to encourage African imports, called AGOA, and nudge Europe to match it.