On Saturday night of 24 November 2012, a garment factory named Tazreen Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, burst into flames. With over 500 hundred workers trapped inside, few died jumping through the windows from this multifloored factory building. It was not until Sunday morning when fire was under control, but it resulted in over 200 workers getting injured and the death toll reached above 110. (BBC, 2012) (Wikipedia, 2012). This incident was no surprise to anyone as poor safety standards of the garment factory led to such fire blazing these factories several times every year. A similar fire killed 25 workers in another clothes factory in December 2010. The cause was identified as poor electricity safety measures. Another garment factory caught fire in Dhaka killing almost 7 workers (BBC, 2013), 1100 killed and over 2000 injured on 24 April 2013 at Rana Plaza incident and a recent fire accident in February 2016 which killed 4 workers is just a continuous and on-going list of accidents which could have been prevented (Zain Al-Mahmoud, The Wall Street Journal, 2014).
Garment industry of Bangladesh accounts for 80%, around 25 Billion US Dollars, of its annual exports (BBC, 2012), being the second largest exporter of read-made clothes in the world (SATTAR, The New York Times, 2017). These factories are prominent supplier of garments to the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany and the US. Its major clients include Walmart, Carrefour and IKEA, GAP H&M, C&A etc. The numbers of workers employed in garment manufacturing factories is impressive, over five million, and around five thousand of garment factories of different sizes. These reason behind Bangladesh’s garment industry to be in top charts of international markets is cheap labour and poor working conditions. Work force is repressed as they are unable to fight for their under-paid wages and poor condition of work environments.
Recently, labour activists have tried to raise their voice against low wages and substandard working conditions. There were dozens of protests in Bangladesh since December 2016. However, these attempts to fighting for their rights, workers were arrested, and thousands were fired from their jobs (Rachel, 2017). Labour unions are also not strong enough to help workers get full wage or get back their job. On this regard, we can admit that labour in garment industry of Bangladesh is captivated since they don’t have free choice in the work they choose.
The situation is identical on the other side of the world, in the prisons of United States of America. On 9 September 2016, largest prison strike occurred in the history of America over the 24 states of America with over 24000 prisoners stopped their labour work. (Schwartzapfel, 2016). In the course of one month over 40 prisons participated. It is reported that these strikes were coordinated by Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and the Free Alabama Movement. Causes of strike were prejudicial prison labour, under-paid salaries and inadequate living standards. However the main reason was to bring an end to prison bondage since in the 13th amendment of constitution of United states of America, prison labour was still allowed. (Baltzell, 2017)
Work in prison is legally forced on prisoners in America. Almost all the inmates earn nothing or few pennies for unskilled work which will not improve their future job prospects. Federal Prison Industries is run by Bureau of Prisons which pays around $0.9 an hour to the prisoners for there work, where they produce anything from body armours, mattresses, spectacles and road signs. This labour work for government agencies have reported to have $500m turnover in fiscal 2016. Most of the prisons pay less than the cost of a chocolate bar in the prison. (LEXINGTON, 2017)
Problems for these workers in both countries seem to be similar, as in both countries, workers are deprived from the rights to get fully paid jobs with decent working standards and safety of life. Both, the prisoners in the United States of America or the workers in Garment Industry of Bangladesh, are not satisfied from their working condition and their wages. They are left with no or almost no choice when it comes to freely working for a company, leaving that company or finding new work which suits them. The new issue or problem which will arise in the future is that if the condition of these workers stays the same, keep on earning a fraction of the minimum wage set by law, their standard of living will remain low. Their children might not go to school, learn new skillsThis is the definition of captive employees and will referred as captive employees further in this literature review.
The central question which this paper will address is that ‘Are markets based on captive employees (i.e., inmates; people with very limited occupational choice) morally legitimate?’ To answer this question, we would need to set parameters of what to consider morally legitimate and what is the definition of captive employees. The paper will analyse different views of scholars and other academic literature.
A literature review will be used to answer this question. The theoretical framework of this paper will consist of three parts. First part will lay the basis of our approach to the problems by defining the theory and other terms mentioned in the central question. Second part will discuss the issue using the literature consisted of academic articles on prison labour, and working conditions in garment industries of Bangladesh. The last part will discuss the research question, hypothesis and the limitations. At last there will be conclusion of what has been discussed and address the brief answer of the central question.
General background: theory, models & definitions
The central question revolves around the terms captive employees, decent work and moral values. First, we would address the definition of captive employees and the theory of morality.
Captive employees or forced/compulsory labour is perceived as work done involuntarily or under the threat of the penalty. Forced Labour Convention, 1930, defines forced labour as “any work or service done by any person under the threat penalty and the work not offered voluntarily.
Thus, forced labour exists when the person has not chosen freely to work or when the person is subject to sanctions if they refuse to work. Colin Fenwick, “When Privatization means exploitation: Prison labour in privatized facilities” in ILü, Fundamental rights at work: Overview and prospects, ILü, Geneva, 2001 at 40 Fenwick, “When privatization means exploitation”
Decent Work is defined as following; workers have social security, adequate earnings, stability and security of work, employment opportunities, equal treatment and opportunity in employment and workers’ representation (ILO 2012: 15). ILO (International Labour Organization) (2012). ‘Decent Work: Indicators and measurement’. Geneva: ILO.
The immorality regarding captive employees will be discussed and focused a lot in this paper. However, the theory of moral and immoral behaviour has thousands of different views when seen from every angle. Every person has different thoughts about this topic, but we can narrow down the theory as followed below.
“Morality” can be used either
descriptively to refer to certain codes of conduct put forward by a society or a group (such as a religion), or accepted by an individual for her own behavior, or
normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.
Morality may also be specifically synonymous with “goodness” or “rightness”.
Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. opposition to that which is good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any particular set of moral standards or principles.
We can relate theory of utilitarianism with morality. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which states that the best action is the one that maximizes utility. “Utility” is defined in various ways, usually in terms of the well-being of sentient entities. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, described utility as the sum of all pleasure that results from an action, minus the suffering of anyone involved in the action. Utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism, which states that the consequences of any action are the only standard of right and wrong. Unlike other forms of consequentialism, such as egoism, utilitarianism considers the interests of all beings equally.
Since 1970’s, the prison population has increased five times. This has increased the tax burden on the society and the opportunity cost of “warehousing” 2 million plus inmates. Providing work for these idle inmates is now forced on all convicted prisoners. Those who oppose prison labour have brought up private costs of lost jobs and lost sales of industries outside the prison. (Frederick W. Derrick, 2004)
Currently, only 1 in 10 prisoners in the US works for pay. But they receive low wages – what prisons are willing to pay. That’s usually well below the minimum wage.
But for the 2,400 inmates who work for the private sector, like those at Broward, pay is much better. They get the prevailing wage for products they produce. In Connecticut, that means the baseball caps used every year in the Little League World Series. In South Carolina, it’s graduation gowns, cables, and furniture. And in Arizona, women prisoners are hired to take hotel reservations.
“There is just an awful lot of untapped human potential there,” says Morgan Reynolds, an economist at Texas A&M and a fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas.
With the prison population reaching record highs and US unemployment at record lows, Mr. Reynolds and other analysts are asking whether a large concentration of available workers in prisons might help keep US manufacturing and other jobs in the US.
When GEONEX, a computer mapping company based in St. Petersburg, Fla., was competing for a major project for an international telephone company recently, executives considered hiring workers in Pakistan or India to input computer data.
But they went instead to Liberty Correctional Institution near Tallahassee, where today American prisoners are performing the work. In addition to training and a regular paycheck, some 80 inmates on the project can expect at least a $25,000-a-year job doing similar work when they are released.
“We are giving these people a skill set so that when they do get out they are going to be productive,” says Kenneth Mellem, president of GEONEX.
Reynolds says the vast majority of prisoners would gladly work for a paycheck if given the opportunity.
Sylvia Kee agrees. Ms. Kee, who is serving a life prison sentence, has worked at Broward Optical for 12 years. She is one of only 54 inmates employed in the 14-year-old business. But she says 90 percent of the 600 inmates at her prison want to work in the optical lab. It is the only program of its type in the prison. (Richey, 1998)
Employment upon release is perhaps the best defence against recidivism. The chief justification for prison labour is that it both defeats idleness and gives inmates marketable skills. Whether it actually does so is unclear. “The vast majority of prison labour is not even cloaked in the idea of rehabilitation,” says Heather Thompson of the University of Michigan. Simple manufacturing jobs, like the ones done cheaply by most inmates, have already left the country. The study pushed by the Bureau of Prisons, showing drops in reoffending, was published in 1996. More recent comparison statistics often ignore bias in how those being studied are chosen. Rigorous academic work on the subject is almost non-existent.
However, future job prospects is just a defence for prison labour, in real life most of work prisoners do is unskilled and may not increase their future job prospects.
However, the situation in Bangladesh is even worst. Justification for current working conditions in garment factories of Bangladesh maybe hard to find.
The central issue is the minimum wage which was set in 2013. Based on the national legislation, the next regular minimum wage revision is not due until 2018. Workers, however, are demanding that their salaries increase without further ado, since inflation and the rising cost of basic needs have made the current minimum wage of BDT 5,300 simply insufficient to make ends meet. Garment workers are therefore demanding that the lowest wage in the sector be increased to BDT 15,000-16,000. That means that the current minimum wage would have to triple, which may seem like an unrealistic request. However, four different living wage calculations show that the workers’ demand is, in fact, rather modest. (Campaign, 2017)
This is especially true in Bangladesh’s garment sector that employs forty percent of industrial workers and earns eighty percent of export revenue. Yet the majority of workers are women. They earn among the lowest wages in the world and work in appalling conditions. Trade unions and associations face brutal conditions as labour regulations are openly flouted. The recent rise in industrial conflict reflects workers’ growing resentment as they turn to spontaneous unionization and other forms of struggle. This paper examines this emerging labour movement and the means workers use to seek redress in an unfavourable political and economic context. It explores the context created by current working conditions, the legal framework as well as responses by the state, factory owners and global capital. Adapted from the source document.
Working conditions have a number of aspects. These include the space provided for workers, whether adequate or cramped; lighting; provision of toilets; and safety equipment and materials, such as first aid boxes. The poor working conditions of workers have been underscored by the recent (March 2013) building collapse (Rana Plaza) and outbreaks of fire, including at the Tazleen factory in December 2012 (Miller 2012). The various buyer compliance norms that have been instituted basically include working conditions on the shop floor and do not go into the observance or otherwise of building codes. There is, in general, however, large-scale violation of building norms in Bangladesh, and garment factories are no exception. Meanwhile, the high density of workers in RMG factories means violations of building regulations are likely to have very high fatality rates, with the Rana Plaza collapse ranking as one of the largest industrial disasters in the world in terms of deaths. (Nathan, 2014).
Coming back to the central question, to answer it, we first need agree on What is morally responsible behaviour? (Cappelli, 2013) discusses in his article that wages paid at minimum wage level at $7.25 in the USA, is unacceptable and unethical. This is due to the fact that a full-time job must earn you enough money to pay for food, housing and healthcare. Looking at conditions in prisons of USA and garment factories in Bangladesh, labour is not even earning a fraction of the minimum wage level set by the government. However, (Auerbach, 2012) states that inmates, through prison labour could gain marketable skills and experience, the companies would gain access to a significant labor pool that had not been previously exploited, and the public would benefit from reduced taxes paying for the upkeep of these prisons. According to Paul Wright, the executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a vocal opponent of prison labour, and a former prisoner, prison labour is acceptable (morally) ensure safe workplace conditions, give inmates the right to organize and negotiate, and pay all workers at least minimum wage and let them keep all their earnings. But not a lot of people are content with the current situation in prisons and garment factories in Bangladesh. (Miženková, 2015) states that current working conditions and wage levels in garment factories are not up to the standards of being called morally acceptable.
If the markets based on captive employees are not morally legitimate then why are customers comfortable with buying products from these markets and supporting them. We will introduce a research question to answer this.
On the basis of the arguments above presented we defined, upon understanding the current situation in Bangladesh and USA labour markets, the following research question.
The main research question: Does the immoral behaviour of markets based on captive employee’s effect customers of these industries? Are we as customers effected by the fact that these industries are producing market products immorally?
To answer this research question, we must state the methodology. Inductive research theory will happen. The data collection process is Longitudinal Sectional Study as it takes place overtime to collect the data. Surveys can be done to collect the dat. Target sample would be the population who are customers of these market products.
Answer to the research question is yet to be empirically verified. However, from the academic sources and articles discussed in this paper we can make a hypothesis. The fact that these markets, which are using captive employees, are booming. Some businesses are multi-billion dollar organizations, this predicts that consumers don’t find it immoral to buy products, as companies like Walmart are only gaining more customers every day.
However, this hypothesis could be falsified since we don’t know that do these customers know that these companies are supporting forced labour. A true research needs to be done on this matter to bring out acceptable results.
In this literature review we discussed current issues on the markets based on captive employees from different aspects. Academic literature and other various sources were used in this paper to answer the central question of this paper, ‘Are markets based on captive employees (i.e., inmates; people with very limited occupational choice) morally legitimate?’ Research was done on this issue to support the answers from the view of various authors. It was found that working conditions in garment factories of Bangladesh was unsatisfactory to workers and wage level were close to nothing. Similar case was found in the prisons of America where workers were paid from nothing to as high $1-2. After finding the definition of morality, this paper took views from different aspects of many authors and found that current situations in these two countries is not morally acceptable, however situation could be made better if corporation is done by the government. At last, the paper discusses the research question, hypothesis, its methodology and limitations.