The morality of the market is a topic that’s always been discussed but with the globalization from the past years the discussion has widened since competition has driven firms to be more and more competitive resulting in a need to cut costs and increase profits. For this reason, many multinationals started using prisons and developing countries as a pool were to tap into when trying to cut costs by finding workers who they could pay extremely low salaries either because inmates or people with a very limited occupational choice.
The tragedy of the Rana plaza in Bangladesh, which an article from the New York times called to mind in January last year, is an example of how Bangladeshi workers are exploited, especially in the garment industry. Said workers not only receive on average a salary of 32 cents, but the conditions in which they work are not even safe.
A recent article of the economist writes about how with one hour work the prisoners can’t even afford to buy anything from the commissary of the prison, and while what the inmates get from their work is almost nothing, the market produced by their labour is worth over 1bn dollars.
The issue the will be addressed in this paper is the one of captive employees. It is not a new issue but it can be said that in the past year more information has come to light and there has been more discussion around the topic especially after the tragedy in Bangladesh and the awakening of more aware customers who care about moral issues and also by the ever-increasing privatization of prisons where the already bad conditions of prisoners are possibly getting even worse. Thus, mostly the paper will be concerned about the exploitation being faced by prisoners and the population of the developing countries, both united by the low salaries and mediocre conditions. The question that this paper aims to answer is weather markets based on captive employees, like inmates and people with a very limited occupational choice for example can be considered morally legitimate, the method by which this question will be addressed is a literature review, for which literature consisting academic articles related to the topic and journal articles has been examined. In the second section of the paper the general theories and models which back the assumptions made will be addressed and in particular, the utilitarian theory, Rawl’s theory of justice, and Robert Nozick’s theory. In the third section the central question will be discussed and arguments for and against the use of captive employees in for profit organizations will be provided. In the fourth section a further research question based on the previous discussion will be states, accompanied by a hypothesis based on that research.
There are many factors that influence people’s working conditions, it makes a difference if one is a free citizen or an inmate and even when a person can be considered a free citizen it doesn’t always mean that it’ working conditions are good or that if that person is unsatisfied with them can do something about it. The society we live in is based on a free market, and one of the most important assumptions of the free market is about the mobility factor, regarding employees this assumption states that an employee has the possibility to choose between keeping working for a certain firm or decide to leave it and try to find work in another one. Sadly, for many people this is not the truth they leave. In many developing countries inhabitants have a very limited occupational choice and they often can’t afford to leave a workplace even if they are not satisfied with the conditions they find themselves in. a strong example about this. Workers indeed had already notice large crack in the building but after an inspector declared the building safe to work into they didn’t have the power to say no and refuse to work under said conditions. The fear of losing one’s job was greater than the fear of losing one’s life and this demonstrates how the mobility factor doesn’t apply to such workers. The same could be said for prisoners. Even though the salaries are low and often not even enough to make any purchase and the conditions are often inhumane that’s the only alternative.
Despite all this information, and much more, being largely available not always it serves as a deterrent for people the keeps them from buying goods produced or sold by companies that make use of captive employees, thus another question comes to mind namely why certain customers are comfortable with the fact that many products are made under poor conditions. A study conducted by … suggests that One possibility is that customers do care about moral values and the working conditions about exploited workers as well as their safety on working grounds but when considering to buy a product or not the ethical situation of the producer firm plays little if no role at all compared to the quality or even more importantly the price of the good. another possible reason why people feel it is acceptable to buy such products could be that some perceive that having companies that exploit them but at the same time give them a job is better than not having a job at all, thus as long as the firm provides profits and work opportunities it is less relevant if it can’t be considered an ethical firm. One of the findings of the study was that when asked if the status of social responsibility of a company would influence the decision about purchasing its products or not almost all respondents gave a negative answer but at the same time the same respondents admitted that if they were wealthier they would likely boycott the unethical companies. It can be said people are likely to be aware of companies’ unethical actions, but nonetheless their actions are not driven by ethical reasons, as demonstrated by the fact that they wouldn’t boycott a firm just because it could be considered unethical, but rather by personal reasons, like for example the price of the goods. The production and trade of goods can arise negative externalities that can include among other things bad working conditions, thus it may seem the customers purchasing goods produced under such conditions may be acting against their own moral values. It may seem consequentially that market interactions can lead to moral decay. This could be because of three features present in market interactions; firstly, that since fir trade to exist it needs to be at least two individuals agreeing, this could lessen the responsibility felt, secondly market interactions give a sense of what is considered acceptable, thus seeing someone trade and possibly being indifferent to ethics while doing so may signal that it is appropriate to do so. Thirdly markets primary aspects are materialistic one, and they may replace in individual’s minds the ethics of their actions. Following a study conducted by … and concerning the abovementioned issues It can be said that markets do tend to lead to a decay of moral values and that even though people sate their being against exploitation of workers and the desire for everyone to have proper working conditions and an adequate salary, when it comes to participate in the market their ethical beliefs are mainly disregarded, giving much more importance to personal rather than social considerations such as price and quality. Another question that may arise is what is a morally responsible behaviour, there is not a definite answer to this question because it highly depends on the perspective from which It is observed. Generally, when people talk about ethics they refer the moral principle and values that guide behaviour but what is considered ethical can change depending on the moral principles with which it is judged weather something is ethic or not. In this paper three approaches will be discussed, which are utilitarianism, Ralws’s maximin principle and Robert Nozick’s entitlement theory. According to utilitarian theory the most important things is to achieve the outcome that results in the utmost sum of utility to society. An important feature of utilitarianism is that it asserts that as long as something induces some gains somewhere in the economy it is justified for the poor to go through some extra suffering. Rawls however in its theory of justice presents the maximin principle, according to which the one’s that matter the most are people who are part of the wore off group, thus affirming that their benefits are the ones that need to be maximized. Finally, Robert Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice claims that all deeds as long as between assenting adults should be allowed, because the only thing that matters is that the wealth gained by someone has been acquired in a rightful manner and that individual’s right have been respected. An overall agreement among the whole population over what can be considered morally acceptable and what not is unlikely if not impossible to ever be achieved, different persons might have indeed different viewpoints and also different interest.
According to John Rawls it is a government duty to assure the maximization of the population’s most disadvantaged groups because improving the condition of the worse off group is more essential than advance the condition of the already better off groups. (…) According to this view markets based on captive employees are certainly not to be considered morally legitimate since instead of improving the condition of people who are already living in an unpleasant condition they worsen it even more by exploiting their condition. An example can be found in Bangladesh’s garment industry where the government protects the interest of factory owners rather than the rights of the workers and what’s more fights against the unions who try to defend workers’ rights. Moreover, despite the many protests carried out by workers together with human right activist the Bangladeshi government is reluctant to raise minimum wage workers because of the fear to scare away big clothing company that base their manufacturing factories in places like Bangladesh to have as cheap as possible labour. (…) if we then look at whether a market based on captive employees is moral or not the answer would most certainly be that it is not. This would be further sustained by Sen, Ingrid Robeyns in her paper the capability approaches a theoretical survey, states that according to Sen the policies carried out by the government should focus on people and their capabilities and desires, and they should be about make people able to achieve the quality of life desired by them. (…) In the example of the Bangladeshi worker that is the exact opposite of what the government focuses on. Its main focus is on the contrary to benefit only the already better off group which is what John Rawls sustained the government shouldn’t be doing. In her paper, she also explains how according to the capability approach everyone should have freedom and the possibility to achieve anything they want even if they ultimately don’t achieve it, the most important is that had they wanted to they would have had the possibility. The capability approach also refers to basic capabilities, which are the basics needed in order to leave a decent life out of poverty. The use of captive employees by for profit organizations leads to them not being able to even have those basic capabilities necessary to a dignified life.
Taking up another perspective we can see how someone seeing the issue from Robert Nozick’s entitlement theory perspective would say that the use of captive employees by for profit organizations is morally legitimate. Nozick sustained indeed that any act between consenting adults should be allowed, and since a worker who takes up a job in a factory is an adult and is doing so in a consenting way without being coerced to do so it can be considered an act, between consenting adults, the worker and the employee. Debra Satz however points out the faulting of this reasoning, she argues that even when someone deliveries something to a thief is carrying out a sort of voluntary movement, but many will consider that a coerced act. In the same way, a worker who is accepting a work position that will be paid way less than what is necessary to a dignified living can be considered not a free choice but some kind of coercion. Just like someone who is willing to sale a kidney does that as an act of desperation and most certainly wouldn’t agree to the sell if he had more options, or if he was wealthier in the same way probably a worker who had more option would not agree to “sell” his labour for such a low pay and often to work in bad conditions, often risking his life.
Finally, another argument in favour of the use of captive employees is that as long as the exploitation of the workers produces enough gains to the for-profit organizations that are exploiting then it justifies the sufferings that the captive employees have to suffer, like the Bangladeshi worker who have to work in unsafe conditions for really low wages. This argument derives from the utilitarianism, which tries to maximize the overall sum of utility even if it means that someone might have to undergo some extra suffering. If the viewpoint of a corporation is taken that it might be argued that since the moral obligation of it is to maximize welfare than it can be argued also based on the utilitarian grounds that the use of captive employees is not only morally legitimate but that it also conveys great benefits to the corporations and their customers, since the pursuit of profit maximization delivers to them products at the lowest price possible (…) however the support of this kind of markets which are based on captive employees can be considered immoral because they produce harmful outcomes to some of the party involved. If it’s true that companies and even customers receive great benefit from them, the first by huge gains and the latter by being able to purchase quality but inexpensive products, it is also true that by sustain this type of market pushes certain individuals to accept menial works with low wages and unsafe conditions, thus leaving a person without the minimum conditions that would assure its well-being and unable to satisfy the most basic needs.
For all these arguments provided above it would be advised for such employment structures not to be allowed if it is important to consider not only the interests of the group already better group but also the interests of the numerically more significant people in the word the form part of the worse off group. It should also be a priority to respect their human right just as we would like that someone took interest in our basic rights of the situation was reversed and we would end up being part of that disadvantaged group, and guarantee those people at least to live a dignified life. A market based on captive employees moreover brings to the surface a situation where the party involved are not in the same position and one of the party is more vulnerable because it doesn’t have the same level of understanding of the exchange to which he is agreeing, thus opening room for exploitation to occur, and this is just another reason why these markets shouldn’t be allowed
Based on what has been discussed so far, an interesting research question to further analyse would be: to what extent does the wealth of a person affects the decision to act according to its moral values when purchasing a good or service? Starting from this research question a hypothesis could be formulating which would be: a person will act according to his/her moral values when making a purchase the wealthier he/she is while he/she will the to disregard his/her moral values the poorer he/she is. The expected outcome based on the information gathered so far in the previous research would be that further research would endorse the hypothesis confirming that wealthy people are more incline to include moral issues when considering whether or not to buy from a firm that has known to have unethical behaviour while poor people would rather focus on the price of a good disregarding any moral issue that might be involved.
The main goal of this research was to address a question concerning the moral acceptability of a market based on captive employees and in order to answer this question it has mainly focused on the condition of Bangladeshi worker in the garment industry. To reach this outcome against this type of markets have been presented, based mainly on the Ralwsian theory of Justice, which states that the government should focus its effort to improve the condition of the most disadvantaged groups in society, as well as arguments in favour of markets based on the use of captive employees, based mainly on Robert Nozick’s entitlement theory and the utilitarian, which assert respectively that any act between consenting adults should be allowed and that as long as gains elsewhere are produced it is fair to have someone suffer a condition of exploitation. For this, counterarguments were provided which strengthened the position according to which such markets are not to be considered morally legitimate, such as the fact it is not certain that the act of a worker who is accepting a menial work for a low wage can for certain can be considered an exchange between consenting adult since had the condition of that worker been different he probably wouldn’t have accepted such an offer and the fact that the existence of such markets enables situations to occur where the basic rights to have a decent dignified life are denied. It has been therefore concluded that for the arguments suggested in this paper the answer to the central question indicated in the introduction is that such markets, namely the ones based on captive employees and more particularly the one taken as an example in this paper about the garment industry Bangladeshi workers.