Brian Berkey | Journal of Business Ethics
It is widely thought that firms that employ workers in “sweatshop” conditions wrongfully exploit those workers. This claim has been challenged by those who argue that because companies are not obligated to hire their workers in the first place, employing them cannot be wrong so long as they voluntarily accept their jobs and genuinely benefit from them. In this article, I argue that we can maintain that at least many sweatshop employees are wrongfully exploited, while accepting the plausible claim at the core of many defenses of sweatshops, namely that engaging in a voluntary and mutually beneficial transaction with a person in need cannot constitute morally worse treatment of that person than doing nothing at all to benefit her. We can do this, I claim, by accepting that wealthy multinational corporations have positive duties to employ or otherwise benefit the global poor. I argue that these duties can be plausibly grounded in the fact that potential sweatshop workers are victims of global structural injustice, from which multinational corporations typically benefit.