1.3.8 Summary of section
During the 1970s and 1980s, countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan benefited from their low-cost advantages in the new global division of labour. Now, however, the gap between rich and poor nations is wider and competition in the world economy greater, prompting campaigning groups to argue that contemporary low-wage economies do not have the options for economic development that their predecessors had.
In the face of market fragmentation, the antisweatshop movement has sought to connect producers and consumers across the globe by linking the big brand retailers directly to sweatshop exploitation abroad. As such, the movement attempted to bring closer to Western consumers the distant exploitation and hardships that, it claimed, underpinned their lifestyles.
Under pressure to distance themselves from sweatshop abuses, the big retail corporations adopted corporate codes of conduct which, according to antisweatshop campaigners, have done little to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ among the low-wage economies.
So, despite agreement over the fact of sweatshop exploitation in low-wage economies, the two sides to the debate which I have considered in this and the previous section differ markedly as to the economic consequences of that exploitation and who is responsible for it. Their claims and counter-claims over the issues of cheap labour, market forces and economic development are set out in Figure 15 to give you a broad idea of their different standpoints.