1.4 Responsibility for elsewhere
Up to now I have focused on the claims of the antisweatshop movement and the counter-claims of those who contest the purely negative conclusions drawn about the exploitation of another country's poor. To that end, I have, at various moments, touched on issues of demands to take responsibility: whether, for instance, responsibility for sweatshops should be divided up in some way between all those connected to the market system which gives rise to them, or placed firmly at the door of the big retailers; whether responsibility for such hardships is greater closer to home than far away; or whether perhaps it would be irresponsible to intervene in market forces in the first place. These are all weighty issues with a much wider relevance than simply in relation to sweatshops. Realistically, in the remainder of this unit I can only begin to probe them. What I would like to do in this section, therefore, is to stand back from the evidence for the conditions in factory sweatshops – which, as you may recall, are not in dispute – and consider more the issue of what responsibility for elsewhere might actually involve.
In one respect, as we have seen, the adoption of codes of conduct by the clothing multinationals, and increasingly in other areas such as toys and footwear, can be taken as a clear indication of the acceptance at the corporate level of demands to take responsibility for working conditions in distant places. However, such actions may also be read in a more cynical manner as a form of damage-limitation exercise to their corporate brands in the wake of negative media publicity and falling sales. Taking responsibility can be good for business in an interdependent global economy where the far off is not as distant as it once seemed. Indeed, many in the pro-market lobby would go further than this and argue that it is a firm's responsibility to participate in the world's markets, in so far as the failure to globalise is tantamount to denying the world's poor a chance to raise their living standards and gain a share in the rising levels of prosperity overall (Moran, 2002; Hartman et al., 2003).