NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Exploited" Workers May Find Greater Opportunities

February 16, 2004

Many politicians, union leaders and academics decry the use of workers in developing countries by American multinational companies, often accusing such companies of exploiting the poor. However, for many poor, factory jobs are a much better alternative than what they're accustomed to.

For example, the poor in Phnom Phen, Cambodia, spend hours rummaging through trash dumps in order to find scrap metal, plastic bags or food they can sell:

  • A worker there earns about 75 cents per day for their efforts; yet suppose they are offered a factory job that pays $2.00 per day.
  • Most economists agree that workers who are given such an opportunity to earn over twice as much with better working conditions will be much getter off.
  • Yet anti-free trade demonstrations are pressuring companies not to build factories in developing countries because factory wages are so low -- but that actually makes people worse off by taking away their best alternative, says Walter Williams, of George Mason University.

Moreover, politicians in America and Europe who denounce "exploitation" of workers in developing countries are more likely concerned about the exodus of higher-paying union jobs than they are about the plight of the poor, according to Williams. Hence, some officials would like to see the World Trade Organization establish an international minimum wage.

Sources: Walter E. Williams, "Exploitation of Opportunity? World's Poor Need to Work," Investor's Business Daily, January 29, 2004 and TOWNHALL.COM, January 28,. 2004.


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