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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Followup on Sweatshops

An earlier post, "A Free Market Attack on Sweatshops," includes this quote from Ellennita Muetze Hellmer's article "Establishing Government Accountability in the Anti-Sweatshop Campaign":

In some countries, such as Burma/Myanmar, workers are forced by the state to work in miserable manufacturing jobs for powerful multinational corporations....

In the comments, Sheldon Richman, who is generally quite sympathetic to arguments like Hellmer's, wrote:

I planned to write an article based on Hellmer's JLS paper. But when checking her sources (The Economist and Amnesty International) I find no substantiation of her claim that "the military regime of Burma abducts its own citizens and forces them to work in factories owned by multinational corporations." I find many references to people being forced to work on road and military construction and on military farms (which is a horrible but different story) and oppression of political opposition, but not forced labor for multinationals in factories. Hellmer's references do not mention this. If it actually happens, I'd expect Amnesty to cover it and I'd expect to find material via Google. I find none.

On further investigation, he announced:

The founder of the Free Burma Coalition tells me there has been no allegation and no known instances of forced labor in a multinational corporation factory.
I'll be especially interested to see what Hellmer's response is, if any, since her overall argument is a good one and it's unfortunate to see it overshadowed by such a question of factual accuracy. I'll keep you posted.

Addendum. Richman followed up with a post on the results of his painstaking investigation: to make it short, he came up blank on government-enforced slavery in corporate sweatshops.

In the comments we finally hear from Ms. Hellmer, who blames the factual errors in the two-year-old article on her still developing (undergraduate) research skills at the time, and on sloppy citation and use of sources. Very gracious and non-adversarial. As I commented on that thread,

I'm glad to hear your feedback on this. I've been bitten in the, um, hindquarters by poor fact-checking myself, so I can sympathize. It's a shame that this cast a shadow on the central point of your article, which I think is a sound one: the vulgar libertarian "best available alternative" argument is flawed, given the role of governments in collusion with sweatshop employers, in limiting the range of "available alternatives."

6 Comments:

Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

The results of my investigation are here: www.sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.com/2006/04/burma-and-forced-factory-labor-no.html.

April 28, 2006 6:50 AM  
Blogger la said...

I imagine investigating some of these countries is like knowing what when on in the old USSR (virtually impossible.) For heavens sake, they use prison labor in the USA. Saw an article on call centers in prisons in the USA. Talk about your cheap labor. I am sure this goes on all the time all over the world. Proving it is a different matter.

Maybe a little less "libertarianism" is in order and a little more compassion for others might be helpful. How would you like to work under those conditions? Golden rule and all that.

April 28, 2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

La: If there were literal slave labor in Western-owned factories in Burma, it would be known. The ILO is on the scene, and multinational-corporation watchdogs abound. Amnesty International ferrets out such things. It would be harder to document slave labor in rural areas than in urban factories. Yet we know about the forced labor in Burma's rural areas. For one thing, people escape and talk about it.

Kevin: Thanks for keeping up on this. As the editor of The Freeman, I welcome well-documented articles about Western companies colluding with governments to procure forced labor.

April 29, 2006 5:31 AM  
Blogger EmmA...er...Pamela said...

a great deal of the burmese working in sweat shops actually work along the thai border on the thai side in cities such as Mae Sot. There is very little western presence in Burma because of sanctions, so not too many western corporations are setting up shop there.

as far as being forced... it might not be a kidnap and force situation, but it is a force for survival and no other option. even if you aren't a "slave" one might have no other options- so what's the difference? i had the chance to talk with some workers in factories in mae sot last week and visit some factories. the factories I visited were thai-owned, though.

anyway, that's my 2 cents.

April 29, 2006 10:03 PM  
Blogger Jim Lippard said...

What do you think about Matt McIntosh's "In Praise of Exploitation", or Joe Miller's commentary on it?

May 09, 2006 5:52 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the links, Jim. I left comments at both of them.

May 10, 2006 11:09 AM  

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