From "Establishing Government Accountability in the Anti-Sweatshop Campaign
," by Ellennita Muetze Hellmer, in the Summer 2005 issue of Journal of Libertarian Studies
...many observers—especially libertarians— tend to view [anti-sweatshop boycotts] as actions arising from an ignorance of basic economics.... However, it is not necessarily correct to entirely dismiss the sense of injustice felt by these groups. Although these organizations may be misguided in only attacking the wages paid by corporations, the claims of injustice are not always fictitious, not by a long shot. In some countries, such as Burma/Myanmar, workers are forced by the state to work in miserable manufacturing jobs for powerful multinational corporations.... In other countries, such as Indonesia and several of those in Central America, governments have followed models of economic development that forced people from their land in order to attract multinational firms to export goods to the global economy and give the politicians a cut of the profit.... These models of sweatshop development do not follow the free-market ideal of resource allocation.... There is a link between such utilitarian models of economic development and slavery, as the former is a government’s way of violently forcing people to follow a model of economic action that these people would not agree to otherwise—presumably because they do not see the model fitting their best interests. Indeed, in these cases protesting voices should be heard, as governments are clearly violating the personal and property rights of individuals.
As many of the goods produced under these conditions are exported to the global economy, libertarians and other humanitarians should educate themselves about the conditions under which they are produced in a way that extends beyond the basic use of free-market teleology to explain why some people work in miserable conditions. Indeed, acknowledging that governments are often responsible for the plights of “sweatshop laborers” is an important step in fighting for the economic and civil liberties of people throughout the world. This step goes beyond the band-aid propositions of “corporate social responsibility” put forward by many anti-sweatshop organizations by addressing the real cause of miserable working conditions in many parts of the world. Anti-sweatshop organizations would therefore be better advised to focus on the government actions that have led to the miserable labor conditions that they are so fond of describing, thereby protesting these as the real cause of much of the misery evident in the developing world. Indeed, a fight for private property and personal protection against coercive aggression would be a more sustainable, logical, and economically literate approach to improving the conditions of the working poor of the world.
....Often, the harsh facts of global political economy do not follow the rules of free-market theory as the prerequisite of voluntary choice is often absent; people are sometimes kidnapped and forced to labor by their governments, and property rights are not always respected. While the above activities do not prevent individuals from pursuing what they believe to be their own best-interest, it is not reasonable to defend their choices and ignore the previous injustices that have led to their current state if one is to make a humanitarian argument against interference in the market. In a world in which personal and property rights are always respected, the logic of the economic libertarian is impeccable; however, advocates of this philosophy should continuously remind ourselves that this is not always the context in which real suffering people (especially in underdeveloped nations) operate when we demand that corporations be allowed to benefit from the differing legal systems abroad....
There is a strong connection between land expropriation and forced labor. Even without the legislation that has been passed in many parts of the world that explicitly leads to slavery, land expropriation forces the original landholders to pursue economic courses of action they would not have pursued if left to their own devices. Indeed, as writer George Beckford (1972) pointed out in his classic work Persistent Poverty, few people he has encountered choose to work for others when they own their own land, a condition that makes the land expropriation necessary in the first place. This pattern is most clearly seen in the history of Central America.