In a hard-hitting NYTimes op-ed, Nicholas Kristoff writes:
I’d like to invite Richard Gephardt and the other Democratic candidates to come here to Cambodia and discuss trade policy with scavengers like Nhep Chanda, who spends her days rooting through filth in the city dump….Here in Cambodia factory jobs are in such demand that workers usually have to bribe a factory insider with a month’s salary just to get hired.
Along the Bassac River, construction workers told me they wanted factory jobs because the work would be so much safer than clambering up scaffolding without safety harnesses. Some also said sweatshop jobs would be preferable because they would mean a lot less sweat. (Westerners call them “sweatshops,” but they offer one of the few third world jobs that doesn’t involve constant sweat.)…
The Democratic Party has been pro-trade since Franklin Roosevelt, and President Bill Clinton in particular tugged the party to embrace the realities of trade. Now the party may be retreating toward protectionism under the guise of labor standards.
That would hurt American consumers. But it would be particularly devastating for laborers in the poorest parts of the world. For the fundamental problem in the poor countries of Africa and Asia is not that sweatshops exploit too many workers; it’s that they don’t exploit enough.
Be sure and look at Kristoff’s heartbreaking audio-slide show, the Realities of Labor available at the above link, halfway down the right hand side. Hat tip to Life, Liberty, and Property.