Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Antecedents and Determinants of Sweatshop Establishments: If the Shoe Fits

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Antecedents and Determinants of Sweatshop Establishments: If the Shoe Fits

Article excerpt


In 1938, it was thought that the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act would consign sweatshops in the US to near extinction. However, recurring abusive labor practices by multinational corporations (MNCs) have renewed public outrage (Khoury, 1998; Moure-Eraso, Wilcox, Punnett, McDonald and Levenstein, 1997). Even when corporations have taken steps to monitor conditions in its contractors' factories, negative publicity continues to impact the corporation's reputation.

In this paper, the authors present a framework for researching the causes of predatory behaviors by the managers (i.e., knowingly supporting sweatshops) of MNCs. For the purposes of this paper, we have elected to use the MNC Nike - designer and marketer of sport and fitness products - as our focus. To that end, we: (1) define what sweatshops are, and demonstrate their current importance; and, (2) provide a framework of antecedent and determinant variables (legal context; home and host country and culture; industry; and corporate structure and strategy) in an attempt to explain cases of corporate predatory behavior.

Some significant benefits can be derived from the use and empirical testing of this model. First, this framework gives future researchers a starting point for the systematic investigation of sweatshop occurrences. An empirical, historical study analyzing published instances of sweatshop occurrences could establish a baseline of the prevalence and incidence of sweatshops. Second, interested stakeholders can use this framework to identity firms and cultures, which should be targeted for examination. Third, we believe that this framework can identity countries with cultures where progress may be made toward the enactment of legislation affording protections.

Antecedents and Determinants of Sweat

shop Establishments: If the Shoe Fits...

Adorno and Horkheimer (1993/1944) and Adorno (1991) use the marketing of films and the strategies employed by the motion picture industry to describe the workings of what they called the `culture industry.' They describe an industry, which uses the tools of propagandists to convince consumers of the benefits to be derived from buying products that have been produced according to a set formula. Their reasoning can also be applied to the techniques used by some of the multinational corporations (MNCs) producing consumer goods. The marketing of these products involves the manipulation of the images of the product, and the benefits derived from its use, and of the company marketing the product. This manipulation occurs without regard for the reality of how the product is actually brought to market. Unfortunately, this process often involves the systematic abuse and exploitation of production workers. One such case where this exists is with the case of the US apparel industry; it is quite enlightening.

Historically, factory work in the US was dangerous and unregulated. While more contemporary examples exist, e.g., the 1991 North Carolina poultry plant fire, one of the better-known examples of the abuses occurring under the prevailing "laissez-faire" attitude occurred in March 1911, when one hundred and forty-six women and children died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. In spite of the public reaction to this tragedy (see http:/, it was not until 1938 that the Fair Labor Standards Act, made sweatshop conditions illegal in the US (Khoury, 1998; Mandel-Campbell, & Alden, 2001). Over time, MNCs have negated the intent of labor laws and regulations, by locating their suppliers or operations in Third World countries. This allows them to decrease labor costs and increase competitiveness and profitability. However, these improvements are derived at the expense of workers in both host and home countries.

During the last decade, abuses of labor by MNCs have received public attention (Khoury, 1998; Moure-Eraso, Wilcox, Punnett, McDonald, & Levenstein, 1997). …

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