Above: The most feminist factory collapse of all time
Why didn’t anyone tell me it is “Women Will Be Freed by Labor Exploitation Day?”
Fears of exploitation now often center on South and Southeast Asia. Human Rights Watch recently published a piece condemning Cambodia’s garment factories. True, factory work is difficult and sometimes deadly—just as it was in the Industrial Revolution.
“But ask the woman,” economist Deirdre McCloskey suggests, “if she would rather that the shoe company not make her the offer … Look at the length of queue that forms when Nike opens a new plant in Indonesia. And ask her if she’d rather not have any market opportunities at all, and be left home instead entirely to her father or husband.”
Factory work, though arduous, often represents an improvement for women. Research from Yale University suggests the rise of the garment industry, dominated by female factor workers, helps explain the falling rate of child marriage and rapid increase in girls’ educational attainment in Bangladesh.
Regrettably, well-intentioned calls for export restrictions and boycotts can harm the very women they seek to help, many of whom fear the loss of factory work and a return to rural penury and stricter gender roles. Already, automation threatens the jobs of nine million, mostly young and female, garment factory workers. Boycotts worsen this situation.
Harriet’s arguments still apply today. As long as work is “voluntarily assumed” and laborers maintain the “liberty to withdraw” from it, we should not reject a potential force for women’s empowerment in developing countries in an attempt to protect them. Women everywhere have too much independence for that.
Would you be shocked to note that the author of this piece is a CATO hack? No, no you wouldn’t. This isn’t of course to say that wage labor can’t lead to greater freedom in women’s lives. But the feminist position to take is that these workers shouldn’t die when their sweatshops collapse around them. The feminist position is that these women shouldn’t have their union organizers beaten and killed when they try to organize. The feminist position is that these women shouldn’t be subjected to forced pregnancy tests, rampant sexual harassment, and rape as part of their job. In fact, there may be some difference between actual feminism and a plutocratic ideology that just so happens to serve the interests of sweatshop owners and CATO ideologues!
And then there’s Example B. What is holding back American women? The Fair Labor Standards Act!
This blog will be the first in a three part series taking a fresh look at the FLSA, with a particular focus on its negative impact on working women, and how real change could be a real boon for women. This “Part 1” will examine the history of working women, address why women are leaving the workplace, and what women want from their employers to attract them to stay.
Part 2 will discuss relevant business needs and trends in general in today’s world marketplace.
Finally, Part 3 will bring everything together and explore how the FLSA works against women in achieving their professional goals as well as better work-life balance. It will also consider alternatives to the current structure of the FLSA and the positive impact real change could have on U.S. businesses and women alike.
Given that the rest of Part 1 examines nothing about the history of working women, I know I can’t wait for Part 3! Nothing is bringing women down–and I mean NOTHING–like the minimum wage, overtime pay, and a ban on child labor!!!