[Marxism] Re: Bhagwati and Sweatshops

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Mon Feb 16 20:05:45 MST 2004

Mine Doyran wrote:

>A Letter from Professor Bhagwati to a Columbia University Committee engaged 
>in decision on the question of a Living Wage etc. in judging whether 
>apparel firms supplying Columbia T-shirts etc. should be asked to sign on 
>to A Social Responsibility Code

Yes, this letter reflects precisely the views I just reproduced in my 
previous posting, although according to the cited Henwood & Featherstone's 
article, Bhagwati would have preferred a more shaded version of the letter.  
Still, I hope people on the list take the time to read carefully Bhagwati's 
letter.  It is clear in it as in the quotations on my previous posting that 
Bhagwati's argument is not that unionization or labor rights in the Third 
World should be opposed, but that it is up to each Third World country to 
decide on those issues.

The Social Responsibility activists at Columbia were not demanding a living 
wage in the United States, but a living wage in poor countries if such 
countries are to be allowed to sell apparel with a Columbia logo.  Hey, why 
don't they focus on the more obvious task of attaining a living wage for the 
workers within the U.S.?  There are tens of millions who don't earn enough 
to make a decent living.  After all, this is their country, they have a 
right to vote here or -- if they think voting is useless -- they still can 
be more effective demonstrating against the U.S. Congress, the White House, 
or -- if nothing else works -- leading a revolution.

Bhagwati's argument is clear.  The rich countries are using labor standards 
as a stick to hit the poor countries on the head.  If the workers in a poor 
country are going to unionize and lift their standards, that's a matter of 
domestic policy and politics.  It doesn't need to be a trade issue.  If it 
is introduced as a trade issue, then it is to weaken the hand of the poor 
countries in trade negotiations.  Bhagwati's is clearly an anti-imperialist 

The logic of Social Responsibility is transparent.  It is like saying that 
because a country is not "democratic" (according to some rich country's 
standard), then the U.S. has a justifiable reason to stop trading with it.  
>From there to actively try to subvert a foreign government or fund 
subversion is a slippery slope as the example of Cuba reminds us frequently. 
  The idea that "democracy" or "labor standards" can be imposed from outside 
by means of trade blackmail or imperialist aggression is preposterous.  Do 
we need to prove this here?

I don't second guess the good intentions of the protestors, but they're 
peeing at the wrong tree.  Labor standards imposed on Third World imports is 
a protectionist trick.  The use of the WB, the IMF, the Treasury, etc. to 
twist the arms of governments in the Third World and make them accept these 
standards is an act of imperialist blackmail.  If Mine Doyran or Julio Huato 
say it, big deal; but if Bhagwati says it in his terms, then people may 


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