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Introduction: their profits even if they have to cross

Introduction:

All
human beings have natural rights and have the moral obligation to respect the
rights of others. Nowadays, we live in a world dominated by companies whose
main purpose is to maximise their profits even if they have to cross some moral
boundaries. Unfortunately, in the past few years there have been several such
cases. People are being exploited all around the world daily and most people pretend
not to realise that, just because it benefits them. What is worrying is that
governments worldwide too, turn a blind eye on many such cases. One reason for
that could be that their primary objective is to remain popular and stay in
power. That could mean implementing policies that are favourable among their
voters, even if the cost to the rest of the world is much greater. Another
reason could be the fact that people are risk-averse, which is a concept
developed in 1964. This means that people, when faced with two alternatives
tend to choose the one with the lower risk even if it has a less beneficial
outcome. However, when applied to the context of immoral behaviour, it should
not influence government’s decision making as human rights are at stake. It is
an undeniable fact that there is a lot the government can do to improve the
current situation. The reality however is that instead of trying to solve the
problem, they tend to enlarge it despite the immorality of the situation. Such
examples include markets based on captive employees such as the prison labour
industry in the US and the garment industry in Bangladesh. Therefore, the main
purpose of this essay is to show the morality issues in these markets and
analyse the effects of different government policies. A literature review will
be used to answer this question. The literature consisted of academic articles
mainly on prison labour, the garment industry in Bangladesh and child labour. In
the first part some important models and definitions that are related to the
topic will be analysed. Then, in the second part, immorality issues created by
the prison labour industry in the US will be analysed and some general
government policies will be proposed which could improve the current situation.
In the third part, the immorality of the garment industry in Bangladesh will be
discussed and ways in which government intervention could help solve the
current problems will be given. On the forth part, the hypothesis of the essay and
the limitations of the research performed will be stated. Finally in the
conclusion a general summary will be given with the limitations of the research
of the essay.

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Part
1:

Nowadays,
there are many views on moral philosophy that politicians adopt and which
influence greatly normative policy judgement. Some of them that are really
popular at the moment include utilitarianism, Rawls’s maximin principle and the
capability approach. Firstly, utilitarianism is the idea that the best society
maximizes the sum of utility. This view can be very damaging for the
financially challenged as it is normally the case that their suffering would be
outweighed by gains in the rest of the society. Secondly, Rawls’s maximin
principle says that justice requires maximizing the benefits to the most
disadvantaged group in society. As Rawls argued in his book, “A Theory of
Justice” in 1971, the most disadvantaged people should be the first priority
because if we didn’t know what our position in society would be, just like it’s
the case before we are born, we would want to maximise the position of the
worst-off, just in case we are in that position.  Finally the capability approach is a
relatively new approach to the design of policies with respect to individual
and social well-being. It was pioneered by the economist and philosopher
Amartya Sen (1980) and was further analysed by the philosopher Martha Nussbaum
(1988) and many other scholars. The main principle of this approach is its
focus on what people are able to do. It aims on giving people valuable opportunities,
called capabilities, in order to allow them to have the lives they desire.  It is heavily based on the liberal political philosophy
as it values a lot individual freedom. What is good about this approach is that
it encourages individuals to work hard to achieve their goals which in turn can
benefit society as a whole.  This
approach contradicts welfarist theories because they are based on utility and
tend to exclude non-utility information which can be really important for
minority groups. Such information can include peoples physical needs due to a
disability, as well as social and moral issues like wage equality between men
and women for the same work.  It can also
be said that it is a better version of Rawls’s maximin principle as in some
cases; a small increase in a disadvantaged person’s utility can cost a large
loss in the utility of the society. Therefore, for the rest of the essay the
capability approach will be used to assess cases of immoral behaviour as it is
an approach that is gaining popularity rapidly and because it maximises utility
while at the same time morally respecting the most disadvantaged groups in
society.

It
can be argued that captive employees are one of the most disadvantaged groups
in society at the moment. Captive, according to a dictionary.com is a person
who is enslaved or dominated. For example, prisoners in the US and factory
workers in Bangladesh are dominated, exploited and even treated like slaves not
only by large corporations, but even by their own government. Therefore, even
though they are not literally enslaved, they definitely fall under the category
of captive employees

Also,
a question that needs to be answered before analysing cases of immoral
behaviour is how do we agree on what is morally acceptable? Given that, according
to oxford dictionaries, morality is synonymous with “goodness” and “rightness”,
it is impossible to objectively define what is morally acceptable as everyone
can have a different view on morality. For example, for someone it might be
morally acceptable to eat meat while for another person it might be completely
unacceptable due to the fact that animals have to be killed for that to happen.
For this essay, immoral behaviour will be considered to be any behaviour which
violates the human rights of individuals as well as behaviour that undermines
democracy.

Part
2:

It
is a disappointing fact that some governments, such as the US government,
encourage markets based on captive employees. For instance prison labour is
worth well over one billion dollars in the US. It could even be argued that it
is a morally illegitimate industry for several reasons, meaning that the
government violates its own laws and therefore immediate action is needed.
First of all, inmates are being paid well below the legal minimum wage for jobs
they perform in prison which goes against the democratic principle of equality
among people.  According to data from the
Bureau of Prisons which runs a programme known as Federal Prison Industries,
inmates are paid roughly $0.90 an hour and can go as low as $0.16 when employed
by private companies that use prison labour (Bozelko, 2017). Even though the
legal minimum wage is $7.25, it is not illegal. That’s because the Thirteenth
Amendment to the constitution prohibits slavery and indentured servitude
“except as a punishment for crime” (Benns, 2015). Immediate reform is needed
there, as the main and morally acceptable purpose of the prison should be to
rehabilitate the inmates. By exploiting them, it is more likely that once they
complete their sentence they will go back to their old habits and end up again
in the prison. What is worrying is the probability that the government’s main
aim is to increase the size of the prison labour industry. Evidence shows that
instead of trying to rehabilitate inmates and give them back a normal life, it
is doing the exact opposite which is completely immoral. Prison labour in
California alone, generated around $232 million dollars in 2017 and even though
it was because of unfair treatment and exploitation of inmates, the government
and most people pretend not to realise the severity of the situation just
because it is beneficial to them. Furthermore, according to statistics from the
global research organization, it is believed that more than 50% of 623,000
inmates in country or municipal jails are innocent of the crimes they are
convicted, 97% of 125,000 federal inmates have committed non-violent crimes and
16% of the country’s inmates suffer from mental illness! In addition, the US
holds 25% of the world’s prisoners even though it only has 5% of the world’s
population!  It is therefore evident that
the government is abusing its power to effectively increase slavery (prison
labour) which is completely undemocratic and thus immoral on many levels. Thus,
reform is needed immediately not only in the prison system but also in the
judicial system.

Fortunately
there are many solutions that can help improve the current situation. Firstly, wages
paid to inmates for prison labour should be increased to at least the legal minimum
wage. Even though this would mean that prison labour would be a much less
profitable industry, it would reduce criminality and prison population. According
to the National Institute of Justice (2014) about 68% of prisoners released in
2005 in the US were arrested within 3 years for a new crime. For them it seems
morally acceptable to commit a crime as they were exploited while they worked
in prison and were treated like slaves. In fact, increasing wages for prison
work would allow them to survive with the money they saved from the prison
until they find employment without needing to commit a crime to survive.  Another reason why increasing wages to
inmates would be beneficial is the fact that poverty impedes cognitive function
(Mani, Mullainathan, Shafir & Zhao, 2013). Poverty here is defined as the
gap between one’s needs and the resources available to fulfil them. What it
effectively means is that the poor behave in less capable ways, which in turn
can deepen poverty and worsen their situation. Therefore, by increasing wages,
not only will it be more morally acceptably as they will be paid as normal
people and not slaves, but also it will give them the capability to have a more
normal life after their sentence. They will be capable to make better and
morally acceptable choices in their life instead of going back to their old
immoral habits and potentially end up in prison. Secondly, prison labour should
be redefined as legal employment instead of slavery.  This would not only promote equality, but it
would also help inmates find employment once they complete their sentence.
Currently, most of prison labour is not considered legal employment which means
that prisoners don’t gain work experience, and unemployment benefits thus
lowering their chance of success in society (Bozelko, 2017). Finally,
employment opportunities in the public sector could be offered to prisoners
after their release. It is true that people who have a criminal record have
difficulties finding a job. It would thus be morally appropriate that they are
offered a job by the government, especially since so many of them got a
criminal record for a crime they didn’t commit, as mentioned in the previous
paragraph. Furthermore, according to statistics, from a sample of 740 people
who were released from prison, it was found that eight months after prison only
45% of the respondents had found legal employment even though 65% of them had
employment before prison (Debus, Visher & Yahner, 2008). It should also be
noted that 74% of them were actively searching for a job during those 8 months
and that the unemployment rate in the US during the experiment was between
6.2%- 7.6% according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This
shows that even though they are trying to have a normal life, society does not
treat them equally which is completely immoral. Government intervention in that
case would help them tremendously as it has been proven that former prisoners
who find a secure job, ideally by two months after their release are
substantially more likely to avoid recidivism (Debus, Visher & Yahner,
2008).  

Part
3:

As
for the garment industry in Bangladesh, there are many cases of immoral
behaviour not only from the part of the government, but also by many major
companies. Factory workers in this industry can be characterised as captive
employees as they have limited or no freedom to stop working in the factories
of global brands like H and Gap, even though their working conditions are
unacceptable and their wages are really low. They are forced to work in such
factories to survive and feed their families as the Bangladesh government
provides insufficient unemployment benefits. It can also be characterised as an
illegitimate market due to the fact that working conditions and safety
regulations are below the global standard described by the Human Rights Act
which is illegal (Woodman, n.d.). There have been many incidents where workers
have been injured or even died because of that. For example, the collapse of
the Rama Plaza building in April of 2013, who caused the death of 1,100 people,
was just one of many such incidents (Abrams & Sattar, 2017).  Despite the global attention that this event
got, assaults, verbal abuse and forced overtime reports are still reported. That
means that government intervention is needed to stop this immoral behaviour. However,
since the 1990s the garment industry has been the main source of Bangladesh’s
economic growth. It accounts for 70% of the country’s exports. Since the world
is heavily influenced by profit, it is evident why the Bangladesh government
has not prevented such immoral practices for so long. Once again, according to
the capability approach Bangladesh workers which are a very disadvantaged group
deserve to have capabilities to make the best out of their life in order to
reach an acceptable morality standard with a total high social utility. Due to
the fact that Bangladesh is amongst the most corrupt countries in the world,
major governments from all around the world should intervene to help with the
situation (Business Anti-Corruption Portal, 2015).

Fortunately,
there are some government policies that can decrease or even eliminate the
immoral behaviour of these large companies. Firstly, a wage increase is
necessary to increase the capabilities of the workers and the morality of the
industry. According to statistics from the “War on Want” organization, the
majority of workers are paid just above the legal minimum wage, approximately
$25 even though the necessary living wage to provide a family with shelter,
food and education (basic human rights) was calculated to be approximately $45.
Such a policy would receive a lot of criticism from major corporations and
would probably cause an increase in the price of products but it is an
important step towards reaching global equality. Secondly, the government
should force factories to improve the working conditions by applying better
safety regulations. This would help make the industry morally legitimate as
Human rights would now be respected. Also, regular inspections should be
performed by independent law enforcement agencies on factories to make sure
that the regulations are being respected. Since today, Bangladesh has not been
able to enforce many of its regulations such as the Labour Law which states
that the minimum legal age of employment is 14. In fact, 15% of children in
Bangladesh aged between 6-14 years old work 64 hours per week and don’t attend
school (Safi, 2016). Many companies would argue that this is not immoral
behaviour as they give children the opportunity to gain work experience and
help their families survive. But, the truth is that children are getting
exploited by being under-paid and suffer terrible working conditions (Dupond,
2010). Unfortunately, the primary reason why companies prefer children in their
factories instead of adult workers is because they are cheaper workforce. Researchers
found that many children were exploited without knowing it as they were paid
$0.18 per hour even though the legal minimum wage is $0.36.  If child labour didn’t exist, unemployment
amongst adult workers would be less, wages higher and therefore, they would be
able to provide for their families without needing to send their children to
work and deprive them of their right to education (Rea, 2008, p. 15). Furthermore,
the Bangladesh government should improve its judicial system in order to
prevent unfair dismissal of employees. 
Everyone has a right to a fair and equal treatment under the law, as
stated in article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There had
been several cases where employees where dismissed unfairly, received very
little or even no compensation and were even imprisoned illegally such as
Jahangir Alam. Mr. Alam who was the president of a local trade union, was
detained after a garment industry protest in December of 2016 with 14 others
(Abrams & Sattar, 2017). This case violated human rights and undermined
democracy as a whole.  It is therefore
clear that the law enforcement of the country should be improved. Such a policy
would be costly to the government but it would pay-off in time as immoral
behaviour would be punishable and thus eliminated. However, these policies
mentioned above could have a different outcome which would possibly worsen the
current situation. For example major corporations might act completely
immorally and abandon their factories in Bangladesh to move to another
underdeveloped country in order to avoid the increase in costs. This would
increase unemployment and destroy the economy of the country. The outcome
depends on the whether the government can have faith on the morality of these
companies. However, it is not a highly possible outcome as it would grab the
attention of people worldwide and ruin the reputation and image of the
companies, leading to a huge reduction in sales. According to a recent research
data, 60% of people stated that buying from morally responsible companies was
of great importance to them, while 76% said that companies should act morally
and have a positive social difference even as they make profit (Velshi, 2013). As
mentioned in the introduction, risk aversion could play an important factor in
this decision as it might not be worth the risk of putting the population in
poverty just for the shake of morality and some relatively small improvements
in working conditions.

Part
4:

Due
to the fact that policies like the ones proposed in this article have never
been done before in similar situations, it is impossible to be certain of their
outcome. Even though there is no statistical evidence to support some of the
arguments made in this article, there is also no evidence to disprove them.
Further research will be needed to approximate the outcomes of such policies in
terms of utility, morality and monetary profit. However, by taking the
capability approach into account, it should be the case that society’s total
welfare will increase even though total utility, according to the
utilitarianism philosophy, might be lower. 
Therefore, it can be said that the government policies, analysed
previously, will have an overall positive welfare effect in society.

 

 

Conclusion:

To
conclude, it can be seen that both the governments and many major corporations
are to blame for the immorality of markets based on captive employees. Due to
the fact that these morality problems cannot solve themselves, government
intervention is necessary. Increase in wages, improvements in the prison and
judicial system, job opportunities to inmates after their release, improved
working conditions, better law enforcement agencies are just some simple
government policies that could help improve the current situation of these
immoral markets. Despite the fact that these policies could have more of a
negative effect on the developed countries, it is an undeniable fact that they
would help tremendously prisoners, factory workers and children in Bangladesh
which are some of the most disadvantaged groups in society at the moment. 

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