I've been looking for reliable evidence of a claim I've heard a few times. The claim is that the closing of sweatshops (by anti-globalization activists) has resulted in many of the child workers becoming prostitutes. The idea is frequently proffered as an example of do-gooder foolishness ignoring basic economics and screwing people over.
However, despite searching for a while, I can't find anything to indicate that this actually happened.
Some guy at the Library of Economics and Liberty mentions it here:
In one famous 1993 case U.S. senator Tom Harkin proposed banning imports from countries that employed children in sweatshops. In response a factory in Bangladesh laid off 50,000 children. What was their next best alternative? According to the British charity Oxfam a large number of them became prostitutes.
But in the article, Paul Krugman mentions the Oxfam study without citation:
In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart, and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets -- and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.
I looked at some Oxfam stuff, but couldn't find the study.
A similar claim is made in The Race to the Top: The Real Story of Globalization by Tomas Larsson (go here and use the search tool for the word 'prostitution'), but doesn't mention the Oxfam study:
Keith E. Maskus, an economist at the University of Colorado, has studied the issue... He concludes that... "The celebrated French ban of soccer balls sewn in Pakistan for the World Cup in 1998 resulted in significant dislocation of children from employment. Those who tracked them found that a large proportion ended up begging and/or in prostitution,"
I looked for a paper or something by Maskus but came up empty.
I was taught this fact at a Poli Sci class in college, but I'm starting to think it's more likely to be an information cascade. Can anyone do a better job than me?
Thanks in advance.
I will quote at length here.
From the UNICEF report:
The argument that closing sweatshops leads to prostitution appears a valid one, as according to a 1997 report by UNICEF, it happened once in Bangladesh. According to that same report, provisions were established to prevent it from happening again (in Bangladesh).
(Personal opinion: There's too little evidence to determine whether the argument is actually sound. It happened once, though, and I find little reason to assume conditions in other countries are so different than they were in Bangladesh. However, thus concluding that sweatshops are good would be a misstep. One should rather conclude that if one is to close a sweatshop, provide alternative employment or enable and equip the workers to find their own alternative employment.)
Nice! Thanks a lot, that is just what I was looking for.
It seems obvious that taking options away from people can't improve their situation. But that is not necessarily true. Saying that silently assumes that their environment remains exactly the same and does not update on the information that the option is no longer available.
As a simple model, imagine that there are three possible choices: a crappy job, a good job, and no job. With no job, the child dies from starvation, but the employer makes no money. With crappy job, the child barely survives, and the employer makes a lot of money. With good job, the child is happy, and the employer makes smaller profit.
In this situation, the employer can improve their outcome by precommiting to not use the "good job" option. That is actually a very simple thing to do for an employer, because job seekers typically only apply for the offered positions, and don't go to job interviews suggesting that a new position should be created specifically for them (because employing them in the new position would be better for the company than not employing them at all). At this moment, the best remaining choice for the child is to take the crappy job. -- But if the law makes crappy jobs illegal, the best remaining move for the employer is to offer a good job. So, having less options in this specific case could improve the situation for the child.
The problem is what happens when some crappy jobs are removed from the market, but other crappy jobs remain. Will children move to better jobs, or just to those other crappy jobs?
I would guess that it depends on how easily the employers can move to other forms of business. It could be relatively easy for Joe the factory owner to become Joe the pimp. But even for him there could be negative consequences, e.g. losing a lot of status. But I doubt that companies like Walmart, Tesco, Nike, Adidas, Disney, Starbucks etc. could easily switch to become international prostitution networks. On the other hand, these big companies have an option to just move to another country where the law is less strict; which would be more expensive for Joe the local small factory owner.
Conclusion: A simplistic analysis is insufficient, we need real data. It is also quite possible that the outcome will be mixed; that by closing sweatshops x children will move to better jobs, y children will move to child prostitution, and z children will starve to death.
On theoretical grounds it almost has to be true if there is a significant overlap between the types of children who work in sweatshops and those who work as prostitutes.
This doesn't just go one way. Labor competition is labor competition - I would expect places where the (adult) sex trade is tolerated would have better conditions in their sweatshops. And so I would expect sweatshop owners to lead moralistic crusades against prostitution.
I've heard of the latter, but I have no info on the former.
Do you mean better conditions in adult sweatshops? I would expect child workers would only be in better conditions if there is competition with their labor.
Then again, if adults can get more pay, they wouldn't need their kids to work. This would also likely lead to worse pay, since parents could afford to care less about that in proportion to conditions.
There were a few too many pronouns in that last sentence. Not sure what you mean.
If you give the adults more options as to what jobs they work at, they can make more money. If they can make more money, then they don't need their kids to make as much money. If they don't need their kids to make as much money, they will care more about working conditions than about pay.
Note that the book is clear that Maskus is telling this directly to the author of the book, so you should not be expecting to find this quote in any papers.
That's right - I was hoping to find other relevant work by the guy, in case this was an area of expertise.
Have you tried asking him?
The following link is to the UNICEF report in its entirety.
The report talks about, but doesn't delve too deeply, the issue of how displacing child workers from sweatshops can lead to worse consequences for these children (p. 24). More importantly, it talks about the complexity of the situation beyond rhetoric. Sweatshops and exploitative child labor are caused by myriad factors. Solving these goes well beyond either supporting or boycotting companies like Nike who employs over 100,000 people in Indonesia.
Of interest, but only uses the word 'prostitutes' once.
The following implies that it's an obvious logical argument:
I think we're finally getting somewhere:
I finally found something. I put it in a new comment.
It seems pretty obvious that it would. Those two jobs compete for the same workforce. What's less obvious is exactly how much child prostitution it leads to. My instinct is that the first order effects are more important.
Of course, finding reliable evidence that it's true and finding reliable evidence of the extent to which it's true are pretty much the same thing, so this doesn't matter all that much.
No help on finding the study, but for people who are only interested in problems where there's a lurid sensationalistic sex aspect, it's worth noting that sweatshop workers have about as much protection against sexual harassment as they do against any other abuse by management. Is having sex as a job worse than having sex in order to keep a job? The former often pays better.
How? Why would they work in a sweatshop if they could make more money as a prostitute?
The obvious answer would be that they have to have much more sex as a prostitute. After all, one prostitute can serve several clients, but a lot of workers only have one boss.
Prostitution is a more dangerous profession and is lower status.
If prostitution doesn't involve more sex, why would it be more dangerous and lower status?
It was an answer to
Of course prostitution involves more sex.
Prostitution is often illegal; perhaps as Luke Somers suggests this is encouraged by sweatshop owners trying to eliminate competition for workers. There is also a history in many places of using "rescued" prostitutes as essentially slave labor, as in the notorious Magdalene laundries in Ireland.
Actually, prostitution is rarely illegal, especially in the past. In particular, it is legal today in Bangladesh and has always been legal in Ireland. Though child prostitution is not legal in either place today.
Admittedly, the actual exchange of sex for money is, as you say, not illegal in Ireland, but it's virtually impossible for a prostitute to work there without breaking some law or involving someone else in lawbreaking, because most activities associated with prostitution are illegal (operating a brothel or keeping any premises for the purpose of prostitution, advertising, and soliciting are all illegal, and anyone employed by prostitutes, as, say, a driver or to provide security is also breaking Irish law). Bangladesh appears to be similar, though perhaps with a few less such laws. Places which don't arm the police with plenty of excuses to harass prostitutes are quite rare.
No help with evidence here, but a thought:
This sort of argument is generally made in favor of globalization and other such economic arrangements. However, is it actually a real dichotomy? In the context of an extremely globalized world in which developed nations have the economic clout to extract labor at ridiculously low prices, closing any individual sweatshop-factory is on the margin going to push people into worse poverty. That sort of economic system is not the only option, however, and actions to end that system potentially produce outcomes better than 'prostitute' or 'sweatshop worker'.
probably not when compared to the productivity of the workers.
True, but many of these other options are much, much worse and there might not exist a practical superior option.
If we increase globalization, we can save money, which means we can donate more money, which means that we can do more to generally increase the conditions in third world countries.