Seeking reliable evidence - claim that closing sweatshops leads to child prostitution

by [anonymous] 1 min read4th May 201325 comments


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.