Shock Horror! as Burmese women employed at legal age on legal wage

Another of those stories telling us how appalling things are in the sweatshops of the world:

Children as young as 14 have been employed to make clothes for some of the most popular names on the UK high street, according to a new report.

New Look, Sports Direct’s Lonsdale brand and H&M have all used factories found to have employed children, after several major brands switched their production to low-cost factories in Myanmar. Workers told investigators that they were paid as little as 13p an hour producing clothes for UK retailers – half the full legal minimum wage.

Labour rights campaigners say that the use of children in factories supplying household names is the result of a “race to the bottom”, as brands chase ever lower labour costs.

This is of course part of the race to the top instead. For, as Paul Krugman, among others, has pointed out this is how that whole thing of industrial development and rising incomes starts out. We've even mentioned this before.

The report itself, if read closely, also tells us that things are not quite as that opening paragraph makes out:

Brands have had some success eliminating child labour from their main supplier factories in recent years, but as wages have risen in countries such as China, companies are increasingly moving production to cheaper markets, including Myanmar, where children can legally be employed for up to four hours a day from the age of 14.

The allegation is that 14 year olds are being employed.

All the factories investigated employed workers below the age of 18.

And the problem is?

Researchers found wages below the full legal minimum at factories supplying Sports Direct, Henri Lloyd, New Look, H&M, Muji, Pierre Cardin and Karrimor (owned by Sports Direct).

The lowest wages of just 13p an hour were found in factories supplying H&M, Karrimor, Muji and Pierre Cardin. The day rate for those workers was £1.06. Myanmar’s labour laws permit factories to pay newer workers at reduced rates.

People of legal age to be working are making wages which it is legal to pay them. Hmm.

Now, do we all wish that incomes in Burma were higher? Sure, we sure do. But it's worth noting that GDP per capita is some $3 a day. And whatever else we might want to talk about we should all realise that average wages across the economy simply cannot be higher than GDP per capita.

So what exactly is the solution here? Again, a close reading of the source article (and Krugman above explains in more detail) tells us what does happen:

The low labour costs in Myanmar have encouraged international brands to switch production from more expensive countries and between 2010 and 2014 exports tripled to £787m. There are now more than 400 factories in the country, employing 350,000 people, 90% of them women.

That's 350,000 people earning more than they would get following a water buffalo through the paddy. Sounds like an excellent idea in fact.

but as wages have risen in countries such as China, 

20 years ago we were hearing exactly the same stories from China. Now we're not. The reason? Because economic development has taken place. And no, it was not because of the various labour rights NGOs, it was simply because we bought the things produced, they became more productive in producing the things we want to buy.

Or as Madsen of this parish repeatedly says, we make poor people in poor countries richer by buying what they make.

None of us are exactly happy at the thought of people living on £2 a day, however much better that might be than the previous choice of being a buffalo soldier. But the question is obviously what do we do about it? The answer being, as Madsen says, we speed that race to the top.

When out looking for clothes, heck, even if not looking for any, check the label. If it says "Made in Burma" buy one, buy three. If we demand more of their production then their wages will rise as has been happening in various places around the world this past 250 years.  We know it works so why not? Spend your money to shape the world to your desires, buy things from poor people and make them rich.