Volume 33, Issue 2, Fall 2019
Michael Hartsock, Eric Roark
Exploitation without Exchange
An Analysis of Consumer Exploitation of Sweatshop Workers
Extant accounts of exploitation typically focus on either an exchange or interaction between persons, or on exploitative systems (i.e., global capitalism). We propose a new account of exploitation that focuses instead on the benefits an exploiter enjoys which are had at the expense of another, the exploited party. This account is developed by considering the benefits enjoyed by consumers (e.g., inexpensive sweatshop-made goods) and the manner in which those benefits are produced (e.g., the loss of dignity suffered by sweatshop workers). On our account, an exploitative relationship need not involve any interaction or exchange between exploiter and exploited. Neither is exploitation a property of systems or institutions. Instead, we argue that a consumer who buys a shirt produced under near slave-like conditions engages in a moral wrong by exploiting the worker who made it even though the two may be far-removed in space and time.