“Exploiting” workers

My students are quick to call a job “exploitative,” and I wrote the following to frame my thoughts on those jobs and to push them to be more careful about calling too many jobs exploitative.

Workers are exploited when… 

  • They cannot chose where they work.
  • They are screwed because agreed terms are not delivered (wages, housing, hours, etc.)
  • Their working conditions are worse than agreed.

Workers are NOT exploited when… 

  • They work many hours, with bad conditions, for poor wages.
  • They can quit and go work elsewhere
  • They cannot pay for a decent standard of living.

I make these distinctions because there’s a difference between exploitation and being poor. There are MANY poor people in the world, which is why many of them are “economic refugees” to richer countries. But shit luck (those of us in the “lucky sperm club” were born with the right papers) is not the same as getting exploited.  I’ve traveled in many countries, and I appreciate our common humanity, but I am also aware of the really big differences between rich and poor countries.

That’s why I left the US (as an economic — but also social — migrant) to live in the Netherlands.  

Your thoughts? 

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

3 thoughts on ““Exploiting” workers”

  1. Have you elaborated on the last line in this post (about reasons for emigrating)? If not, would you? Thank you

  2. I agree! Sweatshops have a similar connotation, but it isn’t clearly bad. I show this video
    and its intention is to show the exploitation of child labor, but rather shows that public shaming of these companies probably hurts the workers as it cancels contracts and takes away the only options they had.

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