Globalization has opened new markets for global companies to expand their market outreach. However, as critics of globalization claim, the unfair trading environment between “poor” communities in third world countries and the strong and powerful multinational companies (MNCs) from the western world undermines the principle of fair trade. Relative to this discussion, many people have accused MNCs of exploiting workers from poor and vulnerable communities for economic gain.
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Mainly, they claim that the workers who toil in the field to produce coffee, cocoa, sugar and other agricultural products for the giant multinational companies get paid little money, or no money at all, for their work. Comparatively, the powerful companies that use them make huge profits from their activities. Some observers perceive this situation as modern-day slavery because even voluntary workers have to continue working for such companies because their life circumstances cannot allow them to stay unemployed.
Many western companies that play a significant role in this trade gain from lower costs of production, while the western markets benefit from readily available exotic products. Undoubtedly, this situation creates a significant ethical concern regarding the activities of powerful companies in poor and vulnerable communities.
This paper explores the ethical arguments surrounding this issue by explaining the positive and negative consequences of such actions. Similarly, this paper explores the actions of the authorities that should correct this situation by explaining how the principles of utilitarianism apply to this situation.
What Elements (Circumstances Or Consequences) Of This Situation Are Good / Bad, Acceptable / Unacceptable?
What is Unacceptable
Although western companies enjoy cheap labor from developing countries, to cut their operational costs, it is unacceptable for such companies to use child labor to get raw materials. Child labor is a common form of exploitation that western MNCs “support” through their economic activities in developing countries (mainly, African and South American countries are most affected). For example, giant multinational companies often ignore the use of child labor in the cocoa fields of West Africa and Latin America.
Although it is undesirable to use children as laborers, many farmers employ them to make a profit from the business because child labor is cheap. Using child labor in such a business is unacceptable because it is immoral to do so. Indeed, children who work in such farms cannot exercise their free will to accept or deny such jobs. Western companies are wrong to ignore this situation because they would not accept to use child labor in their home countries in the first place.
For example, undoubtedly, the manager of a giant MNC, such as Nestle, which profits from child labor in West African cocoa fields, would not allow his children to work in such fields. Thus, it is wrong for such a person to gain from child labor in a different country. Consequently, the world should not allow such companies to profit from child labor because it is demeaning and treats other people as “lesser human beings.”
What is Acceptable
Although some wealthy MNCs tolerate unethical labor practices in international markets, they still create employment opportunities for millions of unemployed people in such communities. Although it is unacceptable for such companies to continue exploiting such workers, their activities save the millions of unemployed people from participating in social evils, such as crime.
Furthermore, it is better to improve the labor conditions of the “oppressed workers,” as opposed to stopping the activities of the MNCs that promote unethical labor practices. Particularly, this approach is “desirable” for many poor countries because their governments are unable to create employment for their people.
What Actions (Or Inactions) Of People Involved And Affected By This Situation Are Right / Wrong, Justified / Unjustified?
The governments of the exploited communities, the international labor organization, and the MNCs that exploit vulnerable communities are the main actors that “promote” exploitative labor practices. Mainly, foreign governments should protect their citizens from exploitation by rogue MNCs. Moreover, such MNCs work in foreign countries at the liberty of foreign governments.
Consequently, the foreign governments should manage these rogue companies by revoking their business licenses (or adopt similar measures to protect their people). Particularly, it is wrong for foreign governments to “sit back” and watch wealthy companies exploit their people for economic gain. For example, they can negotiate for better terms of work for their workers.
There are several means of doing so (such as increasing minimal wage rates). Furthermore, it is wrong for government officials to profit from the activities of MNCs, when they have a duty to protect their vulnerable workers in the first place. Therefore, it is unacceptable for foreign governments to fail to stop MNCs from exploiting vulnerable communities.
Since MNCs operate in the global market, people should condemn international labor organizations, such as the ILO, for their inaction to protect vulnerable communities from exploitation. Furthermore, giant multinational organizations, such as ILO have the “muscle” to manage the activities of MNCs.
Therefore, it is wrong for such bodies to work and receive funding from member states when they allow such MNCs to continue their unethical activities in foreign markets (when they should formulate the standards and policies to prevent such acts in the first place).
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Lastly, MNCs are responsible for being the protagonists in international labor exploitation because they use unethical business practices when they know it is wrong to do so. For example, they understand that they cannot support some of their foreign (unethical) practices in their home countries because international laws do not allow them. Therefore, it is inconceivable for them to do so in foreign countries.
What Assessment Of This Situation Would A Utilitarian Render? Define Utilitarianism and Show How Its Principles Apply To This Situation
Utilitarianism is a principle of normative ethics, which supports actions that offer the “greatest happiness” (through maximum utility). This principle disregards the “consequences of an action” as a significant contributor of morality.
Therefore, based on the context of this paper, a utilitarian would support the exploitative activities of global companies because they create employment for poor communities and create a market for their local produce. The poverty cycle that enslaves such workers and the minimal pay they get from such activities would be of no concern to them. Therefore, the principles of utilitarianism apply to the context of this paper because it affects how people perceive the consequences of MNC actions in foreign countries.
Compare and Contrast Your View To/With the Utilitarian View
Utilitarianism differs with the main argument of this paper, which criticizes MNCs for their exploitative activities in developing countries, because the concept ignores the principles of justice. Stated differently, the utilitarian view supports the actions of a few rogue companies by “punishing” the hardworking workers who keep such companies in the business.
Nonetheless, it is unacceptable to use the principle of the “greater good” to support unjust actions because it is a “slippery slope” if everybody used the same principle to support wrong actions. For example, if all companies could support their unethical activities because they are promoting a “greater good,” civilization would lose its meaning.
People need standards for undertaking their economic activities. Certainly, people should understand what is acceptable and unacceptable. Therefore, it is incorrect for a company to claim its actions are justified because they promote a “greater good.” A deeper understanding of the utilitarian view shows that the principle is self-defeating because “two wrongs cannot make a right.” Indeed, using immoral means to achieve a positive outcome is a “zero-sum game.”
Unfair labor practices create several ethical concerns regarding the activities of wealthy and powerful global conglomerates when they exploit poor and vulnerable communities for economic gain. This paper argues that such actions are immoral and unacceptable. However, it also acknowledges the positive contribution of such companies to the economic growth of these communities. For example, it acknowledges the employment opportunities created by such companies in developing countries.
Nonetheless, foreign governments, international labor organizations and the MNCs are the main actors who have the power to change this situation. Particularly, this paper highlights the need for foreign governments to protect their people from unfair labor practices because they are in office for this purpose. Therefore, it is wrong for such governments to allow exploitative activities, while they continue to receive money from the citizens that they should protect in the first place.