Violating A Worker’s Rights to Reduce Prices

Image

By Callie Stone

As a high school student sits down at her desk, she kicks aside an old Nordstrom’s bag in order to let her JanSport backpack fall to the ground. Sliding into the wooden desk chair, she opts for her faster performing mac book pro to start her homework. Sipping on her coffee through a warm ceramic mug she relies on her glasses to read through both the stack of endless printed worksheets laid out in front of her and the text messages on her iPhone. But, what if the act of outsourcing disappeared in an instant? Literally everything in front of her would vanish; not only these things, but almost all of the items surrounding her in the room as well. Her cable provider would no longer be in service nor would she have the necessary parts for her car to function or even many processed foods in her kitchen. But instead, the technique of outsourcing allows American companies to cheaply produce such items that play a truly vital role in one’s everyday life.

            In modern society success and power are measured by one thing- money. A dollar sign is being placed on each hired individual as their employers are trying to achieve dominance in the greatest and easiest ways possible. One method that is implemented throughout the world, but primarily used by the United States, is outsourcing. This process “of hiring workers not employed by a company to do that’s company’s work,” produces both benefits and setbacks.[1] Failing economies and fear of bankruptcy has compelled many companies to turn towards offshore outsourcing, the most common form of hiring workers outside of a specific company. A tremendous amount of money is saved through this process as the economies of the countries utilized for their cheap labor “are still developing and their standard of living is lower than in the U.S.”.[2] The act of outsourcing jobs to foreign countries has been adopted by many companies to save money, but it has also raised many concerns due to the exploitation of the workers.

            Not only is outsourcing becoming a political and economic battle, it is also arising as a severe issue within the Church. Throughout the Catholic Church priests are beginning to speak up on behalf of the exploited workers by producing statements and informing its followers of this tragedy. Even though the act of outsourcing employees did not gain dominance until the 1990s, the Church has been publishing information regarding worker’s rights for centuries past.[2] Pope Leo XIII in particular addresses the rightful duties of an employer in Rerum Novarum, raising questions as to whether or not modern American companies are upholding the moral duties expected of them.

            When the use of outsourcing was first implemented, companies were not taking advantage of their employees. Instead, they were simply using this method to reduce time and save money because their outsourced employees did not have to receive company benefits. In the 1990s workers were hired as contractors outside of the company but still lived within the United States. But at the turn of the twentieth century, companies expanded their outsourcing offshores.[2] At this period in time, the dangerous fact that workers were being exploited for cheap labor in other countries began to spread within the United States. In the 2000s, this political issue turned into an issue in the Catholic Church that continues to affect not only countries around the world, but also the United States.

            As this form of cheaper labor is utilized, the foreign workers are receiving extremely unfair treatment in their day to day jobs. The four countries with the highest outsourced employment are China, India, the Philippines, and Russia.[2] In each of these countries and others throughout the world, the rights of the workers “are [being] abused, social security systems are downsized and fundamental aspirations of people are crushed”.[3] Pope Leo XIII rejects these inhumane conditions, as the workers should not be “exposed to corrupting influences and dangerous occasions” during their work day. These men and women show up to their jobs and are placed in an overcrowded, hot environment, placing them a great risk every second they are there. In many cases companies are even violating child labor laws by hiring children for “work unsuited to their sex and age.” This system of employment is both corrupt and inhumane.

            Other countries do not have as strict of laws regarding workers’ rights and unions, therefor from an economic perspective, American companies use these valuable methods to preserve time and money. The workplaces in countries such as India and the Philippines mirror our knowledge of sweatshops and are usually even worse.[2] In result, corporations receive a higher return on investments because consumers want to purchase cheap merchandise.[4] But with these cheap prices comes the mistreatment of workers. They receive insanely low wages compared to someone doing the same work within the United States.

            Advocates for outsourcing argue that the workers are receiving an income higher than the average citizen in that specific foreign country.[5] But, is it socially just for these workers to be receiving a lower wage than their U.S. counterpart would be? These American workers earn an income well over the minimum wage of $7.25, yet the outsourced individuals are only receiving about $8.50-$12.50 for a forty hour work week.[4] In contrast with today’s mindset, Pope Leo XIII reminds people that “to defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime.” One of the most common forms of outsourced labor is in the high-technology sector. On average such a worker from the United States earns $80,000, while their counterpart in the Philippines only earns about $5,000.[2] By taking advantage of the unaware foreign employees, Americans are saving a tremendous amount of money spent on wages in order to gain more profit for their companies within the borders of the United States.

            The protection and welfare of workers that was created and promoted in the past centuries, before outsourcing was widely used, does not match up with “today’s profoundly changed environment”.[3] In today’s world these outsourced employees have been subjected “to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition”.[3] As the focus transfers away from the value of the workers and their comfort during their day to day jobs, the obsession of increasing one’s profit is becoming much more important. While this competition has been around forever, the lives of the workers are becoming more discounted than ever. It is not a negative aspect of a company to want to and strive for increased profit; in fact that plays a big role into the success of the business in today’s world. But, in order for a company to truly use its power for the greater good, the worker’s must be their main priority.

            Without workers a company does not exist. Someone in one place or another has to be producing an idea or creating a product. Because of these employees, companies are able to perform in the market. Without these wage earners, the business could not properly function. Pope Leo XIII speaks on behalf of the employee stating that “to misuse men as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers” in any situation “is truly shameful and inhuman.”  It should be in every company’s best interest to place the greatest value on their workers, as they hold such an important role in supplying the product.

            A company’s goal is to meet the demand for a product and generate revenue for the business. With power hungry cooperation’s, many Americans are not realizing just how far some of the most popular companies are going to produce items at a low cost. Not only is this low cost coming from cheaper materials, but more importantly from decreased wages and lack of maintenance in comfortable and safe work spaces. Pope Leo XIII encourages employers “not to look upon their work people as their bondsmen,” but rather value their lives and support them with the necessary treatment that is both humane and suitable to their performance. While the concept of outsourcing is very useful in itself, it is a businesses’ Christian duty to withhold the moral standards of proper provisions for their workers.  

[1] Blackwell, Amy Hackney. “Outsourcing in America: Overview.” In Issues: Understanding Controversy and Society. ABC-CLIO, 2006-. Accessed April 29, 2014. http://issues.abc-clio.com/.

[2] “Outsourcing White-Collar Jobs Overseas.” Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services, 15 Dec. 2008. Accessed April 30, 2014.<http://www.2facts.com/article/i0900460&gt;.

[3] Benedict XVI, “Caritas In Veritate,” Vatican, July 7, 2009. Accessed April 29, 2014.             http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/.

[4] Brasch, Walt. “Discounting Lives to Maximize Profits.” SIRS Issues Researcher. Accessed April 30, 2014. http://sks.sirs.com

[5] Issues: Understanding Controversy and Society, s.v. “Workers’ Rights,” Accessed April 28, 2014. http://issues.abc-clio.com/.

[Image of outsourced workers in China]. Outsourcing in America: Overview. By Amy Blackwell.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Violating A Worker’s Rights to Reduce Prices

  1. Callie’s article is very insightful, especially in regards to the Church’s stance on outsourcing. Many times articles written about outsourcing focus solely on workers’ rights and unemployment, which are very valid points against outsourcing, but I enjoyed that hers focused specifically on Church teachings on the matter.

    I, too, found it interesting that the main oppositions against outsourcing were not brought to public eye until the 1990s when this issue has clearly existed for quite some time. Even the Church formed an opinion on the matter decades before, and the Church usually waits a long while to formulate her opinion. I tend to agree that countries should balance domestic jobs and outsourcing, if not focus far more on domestic employment, but one cannot help but see the perspectives of both sides. However, Callie’s article gives a strong argument against outsourcing with good evidence from the Church.

  2. Good article Callie. I do wish you had addressed the economics of the matter more, however, especiaaly when you discuss the wages in developing countries vs. in the us. Workers in the US have a far higher productivity and are in higher demand, while workers in those other not only have lower productivity, but the demand for them is not as high. An economist always considers the alternatives: if these employees did not take these jobs for those wages, what is the next best thing they could be doing? Is it likely to be something better? I think something quite telling is that the specific countries you mention are some of the ones that are experiencing the greatest improvements in standards of living in the world. Would this improvement be likely without these jobs?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s