Opponents of government regulation argue that artificially raising the costs of manufacturing in poor countries would harm intended beneficiaries by destroying jobs. If so, workers would face worse options, including life on the streets and prostitution.
Unfortunately, the debate is unnecessarily narrow. What needs discussing – and radical changing – is the country’s political-economic system, which benefits elites while keeping the mass of people down. The economists are correct that under the status quo, imposing safety standards would raise costs, cause unemployment, and aggravate poverty. But we can’t leave the matter there. We must go on to examine how the political-economic system constricts people’s employment opportunities, including self-employment, and otherwise stifles their efforts to improve their lives. Thus, a debate over whether garment factories should be subject to safety regulations, while the status quo goes largely undisturbed, misses the point.