More sweatshops for Africa?

Field interviews reveal that subjects perceive their alternatives, including agricultural work and street vending, as less desirable when compared to sweatshop labor. Non-monetary benefits are an important part of this appraisal. The interviews provide information about the margins along which subjects’ compensation improves and identifies factory employment as one means of improving intergenerational mobility, educational attainment, and improved economic opportunities for women.

From a paper by Skarbek, Skarbek, Skarbek, and Skarbek (no that’s not a typo), who interview 31 sweatshop workers in El Salvador.

Stefan Dercon and I are attempting a randomized trial version of this study in Ethiopia. The tricky part so far (besides the stubborn delays in our factory openings): the control group members are generally getting factory jobs elsewhere.

For the research subjects and poverty reduction everywhere, wonderful news. But on behalf of us researchers, let me say “Damn you industrial revolution!”.

2 thoughts on “More sweatshops for Africa?

  1. Interesting! What is the treatment in your randomized trial version of the Skarbek, Skarbek, Skarbek and Skarbek study? Is it information about alternatives, information about non-monetary characteristics of multiple local factories? Thanks for posting!

  2. Randomized trials are not the be all and end all. If the results are clear enough, a narrative ethographic account of what the subjects say and how it was impossible to recruit a control group is just as powerful.