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22.03.2018 | Original Paper

Freedom, Autonomy, and Harm in Global Supply Chains

Zeitschrift:
Journal of Business Ethics
Autor:
Joshua Preiss

Abstract

Responding to criticism by Gordon Sollars and Frank Englander, this paper highlights a significant tension in recent debates over the ethics of global supply chains. This tension concerns the appropriate focus and normative frame(s) for these debates. My first goal is to make sense of what at first reading seems to be a very odd set of claims: that valuing free, autonomous, and respectful markets entails a “fetish for philosophical purity” that is inconsistent with a moral theory that finds no wrong in harming workers, including the least advantaged among them. Sollars and Englander reach these conclusions, I believe, because their criticism assumes and relies upon the presumption of a global prioritarian frame, one which focuses individual welfare, and which they then apply at the level of individual political and economic actors. Much of Benjamin Powell and Matt Zwolinski’s work, I continue, including their criticism of political and economic activism and Powell’s indictment of organized labor, relies on a similar frame—while expanding the harms to include the freedom and autonomy of would-be sweatshop workers. This prioritarian frame, I argue, is particularly poorly suited to discussion of the ethical responsibilities of individual economic and political actors. We ought to reject it. To make progress on debates over global sweatshops, and the ethics of global supply chains in general, we need a better frame, and better standards of freedom and autonomy, than those invoked by many prominent defenders of sweatshops.

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