The appeal of the sweatshop

This beautifully shot photostory isn't strictly about sweatshops, but it might as well be. The women who work as porters in Ghana's city markets must endure:

  • Long hours
  • Backbreaking physical labour
  • Low pay
  • Living in cramped slum conditions
  • Moving from a village where there's food to share, to the city where you starve if you have no money
Sounds terrible, right?

And yet:

  • People are doing it voluntarily
  • It lets them build up savings
  • They can reinvest those savings in a business, or in going home to start a family
  • It is being used to finance their own or their children's education, so the next generation won't have to do the same
Nobody is idealising this lifestyle. It's hard work, I wouldn't want to do it, and at least one of the women in the story who has left the job is glad to be out of it. There is an element of randomness, and if you have no money one day, nobody is going to feed you.

But it's more dangerous to idealise the alternative. Subsistence farming is even harder work, you're at the mercy of the elements, and it provides no route to improve your life.

People are choosing to move from the farm to the city, as they have throughout history, because they correctly recognise that this is the first step in making their lives - and the future lives of their families - much better.


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