NGOs have repeatedly exposed cases of underpaid labor in countries like Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Taiwan. In the following text, we will study how underpayment affects the society, the workers, and how it is related to ethical theories.
At the onset, we will discuss the ethical theories of consequentialism and non-consequentialism, and later apply them to specific situations in the study of underpayment of wages. Consequentialism and non-consequentialism are two sets of normative ethical theories that help in making decisions and solving moral dilemmas. In retrospect, they provide criteria for evaluation of choices over decisions taken.
According to the theory of consequentialism, an action, policy, and institution, is considered right, so long it produces good consequences. Consequences include the action itself and whatever the action causes. Consequentialism aims to spread greatest good of greatest number of people thereby bringing freedom, happiness and pleasure to humanity. John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham are two well-known consequentialists. While Mill emphasizes happiness as the consequence, Bentham takes a hedonistic standpoint of pleasure. Bentham advocates that the actions are utilitarian, as long as they increase the overall amount of pleasure in the world.
Utilitarianism is guided by the philosophy that actions should try to make the world a better place. While emphasizing the consequences exclusively, utilitarianism ignores the intentions behind the act. Actions should be guided by doing the most good of the humanity, while sacrificing the interests of the minority. The focus of utilitarianism is on actions and not on intentions. The moral worth of an action, or its intrinsic value, lies in its utility to the greatest number of people. Further to this, utilitarianism considers that harm, to a small number of people, is justified as long as acts, or its consequences, serve the interests of the majority of the people. Interestingly, utilitarianism has narrow economic and pragmatic implications as well. Utilitarianism argues that the world needs to be made a better place. Act utilitarianism views consequences of each act and rule utilitarianism calculates the overall utility of accepting or rejecting the rule. Running sweatshops is a utilitarian act as it easily sacrifices the interests of the minority population of those working in them, for the interests of the majority population of manufacturers and the consumers.
Non-consequentialism judges the act by its rightness and wrongness of the action and not on its consequences. Any act that produces a wrong is not bad just because of its consequences but because of its intrinsically being wrong. Immanuel Kant and WD Ross have been prominent non-consequentialists. Non-consequentialists, do not always, ignore the consequences, but their decisions are based upon the net aggregate of the consequences of the choices. As a criticism of the non-consequentialism, it is noted that it overvalues the inner states of the action and undervalues their actual results. Contractionism is a non-consequentialist moral theory that considers that no uncompensated harm to anyone is permitted. The moral and ethical notions should be justifiable to each person.