“Hey, won’t you play another somebody done somebody wrong song”
I just had a multi-hour conversation with a colleague that revolved around the question of the responsibility a hypothetical businessman–let’s call him Phil K.–owes to his workers. My colleague’s argument is that when Mr. K opens a factory in a third world country, his employees are coerced to work for him because they don’t have any better opportunities, so he has a duty to treat them better than he actually does treat them. My rebuttal is that they are voluntarily working for him because he’s given them a better opportunity than anything else that’s available to them, so he doesn’t owe them anything more. He says Mr. K is exploiting them–I say Mr. K is exchanging value for value.
Can this argument actually be resolved, or are the foundational premises too far apart to actually be reconcilable?
Addendum: My colleague argued that Mr. K was exploiting people by taking advantage of them in their desperate condition, and supported this argument by noting that the common law prohibits taking advantage of people in that way. I.e., he noted, you can’t, under the common law, require someone to engage in a sexual act as the price of helping them. If you are dying, I can ignore you and leave you to die. But I can’t save your life at the price of demanding you suck my cock. The latter, while remote from anything I would consider admirable, seems to me less immoral than simply letting someone die, since you do, in fact, save their life. I didn’t, in the heat of debate, think to pose the question to him that way. But he did answer my question as to whether it would be better for Mr. K to not build the factories than to employ people at low wages by saying that it would be better that the factories not be built. He would seem to be forced by logical consistency to also assert that it would be better to let a person die than to save them for the price of a blowjob. This seems to me to be a perverse result that suggests something is fundamentally wrong with his premises.