Marquette Warrior: Bono: Capitalist Exploiter

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bono: Capitalist Exploiter

From the free market Ludwig von Mises Institute, an account of how a certain rock singer and premier moralist actually behaves.
Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, have been traveling the globe endorsing their new clothing line, Edun. This clothing line promises to create Fair Trade–like principles which respect the workers who make the clothes and pass on the workers’ story.

As Ali Hewson says with an interjection from Bono, “It’s making people aware of the story of clothes . . . do you really want to put on something that’s made — with despair.”[1]

Bono promises to have decent working conditions and to abstain from employing child labor.

According to the factory manager in Lesotho, Thabang Kholumo, the wages paid are 600 rand (currently $87.68) a month. This is a little over 50 cents an hour assuming a 40-hour work week.

Surely these are twice that of other factories in the area? Not so. The country of Lesotho has minimum-wage laws by profession. According to a report highlighting current labor market conditions in Lesotho on the Global Policy Network website,[2] the minimum wage for trained sewing machine operators is 650 maloti ($94.80) a month.[3]

Unless there were specific fluctuations in the currency price at the time of Thabang Kholumo’s information, Bono would have been paying below the minimum wage allotted for textile workers. In any event, he doesn’t seem to be paying more than the required minimum.
And further:
Thabang Kholumo reveals that 125 female employees make 3,000 items a day. These items retail for $50-$300! A pair of Edun jeans will cost you a pricey $275. You can do the math for yourself. One pair of jeans $275 and one month of work $87.68 in Bono’s “sweatshop.”

According to Bono’s mistaken economic theories, he is no champion of the poor in his own factory. These wages are incompatible with the message Bono and Ali are trying to portray. Bono speaks about creating a new business model that can be emulated by other companies. In fact, he is doing what others are doing and have done for a very long time, and it is good for everyone.
So Bono is paying workers a wage that is -- by American standards -- wretched, and making a ton of money off them.

So that makes him evil, right?

No, he’s paying a wage that looks very good compared to the subsistence agriculture to which his workers would otherwise be relegated.

And work like Bono is providing is a necessary stage in the economic development of Lesotho. You don’t go directly from subsistence agriculture to Silicon Valley high-tech industries.
Bono may be paying below-minimum wages today, but that will not last as the productivity of his employees improves. One thing that would speed up this process is even more foreign “sweatshop” investment, which would stimulate competition for Lesotho’s labor force even more. Countries like Lesotho need more sweatshops, not fewer. Perhaps Bono can persuade some of his multimillionaire entertainment industry friends to invest with him.

To say that Bono’s factory is something special would not be truthful. The Edun clothing line is doing well, and is employing hundreds of people. That’s great. It’s called capitalism.
But what Bono is is a hypocrite. Much like Al Gore’s buying carbon offsets to support his lavish lifestyle, there is nothing wrong with what he is actually doing.

What is odious is his self-righteous moralizing.

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