What is exploitation?

Mercurial

Moderator
Joined
Jun 4, 2009
Messages
86,862
We talk about workers being exploited by employers, about victims of sexual exploitation, about empires exploiting their colonies, or people exploiting the welfare system, for example, but it's not obvious (1) precisely what "exploitation" means and (2) when the law should permit exploitation, and when it should prohibit it.

Roughly, the basic idea behind the concept of exploitation seems to be that it's about taking advantage of someone else's vulnerability - whether it's because you have more information than they do, or are in a stronger position than they are for some other reason.

That might work as a very rough idea of what exploitation means, but it's not enough to tell us whether and when it's okay to exploit others -

At one end of the spectrum, a football player may take advantage of his opponent's weaknesses in order to score a goal, but that's not a problematic case of exploitation. At the other end, a dodgy builder may take advantage of an elderly customer in order to trick him into paying for unnecessary services, and that seems clearly wrong.

(You might think that consent makes the difference here, but there are probably cases where a person doesn't agree to be taken advantage of, yet where it still seems okay to do so, and cases where a person does consent to be taken advantage of but where it seems wrong to do so)

So - what is exploitation, and when is it wrong to exploit someone?
 


captain obvious

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
1,884
I think there has to be an element of systemic or cultural involvement whereby those being exploited cannot or would find it difficult to change the situation.

To extend your footballing analogy, there are transfer rules to ensure that well funded clubs do not poach players from the opposing teams immediately before they are due to play them.

On the question on when it is wrong to exploit somebody, it is when you would not like it to happen to you.
 

silverharp

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 21, 2015
Messages
16,313
I'd want to see a goodly dose of coercion otherwise low wages etc. isn't exploitation
 

DaveM

Well-known member
Joined
Sep 16, 2010
Messages
15,963
The prevention of exploitation should see the interests of parties balanced to ensure a sufficient degree of fairness. The most commonly discussed area is probably in terms of employment, i.e. exploitation of workers by employers. The competing interests which need to be balanced are the employer's need for flexibility and competitiveness versus the employee's need to fair terms and conditions of employment. With the exception of areas where there is a shortage of particular skills in the labour market this usually sees employers in a position to exploit employees as evidenced by the body of legislation that has been placed on the statute books over the years to deliver the required protections. This is very much a moving target as market conditions change over time but there has to be some core fundamentals that as a society we decide are to be observed no matter what.

Various examples come to mind.

Firstly in the supermarket sector should highly profitable companies be permitted to engage employees on zero hour contracts? For example Tesco, which for reasons that don't need explaining, refuse to disclose how profitable their Irish operation actually is. In my opinion this is an exploitative practice.

Secondly the construction sector where there has been a shift from permanent employment to the widespread use of agency labour. This strikes me as no different from the lads standing on the side of the road in Kilburn hoping for a days work except the agency paints a veneer of respectability over what is an exploitative practice.

On the flip side you have the permanent jobs in the public sector which see the state forced to continue to employ people regardless of performance or in circumstances where their positions have become obsolete. This unduly impairs flexibility and has a detrimental effect on the delivery of public services. Removal of this measure would not be exploitative or unfair. It would merely normalize the manner in which people are employed within the public sector as compared to the wider economy.
 

captain obvious

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
1,884
I'd want to see a goodly dose of coercion otherwise low wages etc. isn't exploitation
It is not necessarily coercion though, the argument probably employed being if you don't like it go somewhere else. The exploitation element kicks in though when all other employers are doing the same thing.
 

Mercurial

Moderator
Joined
Jun 4, 2009
Messages
86,862
One way to figure out what the essence of a concept is, is to begin with a case that seems like a clear example (if these aren't cases of exploitation then nothing is, right?) and to try to draw from those examples some more general definition.

So what is it about those cases that makes them so clearly exploitative?
 

captain obvious

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
1,884
The prevention of exploitation should see the interests of parties balanced to ensure a sufficient degree of fairness. The most commonly discussed area is probably in terms of employment, i.e. exploitation of workers by employers. The competing interests which need to be balanced are the employer's need for flexibility and competitiveness versus the employee's need to fair terms and conditions of employment. With the exception of areas where there is a shortage of particular skills in the labour market this usually sees employers in a position to exploit employees as evidenced by the body of legislation that has been placed on the statute books over the years to deliver the required protections. This is very much a moving target as market conditions change over time but there has to be some core fundamentals that as a society we decide are to be observed no matter what.

Various examples come to mind.

Firstly in the supermarket sector should highly profitable companies be permitted to engage employees on zero hour contracts? For example Tesco, which for reasons that don't need explaining, refuse to disclose how profitable their Irish operation actually is. In my opinion this is an exploitative practice.

Secondly the construction sector where there has been a shift from permanent employment to the widespread use of agency labour. This strikes me as no different from the lads standing on the side of the road in Kilburn hoping for a days work except the agency paints a veneer of respectability over what is an exploitative practice.

On the flip side you have the permanent jobs in the public sector which see the state forced to continue to employ people regardless of performance or in circumstances where their positions have become obsolete. This unduly impairs flexibility and has a detrimental effect on the delivery of public services. Removal of this measure would not be exploitative or unfair. It would merely normalize the manner in which people are employed within the public sector as compared to the wider economy.
Although, I think we have to be careful in relation to employment practices. The IT sector is an area that sees a large free-lance/contracting component to it which is generally beneficial to both employee and employer. This is driven by agility of companies to engage certain skill sets if and when they need them without having to retain them through periods where they are under utilized.
 

silverharp

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 21, 2015
Messages
16,313
It is not necessarily coercion though, the argument probably employed being if you don't like it go somewhere else. The exploitation element kicks in though when all other employers are doing the same thing.
it depends, if all the other employers can only sell your work for 10$ an hour then you aint getting 12$ . there would need to be some legal framework that ties you to an area or allows some kind of indenturing or where normal political representation is missing or the rule of law is broken.
 

benroe

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 29, 2011
Messages
11,066
We talk about workers being exploited by employers, about victims of sexual exploitation, about empires exploiting their colonies, or people exploiting the welfare system, for example, but it's not obvious (1) precisely what "exploitation" means and (2) when the law should permit exploitation, and when it should prohibit it.

Roughly, the basic idea behind the concept of exploitation seems to be that it's about taking advantage of someone else's vulnerability - whether it's because you have more information than they do, or are in a stronger position than they are for some other reason.

That might work as a very rough idea of what exploitation means, but it's not enough to tell us whether and when it's okay to exploit others -

At one end of the spectrum, a football player may take advantage of his opponent's weaknesses in order to score a goal, but that's not a problematic case of exploitation. At the other end, a dodgy builder may take advantage of an elderly customer in order to trick him into paying for unnecessary services, and that seems clearly wrong.

(You might think that consent makes the difference here, but there are probably cases where a person doesn't agree to be taken advantage of, yet where it still seems okay to do so, and cases where a person does consent to be taken advantage of but where it seems wrong to do so)

So - what is exploitation, and when is it wrong to exploit someone?
Exploitation is the point at which your personal gain at someone else's expense affects your conscience or someone else's moral standards.
 

Orbit v2

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 8, 2010
Messages
11,797
I suppose agency and freedom of choice are central to it. It's much easier to feel (or be) exploited if you are backed into a corner and don't have any practical choice in a course of action. So, on one hand someone (like Joe Brolly) who voluntarily donates a kidney is not being exploited. But, if Donald Trump's nominee for head of the FDA gets his way, and allows a free market in organ donation, then someone desperate enough for money possibly would be, in many people's estimation.

But, then you have to consider second order effects like people's fecklessness in getting themselves into desperate situations. If you are forced to sell your house because you were greedy and over borrowed, is the person who buys it exploiting you? Maybe that depends on how much of an advantage they take of the situation, ie in extracting a better price because they know how desperate you are. It's subjective to a degree.
 

DaveM

Well-known member
Joined
Sep 16, 2010
Messages
15,963
Although, I think we have to be careful in relation to employment practices. The IT sector is an area that sees a large free-lance/contracting component to it which is generally beneficial to both employee and employer. This is driven by agility of companies to engage certain skill sets if and when they need them without having to retain them through periods where they are under utilized.
Fair point. I think a big distinction arises in this regard between skilled and unskilled workers. How that is adequately addressed in legislative terms is one for the legal eagles.
 

captain obvious

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
1,884
it depends, if all the other employers can only sell your work for 10$ an hour then you aint getting 12$ . there would need to be some legal framework that ties you to an area or allows some kind of indenturing or where normal political representation is missing or the rule of law is broken.
I agree, the problem arises where you have no choice, generally because all of the employers are offering the same package. Zero hour contracts should be abolished as they give an employee little or no certainty in income or in the ability to plan their life. It becomes something akin to subscribed enslavement.
 

captain obvious

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
1,884
Fair point. I think a big distinction arises in this regard between skilled and unskilled workers. How that is adequately addressed in legislative terms is one for the legal eagles.
I agree with your point on the organizations involved not disclosing the profitability of their operations. The employees are at a distinct disadvantage. Wages are public knowledge, how much the company is profiting from them is not.
 

DaveM

Well-known member
Joined
Sep 16, 2010
Messages
15,963
I agree with your point on the organizations involved not disclosing the profitability of their operations. The employees are at a distinct disadvantage. Wages are public knowledge, how much the company is profiting from them is not.
I can't remember what it is but I remember it being reported that in Tesco they have some nickname for the Irish market arising from the ridiculous margins they make here. Why people don't vote with their feet rather than continue to shop there is beyond me.
 

silverharp

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 21, 2015
Messages
16,313
I agree, the problem arises where you have no choice, generally because all of the employers are offering the same package. Zero hour contracts should be abolished as they give an employee little or no certainty in income or in the ability to plan their life. It becomes something akin to subscribed enslavement.
there is demand and supply, you might want to question the gov for allowing infinite low skills people into the country? One of my neighbour's kids got a part time job delivering fastfood on a bike but the conditions totally suit the employer , no calls no pay , fixed payment regardless of traffic etc. but I don't think the gov should micro manage work contracts
Not every job will have the potential of a career to feed a family for example a fast food job, it should hopefully me made up of teenagers, students or be a foot in the door to a better job in a year or 2.
 

eoghanacht

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 18, 2006
Messages
32,410
One way to figure out what the essence of a concept is, is to begin with a case that seems like a clear example (if these aren't cases of exploitation then nothing is, right?) and to try to draw from those examples some more general definition.

So what is it about those cases that makes them so clearly exploitative?
Seriously merc, Nestle using child labour or unscrupulous garment manufacturers using Syrian refugee child "workers" doesn't need explaining.


Capitalism is exploitation, whether it's garment factories in Turkey or Bangladesh.

All's fair and game in the pursuit of lower costs and greater profits
 


New Threads

Popular Threads

Most Replies

Top