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We’ve learned that advertising could be unethical in two ways: (a)[ONeil/Susser et al.] Advertising is unethical when it manipulates the audience. (b)[Johnson]


In Week 4 & 5-1 lecture, we've learned that advertising could be unethical in two ways:

(a)[O’Neil/Susser et al.] Advertising is unethical when it manipulates the audience.

(b)[Johnson] Advertising is unethical when it bullshits.

Q1. Once again, briefly describe the ad that you recently saw/heard; do you think that the ad was unethical in any of these two ways?

Q2. Do you think that there is any other way(s) in which advertising could be unethical?


We have seen two opposing arguments re: sweatshops.

(1) Ian Maitland argues that paying higher wages and imposing more strict labor standards may harm the sweatshop workers & the countries that host sweatshops.

(2) Denis Arnold and Laura Hartman argue that not paying higher wages and not imposing more strict labor standards is morally impermissible, because then MNCs interfere with the workers' basic human rights. 

After learning more on each position, which position seems more plausible? Why?

Business Ethics Summer 2022 (1) Week 5, Lecture 2

Chaeyoung Paek

Exploitation & Sweatshop

Sweatshop: Workplace in which workers are employed at low wages and under unhealthy or oppressive conditions.

Many sweatshops are in the clothing industry; most of them are in Asia and Central and South America.

Many of the products for fast-fashion retailers (e.g., ASOS, H&M) come from sweatshops; other popular brands, such as Nike, Adidas, and Disney also gets their products from sweatshops in Asian countries.

– NYT “Who Made Your Clothes?”

In today’s class…

Many people argue for the needs to regulate the international sweatshop; we’ll see what Ian Maitland says in opposition to this quite common position.

There will be no in-class activity.

For Regulations re: Sweatshops

Many critics argue that multi-national companies(MNCs) have moral obligations to offer better wages and better working conditions for the workers in international sweatshops.

Many sweatshop workers are paid below minimum wage; many of them report that their wage cannot cover the living costs of their family.

(ex) “Made for Next to Nothing. Worn by You?”

Many sweatshop workers are also working under the dangerous conditions.

(ex) “Nightmare conditions at Chinese factories where Disney and Hasbro toys are made”

Against Regulations re: Sweatshops

Maitland, on the other hand, argues that the current international sweatshops are being run with appropriate labor standards.

He argues that international sweatshops are not exploiting the workers & offering higher wage and better labor standards may harm the workers.

What are ethically permissible labor standards?

1. Home-country standard

International corporations have ethical duty to pay the same wages & provide the same labor standard regardless where they operate.

2. “Living wage” standard

International corporations have ethical duty to pay, at a minimum, a “living wage.”

Classical liberal standard

The labor standard (wage or labor practice) of international corporations is ethically acceptable if it is freely chosen by informed workers.

What are ethically permissible labor standards?

Most business ethicists reject the home-country standard and the classical liberal standard.

The reason why they reject these standards is practical; employing these standards will erase the benefit of running international sweatshops.

Most critics of international sweatshops also accept that the “living wage” standard is the most appropriate.

But the issue is exactly how to pin down the living cost & whether workers could really benefit from earing the living wage.

Against International Sweatshops

Maitland introduces some of the most important criticism against international sweatshops.

Unconscionable wages

Most workers work long hours, which prevents them from working two jobs; but in many cases, their wage is lower than the minimum living cost for their own country.

(ex) Nike in 1992 paid workers in Indonesian factories $1.03 per day, which was less than the Indonesian government’s figure for “minimum physical need.”

Against International Sweatshops

2. Immiserization thesis

Some critics argue that low-wage workers in sweatshops often experience decline in living standards.

This may happen due to the “bidding war” between countries that host sweatshops; the governments intentionally lower the minimum living cost so their countries could be more hospitable for MNCs.

This may lead to another problem: promoting further inequality.

Against International Sweatshops

3. Widening the gap between the rich and the poor

The GNP (Gross National Product) of a country that hosts sweatshops may increase; but the workers in sweatshops may not benefit from it.

The critics argue that this shows how MNCs contribute to inequality in developing countries by running sweatshops.

By allowing MNCs to run sweatshops in their countries, elites in developing countries benefit; MNCs benefit from running sweatshops; and the workers remain poor.

Against International Sweatshops

4. Collusion with repressive regimes

Since MNCs prefer countries with lax labor laws, to host sweatshops, repressive regimes in developing countries may suppress workers harder.

The critics point out that therefore, MNCs profit from political repression.

(ex) In 2016, Bangladesh workers protested for raising minimum wage; the government fire rubber bullets and arrested several protesters; Bangladesh hosts sweatshops for Gap, Zara, and H&M.

Evaluating the Charges

Maitland concedes that the critics are right about many things. For instance…

It is true that MNCs are chasing cheap labors.

The wages they pay for their workers are often shockingly low, partly because some developing countries have minimum wage that is below poverty line.

The governments of developing countries often repress workers in various aspects (and MNCs may benefit from it).

Some suppliers do employ children.

Evaluating the Charges

Nevertheless, Maitland points out that many of the charges against sweatshops are often inaccurate & fail to further address what truly benefits workers.

Wages and conditions

MNCs pay higher or comparable wages to their workers; the critics also acknowledge this.

In many cases, sweatshop workers learn much more money than other people in their community, many of whom are farmers.

(ex) In 1996, young women working in the plant of a Nike supplier in Serang, Indonesia, were earning the Indonesian legal minimum wage of 5,200 rupiahs (about $2.28 each day); half of adults are farmers, who earn 2,000 rupiahs each day.

Evaluating the Charges

Maitland also points out that many workers take the job at sweatshops voluntarily & consider themselves lucky to work there.

(ex) From NYT, “Who Made Your Clothes?”:

“Most of my co-workers and I are all old-timers,” said Ms. Rumsinah, who has been working at the same factory for 26 years. “It’s a good factory, so no one really quits. There’s seldom any job openings — only if someone retires.”

He argues that the critics dismiss the workers’ experiences based on their own standards.

Evaluating the Charges

2. Immiseration and Inequality

Maitland claims that many countries that used to host sweatshops have not only increased GNP/GDP but also increased living standards for all people.

They could do so by attracting foreign investors for cheap labor and gradually moving onto developing their own industrial base.

And in many of these countries, inequality has become less severe.

(https:// /country-rankings/wealth-inequality-by-country)

Evaluating the Charges

Since they could not have made such developments without hosting sweatshops and gathering enough money, Maitland argues that hosting sweatshops can actually help developing countries to mend the gap between the rich and the poor.

Evaluating the Charges

3. Profitting from Repression?

Maitland claims that although it is true that many developing countries politically oppress workers, economic growth may help relaxing the oppression.

For instance, what repressive regimes should fear most is a high unemployment rate; it could “aggravate” citizens and motivate protests against their government.

But if they can keep the unemployment rate low by hosting sweatshops, they do not need to take extremely oppressive stance towards people.

Labor Standards or Painful Trade-offs?

After fighting off the charges against sweatshops, Maitland claims that what the critics are asking from MNCs may harm sweatshop workers.

The critics claim that MNCs must pay higher wages for their workers; but imposing higher wages may drive MNCs away from developing countries.

Paying their workers “living wage” may broaden the wealth gap between factory workers and farmers, which could widen the economic disparity in developing countries.

Labor Standards or Painful Trade-offs?

3) MNCs may pay higher wages and keep their sweatshops running; but then they cannot provide more job opportunities for poorer workers.

This may lead to several other serious issues, such as widening the wealth gap or keeping the unemployment rate high, which could make the governments employ more oppressive stance towards the citizens.


Maitland concludes that while the critics make good points about some of the problems of sweatshops, they are wrong that MNCs have moral obligations to pay more wages for sweatshop workers.

He does concede that there is one objection that he has not considered in his article: the objection based on human rights.

We’ll see what Dennis Arnold & Laura Hartman say about sweatshop labor based on human rights.

Some remaining thoughts

Q1. Maitland seems to believe that hosting sweatshops may naturally lead to some positive consequences, e.g., repressive regimes relaxing their oppression. But what if these positive consequences do not really happen? Do MNCs then have moral obligations to actively try and make these changes in the community?

Some remaining thoughts

Q2. It seems true that some critics do not take the sweatshop workers’ experiences seriously; but it is also true that sometimes, we shouldn’t take the report of someone’s experience at its face value.

For instance, domestic violence survivors often report that they acted as if they were fine in their abusive relationship & sometimes actually believed that they were doing fine.

Maybe what they experienced at that particular moment was a genuine happiness, but it is objectively bad to be treated without dignity; and maybe the critics can say similar things about certain cases of sweatshop labor.

For the next class…

Read Denis Arnold and Laura Hartman, excerpt from "Beyond sweatshops: Positive deviancy and global labour practices."

ONLY the section "Basic Human Rights" (pp. 210-212) and from "Positive Deviance in the Apparel and Footwear Sector" (p. 215) to the end. The rest is not required reading.


Business Ethics Summer 2022 (1) Week 5, Lecture 1

Chaeyoung Paek

In Week 5…

In Week 4, we discussed whether certain advertising techniques/certain forms of advertising could be harmful.

Arrington defends the use of puffery/indirect information transfer/subliminal advertising, on the ground that ads that use them do not undermine one’s autonomy.

Cathy O’Neil & Daniel Susser, Beate Roessler, and Helen Nissenbaum focus on online ads.

In Week 5…

While O’Neil focuses on how online ads can be so effective to so many people, Susser et al. focus on the nature of (many of) online ads.

According to them, many of online ads are cases of online manipulation; all cases of manipulation carry significant harm; so, many of online ads carry significant harm.

But in 4-1 in-class activity responses, many people were on the fence about whether many of the ads we see are really manipulative.

About Allstate ad: “The ad certainly is full of puffery and gives a false impression, however I’m not certain its completely manipulative. It certainly leaving the impression that of puffery with the song choice, their claims of making money by saving money with them as your insurance, and even with the car blowing up and it being okay because you’re covered.”

About (probably Lay’s?) potato chips: “I think the ad was slightly manipulative since it was showing other packs of chips and openly wanted customers to ignore other brands and buy their chips instead.”

About a new car, Genesis: “The ad was promoting the car and glorifying it. I do not believe its manipulative to exaggerate or we would all be considered manipulative human beings. However, glorifying it might persuade consumers it is a good car for them in terms of status or what not.”

In Week 5…

What was interesting was that even though some people said that the ads they’ve seen were not so manipulative, they also said that something seemed problematic.

Maybe this shows that advertising can have some ethical problems not because it is manipulative but because of something else!

According to Andrew Johnson, this indeed is the case; by borrowing Harry Frankfurt’s famous account on “bullshit,” he argues that most ads are bullshit and therefore morally problematic.

In today’s class…

We’ll look at Andrew Johnson’s account of “bullshit” and why he believes that most advertisements are cases of bullshit.

There will be an in-class activity at the end of the class.

On Bullshit

Harry Frankfurt’s essay, “On Bullshit,” offers a philosophical analysis of commonly used term, bullshit.

According to Frankfurt…

A statement, X, used by the speaker, A, is bullshit when A is not concerned about or indifferent towards whether X is true or not.

(ex) ”Your call is important to us; please hold.”

Cf. Lying ≠ bullshitting

When you lie, you must be concerned about the truth (or falsity) of your statement!

On Bullshit

On Frankfurt’s account, the reason why we think that bullshitting is wrong is because it is “reprehensible intellectual negligence.”

(ex) Mayor saying “This is the greatest city” vs. 5-year-old kid saying “This is the greatest city”

(Johnson) Perhaps Frankfurt’s account is too vague to capture what really makes bullshitting blameworthy.

Johnson On Bullshit

A person is guilty of bullshitting when, and only when:

the person implicitly or explicitly asserts a proposition;

in the assertion of the proposition, or in the prior process of coming to accept the proposition, any impartial interest in what is true is subordinated to or supplanted by a competing interest;

there is no exculpatory reason for such subordination or supplantation; and

if the proposition is explicitly asserted, it is not believed to be false. 

Johnson On Bullshit

According to Johnson, his definition provides more plausible account of bullshit than Frankfurt’s.

Johnson’s account is weaker in a more plausible way.

It is too strong to claim that a bullshitter is indifferent to truth.

Bullshitters may generally care about truth and speaking truth; it’s just that they are ready to ignore their impartial interest in truth to promote other competing interests.

(ex) Advocators of the Intellectual Design theory of evolution

Johnson On Bullshit

2. Johnson’s account captures the sense in which the bullshitter is “guilty” of something.

When someone is guilty of something, it usually means that there’s nothing that could exculpate the person from the wrong they did.

(ex) Coercion at gun point + Renouncing Darwinian theory of evolution

3. Johnson’s account explains the difference between lying and bullshitting better.

Liars believe & know what they explicitly assert is false; bullshitters do not believe so.

(ex) Fourth-of-July oration by a politican

Advertising & Bullshit

Johnson claims that given the purpose of advertising (creating more demands for the advertised product), it’s not surprising that most ads are bullshit.

But bullshit ads are different from deceptive ads.

Deceptive ads lie about the advertised products.

(ex) Activia + “immunity-boost”

Bullshit ads may contain false claims as well, but they do not deliberately lie; they commit certain fallacies in order to serve their own purpose.

Advertising & Bullshit: Fallacies

According to Johnson, bullshit ads often commit fallacies such as…

False analogy

(ex) John McCain’s campaign against Obama in 2008

2. False dichotomy

(ex) Duracell ad

3. Appeals to emotion

(ex) Chevy commercial

(ex) Prescription medicine for kids with ADHD

Advertising & Bullshit: Fallacies

Ads that make use of puffery are also cases of bullshit.

(ex) TAG body spray commercial

…And many others too!

“A more complete cataloging of types of bullshit advertising would include inappropriate appeals to authority, bandwagon arguments ("everybody's using X'), self-image ads, fine-print ads, ads utilizing weasel words, and fake-news-report advertisements.” (23)

Advertising & Bullshit: What’s So Bad?

Such advertisements are examples of bullshit because advertisers subordinate their impartial interest in truth to their competing interest—interest in promoting certain products and create more revenue.

Johnson claims that much advertising is bullshit; since all bullshit is unethical, much advertising is unethical too.

Q. But the very purpose of ads is to promote certain products and create more revenue; can’t we morally justify bullshitting in ads based on the fact that they’re doing something they’re supposed to do?

Advertising & Bullshit: What’s So Bad?

(Kimbrough) Sometimes, bullshitting helps maximizing utility.

(ex) Bullshit apology + better relationship

Kimbrough’s utilitarian argument for advertising

P1. Advertising promotes certain products and creates revenue in result.

P2. Most advertising is bullshit and ethically wrongs the audience.

P3. The utility created by advertising outweighs the utility diminished by advertising with its bullshit.

P4. [The main thesis of Utilitarianism] X is morally permissible if and only if X maximizes utility.

C. Most advertising is morally permissible.

Advertising & Bullshit: What’s So Bad?

Johnson claims that (P3) is wrong; when you’re trying to maximize everyone’s utility over all time, then you should not allow bullshitting to flourish in your society!

He points out that the reason why most utilitarianists consider lying morally wrong applies to bullshitting too.

Instances of lying cumulatively shape the way the members of the society communicate with each other.

In a society where all lie, people cannot believe each other; then all should do their own background research on others whenever they engage in any sort of conversation to verify what others say.

This costs the society so much of time and energy!

Advertising & Bullshit: What’s So Bad?

While bullshitting may not be not as bad as lying, it is still likely that the harms of bullshit would outweigh whatever benefits that bullshit advertising can provide.

Then even from Utilitarian perspective, allowing bullshit to flourish in our society (as a form of advertising) is not morally permissible.

Cf. Kantian Ethics on bullshit

Bullshitters use the audience as mere means, not as their own ends; so bullshitting is not morally permissible.


Johnson concludes that most advertising campaigns are unethical.

Even from Utilitarian perspective, bullshitting is morally impermissible.

And from Kantian perspective, bullshitting is straight-forwardly impermissible!

Given that most advertising is bullshit, we need to be aware of how unethical most advertising is & start thinking about the ways to solve the problem.

Some remaining thoughts

Bullshitting is bad; but perhaps certain cases of bullshitting is not so bad as other cases of bullshitting?

(ex) Puffery ad for deodorant vs. Bullshit support for anti-immigration law

So advertising could be unethical in two ways:

[O’Neil/Susser et al.] Advertising is unethical when it manipulates the audience.

[Johnson] Advertising is unethical when it bullshits.

Q. Is there any other way(s) in which advertising could be unethical?

Exercise: Advertising Techiniques

Click ”5-1 In-class Activity” below the lecture video.

Click “Write Submission”; fill in your answers & click “Submit.”

This should take about 5 minutes, but feel free to take more/less time as needed.

For the next class…

We’ll move on to a new topic: exploitation and sweatshop labor.

Ian Maitland argues that most criticisms of international sweatshops are not valid; Dennis Arnold and Hartman argue that the conditions of international sweatshops should be bettered for employees & employers.

Read Ian Maitland, "The great non-debate over international sweatshops."


Business Ethics Summer 2022 (1) Week 5, Lecture 3

Chaeyoung Paek

In today’s class…

Contrary to Ian Maitland, Denis Arnold and Laura Hartman argue for the necessity to regulate sweatshops, based on the value of human rights.

There will be one in-class activity at the end of the class.

Argument for sweatshops

Denis Arnold and Laura Hartman point out that there’s a utilitarian intuition behind the argument for creating & maintaining sweatshops.

For instance, Maitland argues that paying higher wages for sweatshop workers (which, by definition, would make sweatshops disappear) may decrease workers’ utility (or happiness).

Arnold and Hartman argue that this utilitarian assumption cannot be maintained when we consider how basic human rights may be violated under improper labor conditions.

Cf. Preference Utilitarianism

We’ll see one argument for sweatshops that Arnold & Hartman reconstruct in their article: the utilitarian argument for sweatshops.

It is based on the main thesis of Preference Utilitarianism, which is a special kind of Utilitarianism.

Preference Utilitarianism:

An agent ought to do X if and only if X maximizes the degree to which X achieves whatever is desired or preferred.

(ex) Experience Machine + Desire fulfillment

Argument for sweatshops

The utilitarian argument for sweatshops

P1. We have a moral obligation to perform actions that best enhance the preference satisfaction of the most people possible.

P2. Creating and maintaining sweatshops best enhances the preference satisfaction of those affected by sweatshops (sweatshop employees, via higher wages than they would otherwise receive; consumers, via lower prices for sweatshop goods; and MNCs and their shareholders, through lower labor costs).

C. Therefore, as many sweatshops as possible should be created and maintained.

Against the utilitarian argument

Arnold and Hartman reject the utilitarian argument for two reasons:

Proper understanding of basic human rights provides a better foundation for evaluating the ethical legitimacy of sweatshops.

Creating & maintaining sweatshops with regulations can yield better results than doing so without any restriction.

By (1), they reject (P1); by (2), they reject (P2).

Basic human rights & Sweatshops

Q. What are human rights?

Human rights are moral rights that apply to all persons.

(ex) The right to life/freedom from slavery

When X is basic human right, all people have moral obligation to refrain from interfering with X.

(ex) The right to life + Murder

Some of the basic human rights include freedom and subsistence.

Basic human rights & Sweatshops

The right to freedom = the right to control one’s own behavior with knowledge of the relevant circumstances and without undue external pressure.

(ex) What to do after you get your bachelor’s degree

The right to freedom includes other, more specific rights, such as the right to physical security, the right to freedom of belief and expression, and the right to freedom of association.

(ex) The right to adequate housing/The right to freedom of religion

Basic human rights & Sweatshops

The right to subsistence = the right to minimal economic security that allows one to secure food, clothing, housing, transportation and access to basic, preventative health care, as well as clean air and water.

The right to subsistence is the right to minimal conditions for a person to be able to act autonomously.

In this sense, subsistence is necessary for freedom; without subsistence, you cannot secure freedom.

Basic human rights & Sweatshops

If the rights to freedom and subsistence are basic human rights, then it is morally impermissible not to refrain from interfering with these rights.

Therefore, MNCs who manage sweatshops have moral obligations not to interfere with the workers’ rights to freedom and subsistence.

Arnold & Hartman suggest that they can carry out this duty by protecting the basic labor rights that are universally accepted.

Basic human rights & Sweatshops

Some of the basic labor rights include…

Just and favourable working conditions, including a limit to the number of hours a human should have to work each day and a healthy working environment;

Minimum age and working conditions for child labour;

Non-discrimination requirements regarding the relative amount that a worker should be paid and the right to equal pay for equal work;

Freedom from forced labor;

Free association, including the right to organize and to bargain collectively in contract negotiations.

Basic human rights & Sweatshops

Arnold and Hartman claims that the right to be paid a living wage should be one of the basic labor rights.

As Maitland points out, it is difficult to pin down what amount of money would be the right living wage in each society.

Arnold and Hartman suggest that MNCs could employ the US government’s method; calculating the cost of a market basket of food needed to meet minimum dietary requirements and then adding the cost of other basic needs.

Basic human rights & Sweatshops

A potential objection:

“But the reason why MNCs operate in developing countries is because they have more relaxed laws for labor standards. If MNCs ought to protect the basic labor rights, then they would stop investing in sweatshop factories in developing countries.”

Arnold and Hartman would point out that no act of violating/interfering with basic human rights can be morally permissible, even when it yields a great consequence.

Furthermore, they believe that MNCs can stay profitable without interfering basic labor rights.

Basic human rights & Sweatshops

(ex) Nike’s changes from 1998

After receiving criticism, Nike CEO committed to taking several measures to fix the problems, including increasing minimum age requirements for workers in factories, improving factory health and safety conditions so that they comply with US standards, etc..

Nike also made a structural revision to monitor and remedy the harms of sweatshops; Corporate Responsibility Committee of the Board is responsible to review and report whether Nike aligns with the corporate responsibilities.

Offsetting the cost

Such changes allow MNCs to protect workers’ rights to freedom and subsistence.

But Arnold and Hartman point out that making such changes provide strategic advantages to MNCs as well.

1) Productivity

As workers are paid more wages & are treated better in safer environment, workers become more loyal to their employers.

Managers also report higher employee morale when MNCs take measures to protect the basic labor rights, which improve the quality & the quantity of the products.

Offsetting the cost

2) Reputation

In Market and Opinion Research International (2000), researchers found that 70% of European consumers report that a company’s commitment to social responsibility, including ‘looking after employees’, is important


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