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  1. #1
    Mercurial Mercurial is offline
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    What is exploitation?

    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?
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  2. #2
    captain obvious captain obvious is offline

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    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.
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  3. #3
    Lúidín Lúidín is offline
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    Those on minimum wage and zero-hours contracts could explain it to you.
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  4. #4
    silverharp silverharp is offline
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    I'd want to see a goodly dose of coercion otherwise low wages etc. isn't exploitation
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  6. #6
    DaveM DaveM is offline
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    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.
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  7. #7
    captain obvious captain obvious is offline

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    Quote Originally Posted by silverharp View Post
    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.
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  8. #8
    Mercurial Mercurial is offline
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    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?
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  9. #9
    Socratus O' Pericles Socratus O' Pericles is offline
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    The formation of cartels.
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  10. #10
    captain obvious captain obvious is offline

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    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.
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