Taiwan's" economic miracle" preceded China's by 20 years. Back in the late '60's, my dad saved and saved and when he accumulated enough, we all moved from Hong Kong to Taiwan -- so dad can stop being somebody else's factory manager -- and build his own sweater factory (sweatshop) instead. Taiwan had a cheap labor pool back then -- much like China today.
Let's get one thing straight. With our standard of living today, you and I WOULD NOT wish to work in a sweater factory. No, it wasn't a cruel or dangerous place -- but it was hot, kind of dirty, plus long hours of work 8 minimum, but often 10 and sometimes 12.
Exploitation? Well, for the teeming thousands, a job in the city with a low but regular paycheck -- plus room and board -- was a heck of a lot better than subsistence farming on tiny plots of land. Back in the '60s, bicycle manufacturing was considered "high tech" and anyone foolish enough to pay "American wages and benefits" to basically unskilled or semi-skilled workers would quickly price himself or herself straight out of the market! Within Taiwan, it was simply supply and demand. And on the outside, Taiwan must compete with the rest of the world too. Charge too high a price, and American/European companies will switch instantly to South Korea...
But the first generation workers sent money home to their villages -- and Taiwan became less poor with each passing year with textile and other exports. Education and infrastructure improved. In just 10 years, workers were sufficiently skilled that new electronics factories sprung up. Labor became increasingly scarce.
Dad steadily increased workers' wagers. Air conditioning was installed in the entire factory (except for the inferno ironing department) -- including the dormitory. Meals improved in quality. Extra-curricular activities were put in -- plus free bus rides for the workers to return to their villages during Chinese New Year. Was dad a saint? No, dad was neither saint nor devil. He had to do all this because labor was getting scarce -- and other factories were also doing the same. So basically, business was always tough -- but there was also an economic tide that lifted most everybody up.
My proud moment? When Bush senior "screwed" China and announced sale of F16's to Taiwan in the late 80's -- to help generate jobs for America. Wow! My little island nation -- now a factor even in American elections! Back in the 60's, there was no way Taiwan could afford to buy American military jets -- no way at all.
SO, what about boycotting "junk" from sweatshops because their labor standards are so far, far below ours? As above, we need to spend within our means. We also need to support our own industries. However, as Economics 101 will tell us, each country has its own comparative advantage. America's forte is not in making sweaters and backpacks anymore. So, unless a particular company is especially egregious in ill treating its workers (there are bad bosses everywhere) -- I wouldn't worry about buying imports at all. Everybody benefits. Proof? Even China is facing labor shortages today -- forcing employers to do what they have to do when supply is scarce -- increase pay and benefits!! China too is being forced to "go up the value added ladder" -- they are now finding it hard to compete with Vietnam and Bangladesh -- the next countries to come up.