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Sweatshops at Sea

And the race to the bottom continues. One inventive company, recognizing that there are timezone, distance, and cultural difficulties involved in outsourcing programming jobs to Southeast Asia, is coming up with a creative solution:

Take a used cruise ship, fill it with programmers, and park it three miles off the US coast so that it is no longer subject to US laws and regulations (like OSHA rules, overtime pay, etc). Pay the programmers less than $22,000 a year and make then work 10 hours a day. And then say that since the ship is so close to America, that it's really a way of keeping American jobs at home.

It sounds to me more like indentured servitude than a decent job opportunity.

  • Although the article says that each programmer will have their own room, what about spouses or children? I suspect they won't be welcome.
  • They say that the pay is $1,800 a month, they don't mention whether the employees will have to pay for things like laundry service, medical care, entertainment, or other amenities -- it could well be that most of their cash will go right back to the employer.

  • The article mentions 'shore leave' for employees, but how often, and how much leave? And what happens if an employee decides to quit, or has a family emergency, or has some other reason for needing to get off the boat?

The telling comment, it seems, is this one: "The pay is about three times what they earn in India today." That will make those jobs highly desirable to Indians if not Americans. And with the ship parked so close to the US/Mexico border, it doesn't take much imagination to cook up a scenario where you import a boatload of programmers through Mexico, put them on the ship in international waters, and bingo, you have a totally unregulated sweatshop where the inhabitants cannot get away without permission unless they're willing to risk a three-mile ocean swim.

It's a situation bursting with the potential for abuse.

Hat tip to Kulam Yachad for the link.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Sweatshops at Sea:

» Three Miles from Political Animal
THREE MILES....Here's a fascinating question. Suppose you wanted to employ a bunch of people, both American and foreigners, and you wanted to employ them in America. At the same time, suppose you didn't want the hassle of dealing with American... [Read More]

» Arr, Me Hearties! from In the Pipeline
Reader SP sends along this speculation: "Something that comes up every now and then when discussing IP issues and freedom to operate is to dream about having a ship or island that's in international waters and free from all international... [Read More]

Comments (7)


I suppose scuba diving will be allowed.

If so, it will be a haven for terrorists.

Close proximity to US dirt and unmonitered.

A security nightmare.

With our admin. it could happen......


As long as they realize that US tax-payers aren't going to be expected to foot the bill to *protect* such an unregulated adventure, I am all for it.

They better purchase a battleship.


Actually many such ships exist and already employ foreigners in US waters. Some of them look like this and fish in the EEZ off Alaska:


Other's look like this and cruise the inside passage and caribbean with loads of geriatric patients:


Interesting idea - and they'd be able to dock at US ports whenever they like for supplies, etc. However, keeping those boats on station would probably be too expensive for this idea to generate more than fleeting interest.

The bigger problem is the upcoming US brain drain. The US is losing its technological lead over the rest of the world. What with free trade agreements without accompanying universal labor protection, most of the high-tech jobs will be permanently offshored before long anyway.


However, keeping those boats on station would probably be too expensive for this idea to generate more than fleeting interest.

What if they use only rundown deathtraps and underman/underinstrument them?

Sounds like a national security threat to me. The Coast Guard, posing as OSHA inspectors would probably raid the ship and send everyone to Gitmo.

See here for more: http://spewingforth.blogspot.com/2005/07/stupid-and-deadly-undocumented-workers.html

Back when they shut down Napster, I had this idea. Maybe the Napster people could move all their servers to a sailing ship, and do their thing in international waters where copyright laws didn't apply.

Best of all, they could fly the Jolly Roger and be honest-to-goodness MP3 pirates. Arrrrr.


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