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Unfair Trade, Exploitation, and Below-Subsistence Wages

Sonja Dänzer


The article discusses the relation between the concepts of unfair trade, exploitation, and below-subsistence wages with regard to individual economic transactions. Starting from the common notion that exploitation involves some kind of unfair advantage taking, it asks how “unfair” is to be understood, and what it is that is taken advantage of in exploitative exchanges. On this basis it then explores a line of argument for grounding the claim that below-subsistence wages are exploitative, focusing on the condition of morally transformative voluntary consent to transactions. By analyzing the structure of coercion with regard to threats, offers, and circumstances it comes to the conclusion that consent to an offer is morally non-transformative with regard to legitimizing the outcome of a transaction if the person giving the “consent” has only unacceptable options in absolute terms to choose from, since this reduces “consent” to a mere act of rationality devoid of any normative content. Accordingly, it argues that insofar as below-subsistence wages are unacceptable options in absolute terms, they are to be considered exploitative and an instance of unfair trade.

Correction Statement

Correction added after issue publication on mopp-2014-0010: The DOI of this article has been corrected to: 10.1515/mopp-2014-0010.


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Published Online: 2014-11-27
Published in Print: 2014-10-1

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