Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter October 11, 2021

On Trade and Exploitation

Pietro Maffettone


In this essay I critically engage with Mathias Risse and Gabriel Wollner’s book On Trade Justice: A Philosophical Plea for a New Global Deal. I sketch their general view of the concept of exploitation and of trade exploitation more specifically. I then suggest that, contra Risse and Wollner, exploitation belongs to non-ideal theory. In addition, I argue that Risse and Wollner have not shown that the WTO is exploitative, and argue that their account of fair wages suffers from a number of weaknesses both on the cost and contribution sides.

Corresponding author: Pietro Maffettone, Political Science Department, University of Napoli Federico II, Via Mezzocannone 4, 80134, Napoli, Italy, E-mail:


The author would like to thank Vincenzo Alfano, Aaron James, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments.


Atkinson, A. B. 2015. Inequality: What Can Be Done? Cambridge: Harvard University Press.10.4159/9780674287013Search in Google Scholar

Barry, C., and S. Wisor. 2014. “The Ethics of International Trade.” In Handbook of Global Ethics, edited by D. Moellendorf, and H. Widdows. New York: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Boldrin, M., and D. K. Levine. 2008. Against Intellectual Monopoly. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Borjas, G. 1995/2008. Labor Economics, 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.Search in Google Scholar

Card, D., and A. B. Krueger. 1994. “Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.” The American Economic Review 84 (4): 772–93.10.3386/w4509Search in Google Scholar

Coakley, M., and M. Kates. 2013. “The Ethical and Economic Case for Sweatshop Regulation.” Journal of Business Ethics 117 (3): 553–8, in Google Scholar

Collier, P. 2007. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Cowen, T., and A. Tabarrok. 2009/2018. Modern Principles of Economics, 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.Search in Google Scholar

Dietsch, P. 2008. “Distributive Lessons from Division of Labour.” Journal of Moral Philosophy 5: 96–117, in Google Scholar

Dietsch, P. 2015. Catching Capital: The Ethics of Tax Competition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190251512.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Freeman, S. 2013. “Property Owning Democracy and the Difference Principle.” Analyse and Kritik 2013 (1): 9–36, in Google Scholar

Garcia, F. 2018. Consent and Trade: Trading Freely in a Global Market. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/9781108569255Search in Google Scholar

Hayek, F. A. 1945. “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” The American Economic Review 35 (4): 519–30.Search in Google Scholar

Heath, J. 2002. The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as it Gets. New York: Penguin Random House.10.4000/books.pum.9227Search in Google Scholar

Hoekman, B., and M. Kostecki. 2001. The Political Economy of the World Trading System: WTO and Beyond. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1093/019829431X.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

James, A. 2012. Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for a Global Economy. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199846153.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Kates, M. 2018. “Sweatshops, Exploitation, and the Case for a Fair Wage.” The Journal of Political Philosophy 27 (1): 26–47, in Google Scholar

Krugman, R. K., M. Obstfeld, and M. Melitz, eds. 2017. International Trade: Theory and Policy, Global ed. London: Pearson.Search in Google Scholar

Maffettone, P. 2017. A Realistic Utopia. Rome: LUISS University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Meade, J. E. 1964/2013. Efficiency, Equality and the Ownership of Property. New York: Routledge.10.1007/978-1-349-13084-9_2Search in Google Scholar

Minimum Wage Study. 2021. (accessed May 27, 2021).Search in Google Scholar

Panagariya, A. 2019. Free Trade and Prosperity. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Pogge, T. 2002. World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms, 284. Cambridge: Polity Press.Search in Google Scholar

Powell, B., and M. Zwolinski. 2012. “The Ethical and Economic Case against Sweatshop Labor: A Critical Assessment.” Journal of Business Ethics 107: 449–72, in Google Scholar

Rawls, J. 2001. Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Reidy, D. A. 2004. “Rawls on International Justice: A Defense.” Political Theory 32 (3): 291–319, in Google Scholar

Reiff, M. R. 2013. Exploitation and Economic Justice in the Liberal Capitalist State. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199664009.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Risse, M., and G. Wollner. 2019. On Trade Justice: A Philosophical Plea for a New Global Deal. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1093/oso/9780198837411.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Sangiovanni, A. 2007. “Justice and the Priority of Politics to Morality.” The Journal of Political Philosophy 162: 137–65.10.1111/j.1467-9760.2007.00291.xSearch in Google Scholar

Thomas, A. 2017. Republic of Equals. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

United Nations. 1999. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development: Trade and Development Report. (accessed on December 5, 2020).Search in Google Scholar

Valentini, L. 2012. “Ideal vs. Non-ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map.” Philosophy Compass 79: 654–63, in Google Scholar

Vrousalis, N. 2013. “Exploitation, Vulnerability and Social Domination.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 41 (2): 131–57, in Google Scholar

Walton, A. 2020. “Trade Justice: An Argument for Integrationists, not Internal, Principles.” Journal of Political Philosophy 281: 51–72, in Google Scholar

Wenar, L. 2006. “Why Rawls is not a Cosmopolitan Egalitarian.” In Rawls’s Law of Peoples: A Realistic Utopia? edited by R. Martin, and D. Reidy, 95–113. Oxford: Blackwell.10.1002/9780470776612.ch6Search in Google Scholar

Wenar, L. 2017. Blood Oil. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2021-10-11
Published in Print: 2022-04-26

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston