News

Master and servant relationships among nations



4 March 2014

More people are working from outside Australia to provide Australians with consumer goods, than are working within Australia.

The finding is from a University of Sydney study which analyses international employment and reveals that in 2010 there were more than 11 million workers outside Australia working for the Australian people, while the total workforce in Australia was about 10 million.

In the same year:

- the full-time equivalent work of more than 200 million labourers in China and India was dedicated to producing exports for other countries

- the average domestic wage in Japan in 2010 was $US53,000 while the wage of foreign workers producing imports for Japan averaged $US6,500

- more than 27 percent of the Bangladeshi workforce was engaged in producing clothing for export to countries such as the United States, Britain, Germany and Australia, at an average wage of approximately one quarter that of people working to satisfy its domestic consumption

- 70 million workers from outside the USA supported the lifestyle of American citizens

- 70 percent of Madagascans who worked for export industries had much lower wages than those working within Madagascar for their own country's needs

Australia is number 10 on the list of master countries. For every 100 domestic Australian workers, there are 103 workers located overseas creating goods for Australian consumption.
Australia is number 10 on the list of master countries. For every 100 domestic Australian workers, there are 103 workers located overseas creating goods for Australian consumption.

"Our unique study brings into full view the complex supply chains around the world, making clear which countries are acquiring goods and from where," said Ali Alsamawi, lead author of the study recently published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Ali Alsamawi is a PhD candidate in the Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) at the University of Sydney's School of Physics.

The study analyses the production of a country's direct and indirect imports using employment and income footprints.

"The tracing of the 'master-servant' relationships could benefit businesses, governments and non-government organisations concerned with corporate social responsibility and committed to fairer trading," said Dr Joy Murray, another ISA researcher on the paper.

"The master-servant description is economic and does not make assumptions about how workers in these countries perceive their labour."

The results reveal there are 'masters', or net importers of employment who rely on workers in other countries to maintain their consumption, and 'servants', or net exporters, who work to support other nation's lifestyles.

Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Switzerland occupy the top-ranking positions of master countries, while many African and Asian countries are servants.

To satisfy its consumption, each Hong Kong resident needs seven 'servants' from the rest of the world for each person in its own workforce, Singapore needs five and the UAE needs four.

Australia is number 10 on the list of master countries. For every 100 domestic Australian workers, there are 103 workers located overseas creating goods for Australian consumption.

"Our results show commodities that are especially 'servant intensive', such as electronics, agricultural products, and chemicals, tend to have complex supply chains, often originating in developing countries," said Dr Murray.

A computer bought in Australia (average domestic wage US$59,700) might be assembled in China (average domestic wage $US2, 700) and Thailand ($US2,100) using electronic circuits made in the Philippines ($US1,700).

"This research reveals exploitation through complex pathways affecting millions of people worldwide, and as such is a powerful analytical tool."


Contact: Verity Leatherdale

Phone: 02 9351 4312

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