CHART OF THE DAY: Every Australian Worker Has A 'Slave' Sweating Away To Make Their Cheap Goods

Steel workers in Bangladesh. Photo: Getty

The employed in Australia all have at least one ‘slave’ somewhere offshore building the cheap goods we need, or think we need.

We’re one of the ‘master’ countries in the world which rely on cheap labour to create electronics, clothes and other goods.

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

This finding, from a University of Sydney study which analyses international employment, shows there are more than 11 million outside Australia working for the Australian people.

This is based on 2010 figures when the total work force in Australia was about 10 million.

Australia is number 10 on the list of master countries.

Employment footprint. The ratio of employment footprint to the work force.

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 Joy Murray from the Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis at the University of Sydney.

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.”

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 work force, Singapore needs five and the UAE needs four.

Other findings::

  • 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% 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% of Madagascans who worked for export industries had much lower wages than those working within Madagascar for their own country’s needs

This chart ranks countries by wages:

The ratio of domestic wages to the wages of foreign employment footprint. Chart published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

The results of the study, The Employment Footprints of Nations Uncovering Master-Servant Relationships, are published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

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