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Chris Blattman is a development economist who routinely conducts experiments to test ideas related to reducing poverty and improving the well being of people living in poorer countries. His latest experiment takes on the question of sweatshops–whether they are good for the poor, exploitative, or something else.

Along with his colleague Stefan Dercon, Chris went to Ethiopia and performed the first randomized trial of industrial employment on workers. They went to five factories and followed 947 applicants for over a year, surveying them multiple times. They found that most people who got a job ended up quitting within a few months — and they did so for very good reasons.

As Chris and Stefan wrote in an New York Times op-ed about their research, everything they thought they knew about sweatshops turned out to be wrong.

Decent employment is embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals — Goal 8 sets targets to achieve “inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” by 2030. Factory work in rapidly industrializing economies like Ethiopia are an important way to reach these goals. Getting industrialization right, therefore, is key to reaching the SDGs. This new study offers some insights into how policy makers can do industrialization better.

If you have 30 minutes and want to up-end your understanding of sweatshops, have a listen.

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