It is well known that many consumer goods are produced under dangerous working conditions. Employers that directly supervise the production of these goods evade enforcement. Activists and scholars have argued that we must hold the manufacturers and retailers that purchase goods made in sweatshops accountable. However, there has been little movement toward such accountability.
Responsibility for the conditions under which goods are made—what I call “production liability”—entails assigning responsibility for workers to firms that do not directly employ them. Production liability, therefore, conflicts with deep intuitions about the boundaries of individual responsibility.
This Article offers a moral and economic defense of production liability that is responsive to that challenge. The Article identifies the particular moral responsibility that manufacturers bear as a public form of complicity. It further considers the economic logic of assigning legal liability to such firms and the optimal form that liability should take. This Article makes the case that production liability can update our legal regime for employment in the way that products liability did for consumer law.