The usual rule in halachah, as far as business dealings, is הכל כמנהג המדינה - everything follows the local custom. This applies to things like expected product quality (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 232:6), wages and benefits (ibid. 331:2 and 332:1), etc.

What about where the employer and the employees are in different locations with different practices, though? For example, if I live in the United States and own a factory in China, am I required to pay salaries comparable to those in the U.S., or do I go according to the prevailing rate there? What about things like health and safety regulations, child labor laws, and the like, which exist and are enforced in the U.S. (and thus fall under dina d'malchusa dina) but which in other countries may exist only on paper, if that?

  • 1
    You should follow child labor laws and health regulations anyway ועשית הישר והטוב – Double AA Mar 15 '12 at 4:00

The source of "Hakol Keminhag Hamedina" is from the law of "Kol Tnai Shebemamon Kayam". For example, if all merchants in a city agree to a Situmta (a mutually agreed apon method of acquiring an item, like a handshake) and a merchant (who did this situmta) wants to back out of a deal, the court wont let him as they assume that he follows the custom of the city (to acquire an object through this situmta).

However, if he explicitly said during the handshake that he doesn't wish to acquire this item, he will obviously not be required to acquire the item.

Therefore, when one hires a person from another country, the same principles apply. If there was an explicit contract (you will work for one dollar an hour in a sweatshop), Kol Davar Shebemamon Kayam (unless there are dina demalchusa issues). If there was no contract, one is assumed to have hired (and be hired) at the going rate (and conditions) for Americans hiring Chinese.

  • Hiring someone here who is from another country with different practices might be different from going there and hiring people to work locally. – Monica Cellio Mar 15 '12 at 14:13
  • I don't think this fully answers the question. Let's say that I find someone in the United States who is desperate for work, and will be willing to do my job for $1 an hour. True that he had the choice to do so, and כל תנאי שבממון קיים, but it's still exploitative, and against מנהג המדינה, to do this (plus, anyway, dina d'malchusa would apply). Whereas for a Chinese worker, $1 an hour might be a quite reasonable wage (indeed, conversely, if I paid him $10 an hour, I'd be driving up the labor costs of all of the other factory owners). So which מנהג המדינה applies? – Alex Mar 15 '12 at 15:26
  • @Alex That's the point. Exploitation has nothing to do with "Hakol Kiminhag Hamedina". A person has the right to waive all of his rights (Kol Tnai Shebemamon Kayam). In other words, if there is no minimum wage law in a country (like there weren't until around a hundred years ago) a worker can agree to work at whatever wage he wants. If a worker wants (and signed a contract) to work for half the going rate, there is no reason why one should have to pay him more (except "ועשית הישר והטוב"). All the more so, the worker wouldn't be able to claim money from the employee in court. – Shmuel Brin Mar 15 '12 at 17:48
  • @Alex the only time it could kick in is if the contract wasn't clear as to how much he gets paid. – Shmuel Brin Mar 15 '12 at 17:49

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