Globalisation: cheap labour, cheap products

… and women workers
Many young women migrated from rural areas to live and work in the zones and surrounding urban areas, seeking work, to support themselves and their families in the villages. Structural Adjustment Programmes, the increase in agribusiness companies and the worldwide drop in commodity prices made it difficult for families to support themselves in rural areas.

“Because I am working in the factory I get a salary. With this salary I help my family. Even though we produce a lot and the quality is high we do not get our rights. We produce goods that bring foreign income into the country and both ourselves and the country benefit from this. I came from an agricultural background. Our farmers even though they produce they can not sell their production because of imports. The crops that the farmers are growing get a low price from the dealers and there are instances where products are imported from other countries even though farmers in Sri Lanka produce the same crops. However they can not sell because of the free import of these crops and this is very unreasonable”. (From an interview with S.A. Chandrawathie, Free Trade Zone worker and President of the FTZ&GSEU in 2003.)

Workers’ wages generally constitute a tiny fraction, between 0.5% to 4%, of the retail price of garments and sportswear. Dignity of women is a big issue. Women come to the urban areas to work, initially to raise money for their dowries (South Asia) and support their families economically (across Asia). Their image in the eyes of society is generally poor, though improving, as a result of campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the difficult issues faced by women garment workers and the valuable role play they in society.

Women workers are under unorganised and are perceived by TNCs, as a cheap, flexible, compliant and an easily manipulated workforce. They do low skilled, repetitive jobs in unsafe and insecure conditions, face gender discrimination and have little opportunity for skills development. Women work long hours are forced to do overtime and face inhumane restrictions such as time limits on going to the toilet; unrealistically high production targets; sub standard accommodation (with inadequate sanitation, electricity or running water); poor transportation and sexual harassment both inside and outside of the factory is common. Salaries are low.

While work is precarious and conditions grim for women garment factory workers in urbanised areas there are advantages. Women who come from rural areas leave behind them strict family and paternalistic structures and enjoy some freedoms, including limited economic freedom when they leave home to work. This limited economic freedom can give women some choice over who they marry and when, especially in countries where women pay a dowry for marriage. Some women by virtue of the support they give their families enjoy increased status in the family. Of course patriarchal and kinship like structures are replicated in the factories by mostly male owners, managers, supervisors, male work colleagues and sometimes within unions themselves. The alternative choice for many women workers is in the informal economy, which has even less workers protections and rights. Nonetheless this limited freedom comes with the price of constant violations of workers and women’s rights and the long health of women.
This subcontracting system specified the amount, type, quality, period of time for production and price that would be paid to supplier factories – collectively known as purchasing practices. There are often several layers within the manufacturing sub contractors and brand label TNCs may contract to TNCs in Asia who have their own network of manufacturing contractors or to small or medium size factories in specific countries who may then sub contract out to very small enterprises and/or to home based workers.


Women in Senegal

Worker centres

Introduction to ExChains

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Globalisation: cheap labour, cheap products
...and women workers

Mexico and the maquiladoras

...and unions

Sri Lanka and the Free Trade Zones

...and workers

Bangladesh and the Free Trade Zones
...and unions

Turkey and the garment industry


Workers in Bangladesh

Workers in Bangladesh