Neoliberalism has faced intense scrutiny over the years from Trade Unionists and Marxists alike for its exploitation of workers and insistence of an economic ‘trickle down’ effect that has yet to materialise. When you look closer, however, another troubling aspect of this industry emerges. Again and again, it seems to be women who are left behind by this system. In many countries in the global South, women are drawn into employment in the lowest paid and most undervalued work in the global economy at the end of Global Commodity Chains in the manufacturing, fresh produce and garment industries.
Zoe Kemp analyses the plight of female workers in the Bangladeshi textile sector.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the garment industry of Bangladesh, an industry cited by many as demonstrative of the “success” of neoliberalism through its fast growth and increased employment opportunities for women.
This exploitation presents itself in multiple ways. To start with, the majority of women work without a contract, and for those with a contract, they are usually short-term or temporary (Oxfam 2004: 5). Women workers are seen as expendable by their employers; easily replaced by a cohort of women ‘desperate’ for work no matter how insecure it may be. Not only is this exploitative in its own right, but it also severely limits women’s abilities to fight harassment or campaign for better conditions in the workplace out of fear that any protest will lead to their losing their job.