Several factors are now impacting on the situation of

This preview shows page 15 - 17 out of 37 pages.

Several factors are now impacting on the situation of women workers in export-led industries. First, markets for labour-intensive products are becoming flooded and highly
Working paper No. 208 competitive. In this situation, one of two strategies seems to be adopted, neither of which is helpful in improving the terms of inclusion of women workers in the global economy. One strategy is for multinationals to try to maintain or increase their market share in existing industries by undercutting competitors, usually by cutting labour costs in the so-called “race to the bottom”. This race is facilitated by the increased ability to substitute casual and homeworkers for permanent labour within the same country (flexiblization of labour) and by the easy mobility of capital across borders in search of the cheapest sources of labour. For example, when workers in footwear factories in Indonesia managed to raise their daily wage rate by about US$1 per day through union action, Nike simply switched its source of supply to Viet Nam to avoid the increased costs involved. Similarly, European buyers of ready-made garments have been switching from suppliers in Thailand to others in China and Viet Nam where labour costs are 30 per cent lower. This has led to decreases in pay and loss of work for both factory workers and homeworkers in the Thai garment industry (Lund and Nicholson, 2004). Thus, the very factors which led to women’s “inclusion” in the global economy in the first place – unskilled, low wages, low productivity – are those which now have them trapped in downwardly mobile positions. They are marginalized (or excluded) not so much by joblessness, as by types of work and working conditions that condemn them to low-wage, low productivity occupations which involve greater pressure and more drudgery as companies resort to “sweating” their labour force. This strategy is also detrimental for the companies that adopt it, as they become stuck in the trap of over-reliance on cheap labour, the exploitation of natural resources and generic commodity production, which can contribute to enduring impoverishment even as their business grows. Real wealth creation depends on companies developing the alliances, strategic thinking and innovation necessary to make the leap from easily imitated but unsustainable sources of competitive advantage to more complex and sustainable sources of competitive advantage (Forstater et al., 2002). Regional trading agreements are adding to the movement of capital around the globe and the consequent loss of work and earning potential. For example, following the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 150 factories were closed and 123,000 jobs lost in the apparel industry in the Caribbean as production moved to Mexico to take advantage of free imports to the United States market. The Asian apparel exporting countries may be the next to suffer from the indirect effects of NAFTA. For example, The Limited, a manufacturer of Victoria’s Secret underwear, recently opened a plant in Mexico

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture