Siddiqi (2009): Do Bangladeshi factory workers need saving? Sisterhood in the post-sweatshop era

LOVED this article. Evaluating the politics behind the female workforce behind Bangladesh’s garment industry. Click here.

Notes I done made (these were made when researching my dissertation topic so not everything in the paper will be included here, just bits that were relevant for me and points I found interesting):

  • Globalisation is the site for the recolonization of peoples (Mohanty, 2003)
    • global economic and political processes have become more brutal, exacerbating inequality


  • Genealogy of the sweatshop worker:
    • In the mid 80s documentation of workers’ conditions emerged, which reduced women workers to an emblem of exploitation rather than the subject of exploitation, this approach was adopted by activists
    • Women workers seen as homogenous, faceless and voiceless, more personality and action given to capitalists and patriarchy than workers (Ong, 1988)
  • Exploitation of women embedded in social relations, including patriarchal relations
  • In multinational production, women gain autonomy in some areas, but face increased surveillance in other areas- contradictory/inconsistent effects


  • The politics and perils of ‘saving’ Bangladeshi workers
    • Anti-sweatshop movements deploy language of horror, workers seen as helpless, are sexualised and victimised- fits into pre-existing rhetoric about conditions of workers and need to save them so may be effective, its easier for West to digest than complex discussions of reality
    • But these narratives work against interests of workers they are designed to ‘save’
    • Strategies to save workers problematic e.g. boycotts of goods because of chid labour have worsened conditions for children who got involved in more dangerous occupations and other means to make money for their family
    • Nazma Akter: the North want overnight solutions they can feel good about. They also think they can tackle all problems at the same time- unwilling to see complexity and interrelationship of matters
    • Current international interventions put pressure on factory owners to increase wages without increasing amount Northern brands pay for goods, real cost falls on workers, who must work harder and longer to make up for the loss to profits from increased wages


  • From aid to trade: Globalisation in Bangladesh
    • External factors that helped the garms industry- the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, global recession, relocation of manufacturing industries from Taiwan and South Korea, civil war in Sri Lanka
    • Bangladesh had the most liberal investment policy in South Asia
    • General acceptance of capitalist development (shaped by neoliberal policy) that led to rise in export-oriented garment work-> little criticism of impact of neoliberal policies on women’s lives
    • Empowerment under neoliberal framework presented as being a self-enterprising subject, and garms industry seen as a step towards this empowerment
    • International trade has led to job security and vulnerability to problems in the global market among workers in BD. For example, when the American market faced a downturn this affected workers in BD
    • Siobhan (2003): after trade liberalisation, aid dependency became trade dependency
    • Dismantling of Multi-Fibre Arrangement led to a fear of a phase out of the garment industry in Bangladesh, resulting in increased policies to liberalise trade, to encourage investment
    • Bangladesh is therefore captive to the operations of an unequal trade regime, Northern countries can test how much BD is willing to pay to gain access to their market
    • Garment workers have created change without the help of international pressure


  • Shifting discourse on the Golden Girls of Bengal
    • Women in garms industry show empowerment from traditional patriarchal structures through employment, becoming self-reliant
    • BD gov used presence of women working to present itself as a moderate Muslim country to the  USA to encourage continued investment in the garms industry during the War on Terror, also suggested lack of investment would threaten female empowerment (resonating with neoliberal, anti-terror agenda)
    • Workers seen as a sign of BD’s modernity through their bodies, not labour
    • Fear of lack of employment of female garment workers among middle-class -> corruption of moral order of society otherwise, as the undisciplined, immoral working class females would corrupt society if not in the industry e.g. resorting to prostitution, feeding bourgeois perceptions of working class


  • Bodies, sexualities and livelihoods
    • International corporations draw on existing gender ideologies to recruit, discipline and reproduce their workforces
    • Women policed through moral regime, where women are separated between good and immoral women
      • Sexualised regime of harassment to keep women in place- those who do not speak out (morally disciplined/’good’) are protected, those who challenge norms (immoral) vulnerable to managerial sexual harassment
      • Garment factories compared to electronic factories -> smaller garment factories have most sexual harassment, sexual coercion and intimidation. Explained by frenzied apce of production because of tight delivery schedules and shortened lead times, coercing of workers to meet targets
      • Smaller factories have smaller profit margins, increased time and financial pressures, as they are usually subcontracted factories
      • Export processing zones found to be large, financially stable and under watch by rights groups, so less likely to have sexual harassment, but are still highly regulated
      • Small factories have less surveillance so there is less accountability
      • Sexual coercion and discipline used to ‘discipline’ lazy ad morally lax workers
      • Electronic factories have regular deadlines, with no fluctuations in market demand, and need a quiet environment and focus, less likely to have a violent atmosphere


  • Need to be aware of differences between places and spaces
    • Take into consideration workers own experiences and desires, differences usually erased
    • Need to pay attention to discursive structures that inform global activism



Anner (2018): Binding Power: The Sourcing Squeeze, Workers’ Rights, and Building Safety in Bangladesh Since Rana Plaza

Very important research evaluating whether working conditions have improved in Bangladesh since the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. Click here.

Notes I done made (these were made when researching my dissertation topic so not everything in the paper will be included here, just bits that were relevant for me and points I found interesting):

The sourcing squeeze and apparel supply chains

  • Trade liberalisation after Multi-Fiber Agreement -> garment industry had to push down costs to compete with China’s workers
  • Power imbalance between suppliers and buyers(brands)
    • Price squeeze- brands seek to lower prices paid to their suppliers- leads to wage decline and poor working conditions
    • Lead time squeeze- brands demand goods are produced in shorter periods
  • Price decline in amount paid for produced goods in Bangladesh, price squeeze by companies- not a result of external features

Profits, lead times, payments and order specifications

  • Decline in profit margins for suppliers as a result of increased production costs, as brands do not want to financially support increased production costs
  • Push for shorter lead times (time given for factories to make and shift a product) -> because brands keep wanting to push out new styles to sell more products (fast fashion model), retailers looking for greater speed
  • Increased pressure on suppliers to meet demands for products and speed especially when lead times are adjusted at short notice, leads to forced overtime and unauthorised subcontracting
  • Research shows lead times have reduced

Sourcing squeeze, wages and workers’ rights

  • After Rana Plaza -> increased minimum wage from 3,000Tk to 5,300Tk, but still lowest among garment industries globally
  • These low wages still don’t cover living needs
  • Still issues with labour law e.g. December 2016 protests, which led to arrest and dismissal of workers. International pressure on BD government to stop persecution of workers e.g. European Parliament passed resolution that BD needed to address persecution of trade union leaders and poor working conditions
  • International pressure led to some labour law reforms e.g. easier for trade unions to register
  • Increased unionising after Rana Plaza after international pressure, but there is an increased tendency of the  BD gov to deny union registration and continued anti-union practices by employers
  • Since 2000, there has been an increase in violation of workers’ rights, increased following Rana Plaza collapse

Accord on Fire and Building Safety

  • Significant progress in building safety because of the Accord
  • Brand are legally bound to the Accord
  • The Accord Steering Committee consists of trade union reps, brand reps, and the ILO as a chair- oversees operations, and decision by consensus/majority vote
  • Advisory board-> representatives from supplier factories, sourcing agents, Ministry of Labour, trade union federations, brands, BD civil society organisations
  • When a building is found to require an evacuation for immediate remediation, recommendation is sent to a Government Review Panel, who can overturn the decision
  • Transparency: information provided on factories, progress updates, worker complaints, steering committee meeting minutes, advisory board meetings
  • Safety committees- worker-manager committees, encourage worker participation, involved in safety training etc. Not democratic as agreed in the Accord
  • Complaint mechanism: worker complaint mechanism elevates workers’ voices
  • Binding Arbitration: Legal incentive for brands to meet obligations e.g. two cases held against brands for failing to meet requirements of the agreement resulted in settlements in both cases

2018 Accord

  • Aims to ensure BD gov and state institutions have the capacity to ensure building safety for all factories
  • State system of regulation needed
  • Safety committees and training for all factories
  • New: training on freedom of association and role of industrial relations
  • Potential expansion