Revisiting the Feminist Debates on International Labor Standards in the Aftermath of Rana Plaza
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This paper revisits the turn of the millennium feminist debates on international labor standards in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse of 2013 that killed over 1100 garment workers in Bangladesh. Feminists were divided over the benefits of establishing internationally enforced labor standards and, more generally, on the usefulness of transnational activism and union organizing for garment workers. The arguments of some feminist opponents during and in the aftermath of the debate emphasized the relative advantages of garment jobs, dismissed the importance of union rights, and criticized the labor transnationalism. These arguments have left unchallenged the current regulatory regime in Bangladesh by allaying concerns about poor working conditions. Drawing upon new empirical evidence, the paper shows that export growth under the market regulatory regime has failed to improve labor conditions in the sector. The paper makes the case for the continuing relevance of feminist arguments that favor a more proactive stance to make job growth compatible with wage gains and improved labor conditions. As they argued, the scope of the response has to be international, including solidaristic activism supporting local worker organizations, and the use of wage increases to move Bangladesh on a development path toward a higher-productivity, higher-wage economy.
KeywordsInternational labor standards Women’s work Export manufacturing Bangladesh
I am grateful to Erin Beck, Alice Evans, Jane Jacquette, and the two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments. I thank Erin Beck for her unwavering encouragement. Any remaining errors or shortcomings are mine.
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