This article revisits the figure of the third world sweatshop worker, long iconic of the excesses of the global expansion of flexible accumulation in late twentieth-century capitalism. I am interested in how feminist activists concerned with the uneven impact of neo-liberal policies can engage in progressive political interventions without participating in the culture of global moralism that continues to surround conventional representations of third world workers. I situate my analysis in the national space of Bangladesh, where the economy is heavily dependent on the labour of women factory workers in the garment industry and where local feminist understandings of the sweatshop economy have not always converged with global feministleft concerns about the exploitation inherent in the (now not so new) New International Division of Labor. The tensions or disjunctures between global and local feminist viewpoints animate the concerns of this article. I argue that de-contextualized critiques derived from abstract notions of individual rights, and corresponding calls for change from above - calls on the conscience of the feminist and the consumer, for instance - can entail troubling analytical simplifications. They highlight some relations of power while erasing others, thereby enacting a different kind of violence and at times undermining mobilizations on the ground. I draw attention to the multiple fields of power through which much of the activism across borders continues to be produced and reproduced discursively. This kind of framing fits all too easily into existing cultural scripts about gender and race elsewhere, and produces ethical obligations to save women workers.
- Garment industry
- Transnational feminism
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Gender Studies
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)