Garment Workers Overseas: Unpacking the Feminist Politics of Clothing

Over the last year or so, U.S. companies, including brands like Gap, Joe Fresh (JCPenney), H&M, and Faded Glory (sold at Wal-Mart) have come under increasing pressure to increase the safety standards for the workers in their garment factories overseas. Recent disasters, including the factory fire in Bangladesh (on India’s eastern border), in November 2012 that killed 112 and the collapse of another building that houses five garment factories near Dhaka (in Bangladesh) in May of 2013, which killed 1,127 workers have brought worker safety to the forefront of global conversation.

Why would these disasters be of especial importance to feminists? For one, the majority of the workers are women.

Here is some context for our reading of Cynthia Enloe’s “Blue Jeans and Bankers” from her book Bananas, Beaches, and Bases.

The collapse of the factory in 2014 is one of the worst industrial disasters in history–and some U.S. corporations,  most notably Wal-Mart, still refuse to sign off on the safety regulations for overseas factories that Europeans have already agreed to.

A garment factory in Rhana Plaza, Dhaka collapsed in May 2013. Over 1,000 workers were killed, and it has been called one of the worst industrial disasters in history.

A garment factory in Rhana Plaza, Dhaka collapsed in May 2013. Over 1,000 workers were killed, and it has been called one of the worst industrial disasters in history.

 

These recent disasters have fueled ongoing labor protests and other areas as workers demand safer working conditions and better pay.

Bangladeshi garment workers demand better wages and safety regulations after the industrial disasters of the last year that have left thousands of workers dead.

Bangladeshi garment workers demand better wages and safety regulations after the industrial disasters of the last year that have left thousands of workers dead.

 

If companies like Wal-Mart have gotten themselves in trouble for exploiting their workers abroad, they’ve also come under fire at home, as American workers have participated in ongoing strikes and boycotts for a livable wage and benefits. (FYI: Wal-Mart remains staunchly anti-union.) In fact, despite mounting evidence of Wal-Mart’s numerous abuses (labor, environmental, etc.), celebrities like Tom Cruise have praised the company for improving women’s lives all over the world (Democracy Now, “Striking Workers, Bangladeshi Activist Challenge Wal-Mart”).

This haunting photograph was taken in the aftermath of the garment factory collapse in Dhaka, India, earlier this year.

This haunting photograph was taken in the aftermath of the garment factory collapse in Dhaka, India, earlier this year.

LEARN MORE…

Watch the full story of the Bangladesh garment factory disasters on Democracy Now, including a report from global labor activist Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and Scott Nova of WorkersRights.org.

Read an interview with a garment industry labor activist involved in the protests, who spoke to Purdue’s own Tithi Battacharya.

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Homework Due Wednesday, April 15th

In preparation for a more in-depth discussion about globalization and low-wage labor overseas (Cynthia Enloe), visit the following site and answer the questions to see how many slaves work for you around the world.

Slavery Footprint

Write up a lecture card – question, comment, quote – about the experience, and be sure to include your number! We’ll begin class with these on Wednesday.

A Feminist Political Party? Sweden’s Feminist Initiative Changes the Conversation

Can you imagine living in a country where you could vote for a feminist candidate or support a feminist party? You can in Sweden.

Over the last few years, Sweden’s Feminist Initiative party has gained increased support as many citizens have pushed back against the racist and sexist remarks and scandals of the country’s center-right party currently in power in Parliament. Read the short article at Ms. magazine.

Sweden's Feminist Initiative Party

Sweden’s Feminist Initiative Party

Play Ayiti: The Cost of Life

HaitiFor Friday, your homework is to play a game. That’s right, a computer game. Ayiti means Haiti. You’ll be asekd to choose a governing value or philosophy to navigate your family through their lives in the game: health, happiness, education, or money. Based on your choice, you’ll have to make decisions for your Haitian family along the way.

Click on the link to play Ayiti: The Cost of Life.

Try playing the game according to different philosophies to see if you get different results. After you play the game, consider the following questions, which we’ll discuss on Friday.

QUESTIONS

  • What connections did you make bewteen the game and the two chapters you read from Enloe?
  • In what ways do you see intersections of gender, race, class, and ethnicity at work in the game?
  • Which goals or philosophies worked better for your family? Which one created the most obstacles?
  • Which decision was the hardest for you to make in the game? Why?
  • Do you think the game is an effective learning tool? Why or why not?