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Women Working Worldwide: Taking on Global Capital. International Perspectives on Gender Week 20. Structure of Lecture. Introduction and Context Why Female Labour? Explaining Low Wages Women Organising: Trade Unions Consumer Power: Fair Trade Ethical Trade and Codes of Conduct Conclusions.

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Women working worldwide taking on global capital

Women Working Worldwide: Taking on Global Capital

International Perspectives on Gender

Week 20

Structure of lecture
Structure of Lecture

  • Introduction and Context

  • Why Female Labour?

  • Explaining Low Wages

  • Women Organising: Trade Unions

  • Consumer Power: Fair Trade

  • Ethical Trade and Codes of Conduct

  • Conclusions

Introduction and context
Introduction and Context

  • NIDL: clothing, textiles, electronics, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, customer services, care work

  • Not all production in UK is high-value added, high capital intensity, high pay

  • Capital takes advantage of gender,

    class and racial hierarchies

  • UK Homeworking

  • Men?

Why female labour
Why Female Labour?

  • Demand for women workers

  • Perceived by employers as highly skilled, reliable, willing and ‘docile’

  • This means higher productivity than men but less likely to complain or organize for higher wages

  • Women’s skills and compliance assumed by employers to be natural

  • Elson and Pearson: dexterity and docility are socially produced

  • Women workers do

    organise but face barriers

Explaining women s poor relative wages
Explaining Women’s Poor Relative Wages

  • Higher productivity natural, not warranting reward

  • Skills ‘saturated by sex’

  • Women cost more in other benefits, it evens out

  • Women only need ‘pin money’, are ‘working for lipstick’

  • Women’s disadvantaged position in society is systematically exploited by capital

  • But why do women work for low wages?

    • - identify first with housework and childcare

    • - lack sense of entitlement, don’t push

    • - barriers to organising

Gendered performance perception and exit
Gendered Performance, Perception and Exit

  • Transnational Indian call centres: exceptions?

    - Men and women as likely to be


    - No gender wage gap

    - No perceived female or male skills

  • But gender is at work:

    - performing femininity

    - only women see work as


    - marriage = exit for women women

Impact of women s employment in transnational production
Impact of Women’s Employment in Transnational Production

Pros Cons

Financial independence May give wage to family,

employment insecure

Improved self-esteem Poor wages

Chance to organise Poor working conditions, health risks

Greater decision-making Double-burden of work

role in household

Elson and Pearson: Impact contradictory

Women organising
Women Organising

  • 1977: UN proclaimed 8 March day for

    women’s rights and international peace:

    International Women’s Day

  • Origins in 8 March 1857 protest by

    female clothing and textile workers in

    New York

  • 8 March 1908 15,0000 women marched in New York

  • 1909: March 8 celebrated as national women’s day

  • 1911: First International Women’s Day

Women and trade unions
Women and Trade Unions

  • Collective bargaining can be an effective way to improve wages and working conditions

  • Strike by Turkish women pharmaceutical workers in won a 3-year collective agreement on pay and conditions

  • Challenges: unions may be banned

    union leaders may be harassed, dismissed

    ‘sweetheart’ unions may be established

    union agenda may not reflect priorities of

    women workers

    employers may threaten to move production

Fair trade
Fair Trade

  • From 3 products in 1994 to 3000+

  • Sales = £1.5 billion

  • Fair Trade Mark:guarantees:

    - agreed minimum prices

    - agreed social premium

    - direct purchase

    - co-operation, information

    - long-term, transparent trading

    - access to credit advances

    - democratic organization of farmers / workers

    - sustainable production

    - no labour abuses

  • Evolved from fair trade shops

Challenges for fair trade
Challenges for Fair Trade

  • I’ve queried commodification of producers’ lives and landscapes in brand creation:

    - over-simplification and ‘othering’

    - no ‘reverse gaze’

  • Hutchens doubts fair trade empowers women producers:

    - fair-trade standards include women but don’t address structural barriers they face

    - organisations are male dominated

    - fair trade premiums may not ‘trickle-down’

    - ‘charity’ model for handicrafts belies partnership and limits competitiveness and market share

    - gender inequalities seen as ‘cultural’ and ‘no-go’

Ethical trade
Ethical Trade

  • Codes of Conduct: typically guaranteeing living wages, freedom of association and collective bargaining, safe working conditions etc.

  • Already covered by ILO Conventions but not enforced

  • Consumer pressure works; puts

    brand reputation at risk

  • Forces companies to accept

    responsibility down the

    sub-contracting chains

Challenges for ethical trade
Challenges for Ethical Trade

  • Is monitoring and enforcement adequate?

  • Do workers know about the codes?

  • Is freedom of association and collective bargaining excluded?

  • Danger of ‘fairwashing’

  • ‘Home-grown’ codes likely to be weaker

  • Can codes challenge ‘logic of capitalism’?

  • … ‘the retail companies at the top of the subcontracting chains are themselves creating the conditions that operate against attempts to implement their own codes of conduct’ (Hale and Shaw, 2001, p. 521)

  • Do codes put some out of work?

  • Are they gender-sensitive?

Mis recognition of workers
Mis-recognition of workers

  • ‘Home-grown’ FlorVerde code = good PR for Colombian cut flower industry but inadequate labour rights

  • Strategies of industry under pressure:

    • - denial: smears, work important alternative to cocaine

    • - rebuttal: work redeems ‘backward’ peasant producers

    • Misrecognition (Fraser): disrespectful stereotyping and

    • cultural domination used to ‘legitimate’ low wages

    • - limited acceptance: bring in FlorVerde (focus on

    • environmental not labour standards, self-certified)

  • - displace workers’ problems to patriarchal, conflictual

  • family (‘solution’ is conflict-management courses)

New initiatives the fairphone
New Initiatives: the FairPhone


  • NIDL targets female workers as highly productive, compliant and willing to work for less than men

  • Women’s lower status in society translates into a lower labour market position (same for inequalities of class, ‘race’/ethnicity)

  • Impact of employment on women’s status is contradictory

  • Women workers are not docile; long history of organising but face many barriers

  • Consumer pressure can also raise wages and working conditions via fair trade and ethical trade

  • How involved are the workers themselves? How are they used to sell the idea of fair trade?

  • Are particular challenges for women taken into account?

  • Danger of ‘fairwashing’

  • Can’t expect economic justice without cultural justice