The export garments industry of Bangladesh with particular reference to women
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After gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971, the Bangladesh state moved from a mainly state-managed sector to a privatised one based on export-oriented industrialisation. Under this policy, the production of garments for export emerged in the mid-1970s to later become the most lucrative export earner for Bangladesh, underlining the fact that it has become an important world exporter of garments. In developing into the only multi-billion- dollar manufacturing export in the country, this industry has created employment for more than a million workers most of whom are young females from the impoverished rural areas of Bangladesh. This is socially significant because, for the first time, it marked the entry of Bangladeshi women into formal manufacturing employment. This thesis attempts to examine the origins and development of this export garments industry, with specific reference to the role of women workers in this process. In so it endeavours to contextualise these issues by arguing that the changes that it endeavours can be best explained according to a Marxist class analysis and by reference to a colonial history characterised by ongoing exploitation in an emerging manufacturing sector and by ongoing resistance to such exploitation by an emerging industrial workforce. Additionally, in examining the development of this industry, the thesis also sets out to show how the industry is the product of a conjuncture of forces, including an emerging capitalist class, a weak state, foreign capital and international state formations such as GATT and the ILO.Finally, by testing some of the prevailing hypotheses in the literature that deals with third world women workers, the thesis examines the impact of this industrial development on the place of women in Bangladeshi society. More specifically, it attempts to demonstrate that, contrary to the dominant view, such workers are not necessarily passive; nor are they reluctant to engage in trade union activity. Instead, it endeavours to show that, in the case of the export garments industry in Bangladesh, the young women workers have over time learned to exercise their rights and to participate in industrial activity, largely, and ironically because the centralisation necessary for labour and quality standards has also created the conditions for the proletarianisation of the women workers.
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