Do sweatshops "free" women? (PEN-L exchange)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue May 9 08:01:45 MDT 2000

Doug Henwood:
A friend of mine who spent 2 years as a wire service reporter in Vietnam -
she opened Dow Jones's Hanoi bureau - said she interviewed lots of (mostly
female) workers who much prefer working for Nike to working in the rice
fields. They make more money, the work is less onerous, and they feel
partly freed from rural patriarchy.

Sorry, that's what she says.


Michael Perelman:
All the reports that I get indicate that the sweatshop workers do not get a
living wage. Their money wage may be greater than their parents, but their
parents had access to the food production and the light that was not priced
on the market. So the money wage is misleading


Xxxx Xxxxxx ( a political science graduate student):
I agree with Michael. The money wage is misleading. Workers earning their
livings in sweatshops do not even get a living wage. Let's not make the
situation look better. Particulary, women workers are more vulnerable to
exploitation in this process. It is true that most of the women in this
part of the world come to cities to find jobs in order to escape themselves
from old fashioned rural patriarchy. Yes, they prefer to work in Nike
rather than in rice fields. What happens is that they are now exploited by
capitalist bosses who use them as slave labor. This is particulary true in
apparel industry in the pacific rim. Some of the studies I have seen
indicate that in some industries (foreign based) Malaysian women earn like
$50-100 a month, prodividing cheap labor for US manufacturing companies
located in free trade zones ( the same is true for Latin Aemrica and
Caribbean too). In Dominican republic, for example, wages in export
processing stay at $0.50 an hour which is lowest of any carribean basis
country(Helen Safa, "Export Manufacturing, State Policy and Women Workers
in the Dominican Republic" in Global Production : The Apperel Industry In
the Pacific Rim, p 249). One can see a feminization of labor force from
industrial labor dominated by men to light industry based on female labor
force, and in apparel industry wpmen are used in assembly operations as
unskilled and cheap labor. Women are emancipated, but not liberated. Women
find themselves in a situation of patriarchal paradox, exploiated by local
and foreing male capitalists at the same time. According to Safa,"to
attract foreing capital, the Dominican state passed industrial incentive
laws providing tax holidays of 8 to 20 years, exemptions from import
duties, and no restrictions on profit repatriation.Labor control has been
achieved by outright repression or prohibition of unions in the Dominican
free trade zones, further increasing the vulnerability of workers" (p.253).

Recently, garment firms employ a large female labor force (in 1992, they
were 67 percent of all firms in Dominican republic). The strategy is to
incorporate women to economic proccess and exploit them at the same time.
It is also interesting that, according to Safa, some women in export
manufacturing industries (38 percent) condider themselves "as major
economic providers". "Juna Santana for example, sustained her family of
three children on her weekly salary (about $20), covering food, rent, and
her expenses such as transportation and lunch.. Juana's situtation was
typical of  what many women workers in the free trade zomes faced: low
wages, poor working conditions, lack of inexpensive and adequate child
care, few job alternatives, partners offering limited assistance or none at
all.Export manufacturers have shown a preference for wome workers because
they are cheaper to employ, less likely to unionize, and have greater
patience for the tedious, monotonous work employed in assembly operations.
Most of the women in the trade zones were young and had no previous work
experience,which increased their vulnarebility. In addtion, 78 percent of
the women were rural migrants, more than half were married, and one fourth
were female heads of household, who carried the heaviest financial
responsibility as principal or sole economic providers. Two thirds of our
sample had young children to support, increasing their financial burden".

Here are the stats. I don't know the situation of wome workers in Vietnam.
Women may prefer to work in Nike, but i don't think they are economically
well off. Perception is not the issue here. Many women think that they are
not even exploited. for example, do they make a living wage? what are the
objective indicators of this perception of well-being?

Minimum wage in selected Countries (Source: USITC, Annual Report on the
Impact of the Carribean BAsin Economic Recovery Act on US industries and
consumers, sixth report, 1990, pub no, 3432, washington DC, 1991).

Country                                 US/hour ($)
Aruba                                   2.86
BAhamas                         2.20-3.00
Trinidad and Tobago                     2.14
Netherland Antilles                     1.18-3.08
Antigua and BArbuda                     1.10
St Kitts and Nevis                      1.08
Belize                                  0.87
St Vincent                              0.76
Dominica                                0.75
Guatemale                               0.75
Costa Rica                              0.71-0.84
Panama                          0.59-0.78
Dominican REp                   0.50
El Salvador                             0.50
Grenada                         0.48
Haiti                                   0.39
Guyana                          0.38
Honduras                                0.33
Jamaica                         0.27

Female and Male Labor force Participasion Rates in the Dominican Republic,
1960-1990 (National office of stats 1966, 1985, and in edited tables from
1970 census. 1990 figures from central bank of dominican rep, survey of
labor force, jan-march 1990).

                1960            1970            1981            1990

Female  9.3             25.1            28.0            38.0

Male            75.9            72.6            72.0            72.2

Both            42.9            48.8            49.5            54.7


Louis Proyect (results of a Lexis-Nexis search on "Nike" and "sexual

The Denver Post, April 8, 1998


By Jennifer Lin, Knight Ridder News Service

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam - On a steamy March morning a year ago, Thuyen
Nguyen drove to the vast Pou Chen Co. factory and found an angry crowd at
the front gate. Several elderly men told him that foreign managers WERE
BEATING VIETNAMESE WOMEN AT THE PLANT, which made shoes for Nike Inc.

Nguyen, 33, a New Yorker who fled Vietnam as a boy, had returned to his
homeland to investigate reports that Nike subcontractors were abusing $
1.84-a-day workers.

What he stumbled upon at Pou Chen alarmed him. That morning, a Taiwanese
fainted in the heat. Some required treatment at a hospital. . .

Louis Proyect
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