Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Survival in the Era of the Post-Multifiber Arrangement: Experiences of Garment Workers in India

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Survival in the Era of the Post-Multifiber Arrangement: Experiences of Garment Workers in India

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Until recently India pursued a dualist path in public policies on economic growth and development, comprised of large-scale manufacturing and agricultural modernization together with the promotion of small-scale enterprises. The strategy was characterized by inward-looking, state-regulated policies that were largely protectionist and focused on import-substituting industrialization. Reversal of this approach in 1991 marked the dramatic reorientation of policies, which aimed to foster increased economic development by shifting resources in favor of the market. The paper examines the implications of the neo-liberal reforms for workers in the Indian garment industry in the era of the post Multi Fiber Arrangement (hereafter post-MFA). I argue that the garment industry epitomizes the contradictory outcomes of post-Independence development strategies. Garment industry in the past thrived due to traditional labor skills and expertise. However, on the whole it produced fabrics and ready-made garments for local consumption, and production targets were set to achieve self-sufficiency for local needs. Based on recent fieldwork in West Bengal, (2) this paper will highlight the emerging problems that workers face as the Indian garment industry increasingly becomes tied to the global market. Focusing on the uneven impact of liberalization, this article is intended to demonstrate that, while garment "exporter-manufacturers" have largely accrued the benefits of the demise of the quota regime, there is growing informalization of labor and a rise in concealed inter-border trade.

It is virtually impossible to separate the overall analysis of neo-liberal development from the concept of globalization and how this approach has affected its target population of marginalized people in the global South. From a certain perspective, globalization is a force that has long shaped how peoples and nations have developed and continue to develop. Yet some scholars maintain that in recent times this force has taken on a particular potency, especially with respect to how it affects the development of Third World nations and the lives of their citizens. Globalization or the globalization project can also be commonly defined as "a now-hegemonic neo-liberal political ideology that celebrates the victory of capitalism over socialism and proclaims marketization and privatization as solutions to the world's problems." (3)

The neo-liberal claim is that globalization and trade liberalization benefit all across the globe including the working poor in the South. In contrast, their critics, while advocating the promise of global citizenship resulting from the gradual erosion of the boundaries of the nation state, simultaneously critique the adverse impacts of globalization. In particular anticorporate globalization perspectives highlight negative consequences such as the decline of protections--including wages, work conditions, workers rights--provided to the laboring population by the state. (4) At the same time the potential globalization offers to challenge dominant development paradigms through cross-border political coalitions and advocacy is also recognized. (5) However, the clandestine practices that operate side by side with formal practices of trade liberalization that threatens to undermine the rights of citizens within nation states remain an under-researched area. This is especially so in the case of the garment industry in the bordering states in India. In this paper I examine the nature of the post MFA world for workers in garment industries in the Indian state of West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh. I pay particular attention to illegal processes, which are conceived as illicit practices in employment as well as unlawful concealed inter-border trade (6) in garments involving China, India and Bangladesh. While I make some references to the post independence development trajectories in Bangladesh, the scope of this paper does not permit me to delve deeper into the nature of the garment industry in Bangladesh, which enjoys an iconic status in Bangladesh's industrialization, and which has been studied extensively (7). …

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