Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Garment Factory Workers in the City of Fez

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Garment Factory Workers in the City of Fez

Article excerpt

Since the 1980s, garment manufacturing has burgeoned in Morocco, and labor on the garment shop floor has become the domain of females. This article examines the history and development of the garment industry in Fez, Morocco, and the nature of women's experience as garment factory workers. In particular, the author explores the cultural assumptions that render the employment of young and unmarried females more acceptable than that of mature, married women.

Since the 1960s the Moroccan government has placed increasing emphasis on industrial development. Between 1975 and 1990 the country's industrial labor force jumped from 223,000 to over one million. The most significant growth has been in garment manufacturing, which in 1993 employed 95,000 Moroccans-25 percent of the manufacturing labor force-the majority of whom were women.l The rapid growth of industry, and particularly of garment production, an export industry that relies heavily on women's labor, represents a major and sudden transformation in the Moroccan economy, with social and cultural repercussions.

This article consists of two separate, yet integral_ly related, components. The first part of the article describes the history and development of the garment industry in Morocco, focusing on the city of Fez specifically. This description includes an investigation of the nature of women's experience as factory workers in Fez. The article then focuses on a particular aspect of female employment in the factory: it analyzes how the age and marital status of the females hired in Fez garment factories help to make their labor there more acceptable to the community. The entrance of females, en masse, into the garment factories of Fez contrasts vividly with local ideals of appropriate female behavior. I argue that the convention of hiring young, unmarried girls rather than mature married women helps ameliorate the contradictions inherent in allowing females to labor in what is a public, and more traditionally male, role.2 I explore the specific cultural factors that influence and help determine which females-daughters or mothers, sisters or wives-- will labor outside the home and on the shop floor.

The fieldwork for this study was conducted in the city of Fez from August 1994 to August 1995. The methodology involved intensive ethnographic research, including interviews of Fez garment factory owners, workers, and their families, two random surveys carried out in separate garment factories, and three months of participant observation inside one of those garment factories.


In 1983, following negotiations with its creditors-the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank-Morocco launched a series of stabilization and structural adjustment programs, much like those imposed on other heavily indebted countries. This economic readjustment transformed the nature of Moroccan industry. During the 1980s, Morocco began to increase its exports of manufactured products, such as garments and canned fruit and vegetables, produced by low-capital, labor-intensive industry.3 This change in the nature of Moroccan industry represented a radical change in the kind of work many Moroccans did and how they lived. It also signaled a fundamental transformation in the make-up of the industrial labor force, since the emphasis on labor-intensive manufacturing for export resulted in the wide scale incorporation of females into Moroccan industry. A Moroccan hired to work in a factory was, less than two decades ago, almost invariably a male; today, the Moroccan factory hand is almost as likely to be a female. The growth of the Moroccan garment industry accounts, in part, for why this is so.

Since the 1980s, the textile industry has become the chief source of industrial employment in Morocco. This industry includes three branches: cloth and thread production, garment manufacturing, and leather processing. Overall, textile production nearly tripled from 1983 to 1990, and textile exports increased by 358 percent during this period. …

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