Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

"If They Paid Me Well I Can Stop Doing Sex Work": Sex Work and the Garment Trade in Fiji

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

"If They Paid Me Well I Can Stop Doing Sex Work": Sex Work and the Garment Trade in Fiji

Article excerpt


Both the garment industry and the sex trade are highly globalised and feminised phenomena, no longer simply products of local factors but increasingly determined by the global economy (Goto & Barker, 1999). In its more neoliberal guise, globalisation is comprised of free markets, deregulation of private industry and free trade guaranteed by the state (Bourdieu, 2003; Peck & Tickell, 2002; Sassen, 1996), where the production of commodities and trade are linked to the movement of both financial and human capital and systems of exchange, whether involving cash for productive or sexual labour (Bedford & Rai, 2010; Harvey, 2005).

Clothing is one such commodity. It is produced almost entirely by skilled and unskilled women, mostly in developing countries for consumption mainly in the West. The number of women employed in the garment industry worldwide has risen exponentially, from about 15 million in 2000 to around 50 million in 2014 (Fashion United, 2015). The working conditions of these women - like those of sex workers in many countries - are highly exploitative and are intertwined with women's experiences of poverty and inequality (Ho, Powell & Volpp, 1996). Seasonal, flexible employment is the norm. In countries where garment manufacture is the most intensive, many women garment industry workers have migrated from the countryside to apparel production zones (Chandrararot, Dasgupta & Williams, 2009; Colvin, Lemmon & Naidoo, 2006; Hancock & Edirisinge, 2012; Kabeer, 2004; Oraboune, 2006; Rahman, Moazzem & Hossain, 2009). In most countries, they are employed under very poor, exploitative conditions, are considered to be 'flexible' workers and are discouraged from joining trade unions, resulting in very little worker protection (Crinis, 2010; Kabeer, 2004).

The movement of women into the apparel industry can be linked to processes of globalisation and the ways in which the requirements of, and for, labour are determined and shaped by a system of production and flows of capital that are not fixed or committed to any site but seek the best price for labour in a global marketplace. Although there have been gains for women as they move into the employment market in terms of empowerment and freedom (Hancock & Edirisinge, 2012), this is paradoxical as women also fulfil the requirements of so-called cheap labour - they are considered by global employers to be fast, docile and in ready supply (Amin, Diamond, Naved & Newby, 1998; Kabeer, 2004; Kabeer & Mahmud, 2004; Kibria, 1995, 1998; Nishigaya, 2002; Paul-Majumder & Begum, 2000; Rashid, 2006). As Bair (2010) argues, these characteristics are not innately feminine but are forged through the labour process that interpolates gender and work (Salzinger, 2003).

There are marked similarities and connections between the global garment industry and sex work. In China, for example, large-scale and rapid economic reform triggered massive flows of rural migrants to the cities and coastal areas that have come to constitute what is sometimes referred to as 'the Global Factory'. The migration supplied growing industries with cheap labour and also generated new social stratifications as rural-to-urban migrants found themselves marginalised as outsiders (Fan, 2002). Both garment factory work and sex work can be taken up without any previous training and these positions are readily available to rural, often poorly educated women who are part of China's internal migrations (Kaufman, 2011).

A number of developing world studies show that women garment workers move in and out of sex work to supplement inadequate incomes (Hancock & Edirisinghe, 2012; Hewamanne, 2008; Lynch, 2007). Dunaway (2014) has described the connection between gendered production and reproduction, and 'global value chains' of both the apparel industry and sex work (as part of the informal economy), as embodying paradoxical new freedoms for and exploitation of women. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.