Struggle, perseverance, and organization in Sri Lanka's export processing zones

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The aim of this chapter is to examine the forms of organizing that have been possible in Sri Lankan export processing zones (EPZs), where young women drawn from the rural poor make up approximately 85 percent of all workers (BOI 2003). These zones are state-demarcated production spaces where imported materials undergo some degree of processing before being re-exported. The number of these zones has grown exponentially over the past forty years with the growth of export-oriented industrialization among developing countries. Although EPZ work has enabled the inclusion of women in formal work, workers commonly face low wages, poor working conditions and underdeveloped labor-relations systems, where freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to organize have been constrained largely through the non-enforcement of labor laws (Gordon 2000). For global organizing, the challenge lies in finding and articulating a common context for struggle while accommodating local group-based needs and desires (Jonasdottir 1988). I examine a successful global campaign at Jaqalanka Pty Ltd, an apparel manufacturer in the Katunayake EPZ (KEPZ). This involved a partnership between the democratic Free Trade Zone Workers Union (FTZWU) and a grassroots women s collective, the Women s Centre. This global campaign centered on the struggle for freedom of association and the right to organize. This chapter is based on ethnographic research since 2001. The main portion of research was carried out during twelve months of participant observation in 2003.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Women, Gender and Development Reader
EditorsNalini Visvanathan, Lynn Duggan, Nan Wiegersma, Laurie Nisonoff
Place of PublicationLondon UK
PublisherZed Books Ltd
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9781848135864
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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