What does transnational labour organising and solidarity mean for Sri Lankan free trade zone women workers?

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Free trade zones (FTZ) are an important site of study as the material locus of transnational production relations and as sites of worker resistance and organisation. Their establishment is associated with trade liberalisation and the introduction of export-led economic development models in Latin America, Asia and Africa which rely on foreign investment. Also known as special economic zones, export processing zones, or maquiladoras, FTZs are state demarcated production spaces where inputs are transformed into exportable goods. They operate under preferential investment policies, financial inducements, legal and political policies. FTZs are deeply embedded within the supply chain of multinational corporations, and conversely, are often the nodes that connect these corporations to local informal economies through the firm’s sourcing practices. In 2007, the International Labour Organization (ILO) calculated that there were more than 2, 700 FTZs across 130 countries, employing 63, 118, 236 people worldwide. The most number of people were employed in Asia, with Chinese workers making up 63 per cent of the total FTZ workforce. In most regions, more than 50 per cent of the workers are women (Boyenge, 2007).1 FTZ employers tend to favour trade union substitution to generate greater flexibility for investors. Organising of FTZ workers occurs by local and global actors including women’s groups, worker’s centres, non-government organisations (NGOs), religious organisations, students, consumers and trade unions both independently and in alliance with one another (Tirado, 1994; Bickham Mendez, 2005; McKay, 2006).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Restructuring, Labour and The Challenges for Transnational Solidarity
EditorsAndreas Bieler, Ingemar Lindberg
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781136905803
ISBN (Print)9780415580830
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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