Globalization and women’s textile work: a comparative perspective

This paper stages a rather wide-ranging historical overview of changes in women’s work in the textile industry over a long period of time, in many parts of the world. Textile production has been highly labour-intensive throughout history. Even after machines were introduced since the late eighteenth century, textile producers have always been in need for cheap, flexible labour. In most places and times, it was women – and to a lesser extent children – who provided this labour. An important strategy in the search for cheap labour was the relocation of textile production. Although the latest shift, with mass cotton textile production moving from industrial sites in “the Global North” to “the Global South” is relatively well-known, earlier shifts have also occurred. In this paper, I aim to identify the most important drivers of these shifts, as well as their consequences for women workers. I will look at the process of globalization, but also at the availability, or the absence, of alternative work opportunities for women to explain these changes.

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