AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 672

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Session 672: “The Clothing Industry, Crisis, and Transnational Labour Migration “

Organizer: Vicki Crinis, University of Wollongong, Australia

This panel aims to identify how the global economic crisis (GEC) is affecting globalised chains of commodity production and consumption and how this is impacting workers. Capital moves freely around the globe and a global labour movement is also on the rise, both south-north and south-south. In this context, labour needs to be analysed within the context of global supply chains where working conditions are hardened by the dynamics of demand-driven production chains with multi-level subcontracting controlled mainly by large brand name companies and large retailers. Given the importance of this industry, scholars and labour organisations need a clearer understanding of changing capital/ labour relations and the social impacts or social consequences of multi-level global supply chains on workers in the industry. The panel will draw upon scholars from a range of social science disciplines to examine globalisation, transnational labour migration and the current crisis in the context of the clothing industry in Southeast Asia (SEA). The papers in this panel embrace inter-disciplinary research, social science, cross-border and multi-cultural perspectives.

The Thai Textile and Garment Industry and the Global Economic Crisis
Piya Pangsapa, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago

The Thai Textile and Garment Industry and the Global Economic Crisis In the context of the 2008-09 global depression, the imperative to protect domestic industries does not fit neatly with longer term goals to promote regional integration in a single market within ASEAN by 2015. In the first four months of 2009 over 400 factories across Thailand closed resulting in the layoffs of 50,000 workers. Companies cited a loss of profits, a drop in consumer demand resulting in declining orders or cancellation of contracts, due to the current Global Economic Crisis (GEC). Many companies have restructured and in some sectors outsourced their production processes in order to close down subsidiaries. The impact on workers has been severe. This paper examines the textile and garment industry in Thailand since the end of the MFA and highlights consequences of the GEC and the industry’s responses to the global economic crisis. The significant drop in Thai textile and garment exports of textiles in 2009 resulted from market contractions in the US and EU but this has, in part, been offset by a surge of orders from Japan. It is not all bad news in terms of the goal of economic growth at the domestic level however due to a number of processes such as higher unemployment, reduction of labour costs generally, investment incentives, full-time permanent employees becoming temporary contract workers, the intensification of piece-rate systems; redundancy packages to remove higher wage employees from the supply chain; and union-busting practices.

Transnational Labour: Vietnamese workers in Malaysia
Vicki Crinis, University of Wollongong, Australia

Garment industries in developing countries are tied to the global economy and make up the production links in the periphery of the commodity chains. In chain analysis there is a division of power and wealth between the core and the periphery; while the core holds the power through design, marketing and retailing the periphery is dependent on the core for contracts. The garment industry in Malaysia is situated in the periphery and is almost totally reliant on contracts from the United States (US) and Europe for its survival. Since the global economic recession the contraction in the consumption of garments in these countries has translated into factory closures and lay offs in Malaysia. There are a number of foreign workers working in the clothing industry in Malaysia under the government’s guest worker policy. This paper provides an overview of the labour conditions and the lived realities of Vietnamese male and female labour migrants recruited to work in the clothing industries in Malaysia. In the labour migration literature most of the studies focuses on the transnational movements of workers between countries, especially in the context of Indonesian workers and domestic servants. In the sociology literature, the studies focus on the decline of national trade unions and the rise of NGOs in the national context there are few studies that examine the building of international relationships between workers, social movements, NGOs and unions that transcend the nation. Although many see the limitations of building labour solidarity and improving working conditions for transnational migrants in the destination country this paper argues that the lack of real labour representation and support leaves workers in a vulnerable situation. In response both international and local NGOs are building networks that offer workers a sense of community and support in the face of adversity.

The Full Circle: Vietnamese Migrant Workers in Malaysia and Their Return to Vietnam
Angie Ngoc Tran, California State University, Monterey Bay, USA

From 2000 to the present, the socialist Vietnamese state has promoted labour export as a commodity, sending over 500,000 Vietnamese workers to work in over 40 countries. Since 2003, the state has instituted laws to govern (mostly state-owned) recruitment companies that send Vietnamese nationals to work overseas. In 2007, the state enacted labour contract law to govern migrant workers, and since late 2008, they have introduced several policies to provide temporary assistance for early returnees (before the completion of their work contracts due to ramifications of the global economic crisis). Malaysia is the primary destination for poor Vietnamese migrant workers and ethnic minorities, who are bounded by policies from both Malaysia and Vietnam. I trace the experiences and agency of Vietnamese migrant workers in Malaysia and the impacts of their return to their hometowns and villages in Vietnam. To explore positive and negative aspects of global migration for Vietnamese workers in Malaysia and Vietnam, I bring in social and cultural factors (i.e., migrant networks, social capital, feminization of the global workforce), and economic factors (i.e., remittances, skill sets, consumption, access to resources and entrepreneurial activities) in a multi-level analysis focusing on state policies and structures, company strategies, and workers’ agency. My evidence is based on fieldwork interviews with workers, labour journalists, recruitment agencies’ management, and labour union leaders in 2008 (Malaysia and Vietnam), follow-up interviews in summer 2009 and winter 2010 in Vietnam, as well as materials from Vietnamese sources (labour unions, labour newspapers, governmental and recruitment agencies) and from other researchers.

The Transnational Migration of Vietnamese Laborers to Trinidad and Tobago
Andrew N. Le, University of British Columbia, USA

Migration from the ‘global South’ has been on the increase for the past two decades. Many studies have been conducted about migration from the ‘global South’ to the ‘global North.’ However, the majority of migratory experiences take place within and across the ‘global South.’ The experience of Vietnamese workers going to the Caribbean is one example of a “South-South” migration. The purpose of this research is to examine the experiences of Vietnamese men who migrate to the island of Trinidad. Data was collected through informal interviews and observations of the Vietnamese men in Trinidad, in the spring of 2008, and in Ky Giang, Vietnam the home village for the majority of the Vietnamese men in the winter of 2009. In addition, on-going correspondence with the Vietnamese men has supplemented the research. This study is important because it examines a pattern of migration that has been largely unnoticed.