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Neoliberal fashion: The political economy of sweatshops in Europe and Latin America

MONTERO, JERONIMO (2011) Neoliberal fashion: The political economy of sweatshops in Europe and Latin America. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Jeronimo Montero. PhD THESIS) - Accepted Version


Changes in the spatial organisation of capitalist production internationally over the last four decades have had profound impacts in the clothing industry. The strategies adopted by entrepreneurs to face economic instability and stagnation have systematically affected workers, mostly by a deep labour flexibilisation. In several cities, a return to the widespread use of the sweatshop system can be witnessed; in some others, such systems have indeed emerged. Today, sweatshops are a structural feature of the industry.

This research aims at analysing the changes that the fashion industry has undergone during the last four decades and its consequences over working conditions. In addition, I address the question of what does the return of the sweatshop tell us about neoliberalism. Two main types of sweatshops are identified: ‘international sweatshops’ (mostly large factories located in Export Economic Zones, also called ‘maquilas’) and ‘local sweatshops’ (small
inner-city workshops located in proximity to the markets). Only the second type isemphasised in here, and two case studies were conducted: the City Buenos Aires and the
Province of Prato (Tuscany). The results reveal that in both cities informal economy, human trafficking, and child and forced labour are counterparts of the glamorous fashion

The role of the state in regulating political economic shifts that have led to the sweatshop crisis, is addressed as well. Against the belief of its ‘demise’ I argue that the state has had a major role in engineering the mechanisms allowing a fierce redistribution of wealth away
from labour, which encompasses state terrorism as well.

In sum, the shift in the balance of power between capital and labour, and the changes operated in the role of the state during the latest four decades, are found to be major causes for ‘the return of the sweatshop’. In the clothing industry, these changes have led to a situation which portrays with clarity the inequalities to which Neoliberalism has led – albeit to varied extents and through different mechanisms according to the spatio-temporal contexts – all around the world.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Sweatshops, sweatshop, forced labour, new slavery, garment industry, neoliberalism
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2011
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:25 Nov 2011 11:47

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