Monday, March 2, 2015

Growth at any cost: economic policies fuel inequality in work I/II

Free trade and the rapid globalisation of markets, together with the expansion of many corporations’ supply chains in developing countries, have undoubtedly created unprecedented opportunities for women to access paid work. However, this has still far too often been on unequal and highly exploitative terms,
 For instance, women in developing countries often work in Export Processing Zones (EPZs) that attract foreign direct investment, and create demand for cheap labour to manufacture inputs that enter the value chains of multinational corporations. In these EPZs women typically enter paid work in the lowest positions in garment, footwear, cut flowers or small electronics industries, among others. Frequently they work in environments resembling sweatshops, encountering a high risk of violence, and with many aspects of labour rights on hold. What’s more, while governments in many developing countries in fact have helped to crowd women into such export manufacturing jobs they have largely failed to enact - or in some cases to enforce - strong laws and regulations to hold investors accountable to respect labour laws and rights in the workplace.

 “Policy strategies geared toward economic growth or increasing general education levels, although necessary, are generally insufficient to close gender gaps. Targeted, gender-specific and multi-sectoral solutions are also needed to respond to countryspecific constraints.” The World Bank Group (2014) Gender at Work: A Companion to the World Development Report on Jobs44 At the same time, many multinational brands and retailers also create downward pressure on women’s wages by progressively squeezing their suppliers to produce more for less in order to please and fuel consumer demands, especially in rich countries’ markets.
 Their rapidly changing demands and production schedules lead many suppliers to subcontract to smaller, informal factories, invisible to the authorities and creating ever more pressure on women at work. While such operations can be heavily dependent on poor women’s labour, they are also the first to lay off women, especially in times of economic shocks and markets crises. The ILO estimates that the global economic crisis destroyed 13 million jobs for women, with young low-skilled women’s jobs in export manufacturing being particularly hard hit as a result of declines in demand for major exports from late 2007. For example, of enterprises laying off workers in Indonesia, almost a third laid off every one of their female workers. In Cambodia, where majority of women work in the garment industry, 38,000 jobs were lost in 2009 alone. 

Women are also disproportionately affected when governments attempt to minimise budget deficits and keep inflation low through limiting government investment in public services.Tax avoidance and evasion further puts the squeeze on the public purse, with governments unable to raise revenues effectively from wealthy individuals and multinational businesses operating in their countries. Women indeed depend on public services more than men and are frequently strongly represented in public sector jobs, so when cutbacks strike, it is they who are hit hardest. All of this supports the case that macroeconomic policies are all too often geared towards creating the conditions for GDP growth, without much attention to bringing societies closer to achieving gender equality and social justice.

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