Organizing Digitally: Opportunities for Collectivisation among Female Workers in South Asia

Project: Organizing Digitally: Opportunities for Collectivisation among Female Workers in South Asia

Funding: 350,000 Canadian dollars

Researchers: Payal Arora and Usha Raman (University of Hyderabad)

Description:

The complexity of global supply chains has led to a lack of transparency and monitoring practices meant to ensure fair working conditions. Factories often operate in developing countries where labor is cheap and regulations are weak or challenging to enforce. Some industries like the textile business, handicrafts, and food packaging are female intensive, with women constituting the majority of their workforce. Given this global labor operation, communication between female workers, employers, non-governmental organizations and other vested intermediaries remains a challenge.

This becomes particularly challenging for women in these contexts, given the manner in which globalised markets add a layer of precarity over existing gender-related inequalities. Hazardous working conditions are a marker of the global sweatshop regime, particularly in South Asia. Complicating this, women are more vulnerable due to gender and internal hierarchical structures, leading to harassment and violence, whether verbal or physical, and pressures to increase their productivity.

Crowdsourcing platforms, social media and mobile technology are creating novel opportunities for dialogue where women can access information on rights and share grievances about their working contexts. Corporations and labor rights organizations can gain insight from these collective digital engagements to monitor working conditions and create more transparency.

This study will examine how issues such as violations of workers’ rights, women’s rights to maternity leave, sexual harassment at the workplace, forced/bonded labor and child labor could be reported directly from factory workers to the top of the supply chain. This research will be carried out by exploring how women factory workers in Bangladesh and India use crowdsourcing platforms and social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp to build collective agency through everyday communicative practice of their grievances. Through in-depth interviews of female factory workers and other stakeholders across three industrial sectors, content analysis of digital engagements, and innovative digital storytelling action research, this project aims to create an understanding of how these tools can include female workers at the bottom of supply chains into the larger conversation. The project strives to build empathy through public outreach activity, and to foster accountability and corporate social responsibility. The research is expected to guide programmers and designers in their understanding of how their tools can enable female workers in the Global South in their collectivization efforts, with a particular interest in understanding the lived reality of women workers and the possibilities offered by such platforms to bring together and amplify their voices.