Local Sweatshops in the Global Economy: Accumulation Dynamics and the Manufacturing of a Reserve Army

  • Jerónimo Montero Bressán
Part of the Work, Organization, and Employment book series (WOAE)


Sweatshops lie at the core of the fashion industry worldwide. While awareness about large sweatshops in export-processing zones is broad, little is known about small local sweatshops in large cities both in core and peripheral economies, employing migrant labour and supplying cheap garment to fast-fashion branded retailers. Having been left at the margins of this industry during Fordism, these ‘local sweatshops’ are back since the late 1970s. In these, working conditions range from precarious employment to forced labour. This chapter asks what does the return of local sweatshops mean for debates on unfree labour and capitalist accumulation. Through an analysis of the changes in the production and commercialisation of fashion clothing since the late 1970s, I show that the flourishing of forced labour during recent decades along the success of well-known brands and retailers, suggests that, far from being a pre-capitalist reminiscence, forced labour is not only compatible with capitalist accumulation, but it can also be critical for its survival. Following from this, responses from unions and community organisations are analysed, based on the case of anti-sweatshop activism in Buenos Aires. I conclude by showing that when the agenda against forced labour is taken by NGOs rather than by labour activists, class perspectives are largely absent and improvements are poor.


Forced labour Sweatshops Migrant workers Workers organisation Fast-fashion 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas and Instituto de Altos Estudios SocialesUniversidad Nacional de San MartínBuenos AiresArgentina

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