The Labour Question in Efforts to Sustain and Socially Upgrade Light Manufacturing: Control and Agency in the Mauritian Garment Industry

Linn Ternsjö, Lund University

Developmental states have historically played an important role in achieving industrialization that brings about better economic conditions. On the other hand, the labour and production process rely on unequal power relations between firms along the value chain, within the workplace as well as between workers and the state. Focusing on the Mauritian garment industry, this paper examines how state policies have played out and what the local implications have been for factory floor workers. The paper explores whether, and in what ways, the state’s interactions with firms and workers have created opportunities or constrained the development of an industry that is driven by social upgrading in Mauritius. The paper first examines how and in what ways social upgrading has been considered in Mauritius’ state policy in the post-independence period. Moreover, how have policies and firms responded to workers’ concerns and actions? The paper explores capital-labour relations via interviews with senior policy makers, industrialists, labour union representatives and workers in and around the garment industry. Findings suggest that despite development of vertical integration and majority locally owned factories together with a minimum wage and a discourse of inclusion and fairness, the Mauritian garment industry remains based on actor relationships that foster marginalization and exploitation of labour with implications for the reproduction of colonial and patriarchal relations. Labour is highly segmented in the industry along lines of gender, nationality, and migration status. Above all, industrialists have in close collaboration with the state found new ways of accessing cheap labour, employing predominantly male workers from Bangladesh who do not have the same social reproduction needs as faced by Mauritian women workers. At the same time, there is evidence of worker power that has shaped the ways in which the garment industry operates. This has had direct impacts on developmental outcomes.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 70. Strategic Infrastructural Power