ARCHIVES Danyliw Seminar 2017
Kyïv Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine
Oksana Dutchak is a second-year PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the Kyïv Polytechnic Institute. She is also a Deputy Director of the Center for Social and Labor Research. She studied sociology at the University Kyïv-Mohyla Academy and social anthropology at Central European University in Budapest. Her main field of research is social movements with focus on labor movement.
Next-Door Relocation: Labor Conditions and Bargaining Power in Ukrainian Done-for-Brands Garment Industry
In research on the labor situation and struggle in the global supply chain of the garment industry much attention has been paid to the situation of Asian workers, because of theirleading role. However, after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, many garment brands consider relocating their production orders to “better” locations of Eastern and Central Europe, including Ukraine. In fact, many Western brands have been producing there for years, with little or no attention from local and international scholars.
The paper raises two main questions: 1) what is the situation with labor conditions, rights and wages in Ukrainian garment factories the global supply chain? 2) what are the main factors which influence these conditions? The research is based on a review of the secondary literature on the garment sector, its socio-economic context and legal framework. The field research is based on 35 semi-structured interviews with workers from Ukrainian garment factories, integrated in the global supply chain, representing 10% of the workforce in three factories, as well as additional interviews from two other factories, without a representative sample.
According to the gathered material, the working conditions in Ukrainian garment factories are only slightly better than classic “sweatshops”, namely, extensive and forced overtime (60 working hours per week during the high season), heat in summer (up to 40°), and forced leave when there are no orders. Payment for this work is very low, rarely exceeding the legal minimal wage (net – USD 94) and sometimes – even below. The average wage of the interviewees corresponded to USD 102 (net) – three times smaller than the “living wage”, defined by workers themselves.
Basically, the subsistence level of the people who create products for rich brands is “subsidized” by the Ukrainian state through pensions and subsidies for public utilities; it is also supported by the “natural” economy of personal gardens. The workforce at the factories that were part of this study is either unorganized or organized in “yellow” unions. Some cases of repressions against workers, who tried to organize independent unions, are recorded. These very poor labor conditions of workers, producing for famous Western brands, are, first of all, caused by structural processes in the modern global supply chaon. Among them are spatial and organizational fixes to the crises of profitability, “fast fashion,” and extreme asymmetries of power.
Within a global context, Ukrainian garment workers possess weak bargaining power to force decent working conditions and the redistribution of the economic growth they produce. The bargaining power of the workers in the garment global supply chain is generally weak due to low level of associational and structural bargaining powers. It is also weakened by the Ukrainian labor control regime, which combines market despotism with elements of employer repression.