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Unraveling the Garment Industry

Transnational Organizing and Women’s Work

2007
Author:

Ethel C. Brooks

Unraveling the Garment Industry

The consequences—both positive and negative—of consumer boycotts of sweatshop labor.

Unraveling the Garment Industry investigates the politics of labor and protest within the garment industry. Focusing on three labor rights movements—against GAP clothing in El Salvador, child labor in Bangladesh, and sweatshops in New York City—Ethel C. Brooks examines how transnational consumer protest campaigns effect change, sometimes with unplanned penalties for those they intend to protect.

Unraveling the Garment Industry provides a trenchant critique of consumer-led campaigns for inadvertently reinforcing the global-local divide both symbolically and materially. Ethel Brooks’s deepest commitments illuminate the testimonies of women workers that are often marginalized by transnational scholarship and activism.

Amrita Basu, Amherst College

Unraveling the Garment Industry is an ambitious investigation of the politics of labor and protest within an industry that has come to define the possibilities and abuses of globalization and its feminized labor: the garment industry. Focusing on three labor rights movements—against Gap clothing in El Salvador, child labor in Bangladesh, and sweatshops in New York City—Ethel C. Brooks examines how transnational consumer protest campaigns effect change, sometimes with unplanned penalties for those they intend to protect.

Brooks analyzes a two-pronged problem in consumer boycott campaigns against labor abuse in the garment industry. First, how are we to understand the political necessities of local protest such as the right to unionize against the emphasis placed on consumer boycotts? Second, what and whose agency is privileged or obscured within the symbolic economies and the politics of information deployed by these campaigns? Tying both of these questions together is a commitment to seeing globalization as embedded in the everyday realities of the local.

Drawing attention to the race, class, and gender assumptions central to powerful consumer boycotts, Brooks reveals how these movements unintentionally reinforce the global economic forces they denounce.

Awards

Society for the Study of Social Problems – Outstanding Book Award in the Global Division

Unraveling the Garment Industry

Ethel C. Brooks is assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and sociology at Rutgers University.

Unraveling the Garment Industry

Unraveling the Garment Industry provides a trenchant critique of consumer-led campaigns for inadvertently reinforcing the global-local divide both symbolically and materially. Ethel Brooks’s deepest commitments illuminate the testimonies of women workers that are often marginalized by transnational scholarship and activism.

Amrita Basu, Amherst College

Impressive multi-sited fieldwork meets critical social theory to produce a provocative and insightful account of the production, logics, and meanings of transnational campaigns against labor violations.

Javier Auyero, author of Routine Politics and Violence in Argentina

Brooks’s work will be of interest both to students of social movement politics as well as anyone interested in the question of agency and power in transnational coalitions.

North American Congress on Latin America Report on the Americas

The book is replete with insights and astute observations. The book is highly instructive of the perils as well as promise of transnational organizing. I recommend this book to all scholars of social movements and labor rights.

Mobilization

This powerful analysis of transnational protests against abuses of garment sweatshop workers in poor countries as well as poor immigrant workers in U.S. sweatshops offers critical perspective with some astounding insights. Brooks’s rich international ethnographic fieldwork is well balanced with dense theories, the text written in largely accessible language. The author casts a critical, unflinching eye on campaigns organized and waged by privileged First World consumers.

Choice

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This book poses important questions about the efficacy of transnational organizing for women garment workers. <em>Unraveling the Garment Industry</em> promises to be a pathbreaking contribution to the now-burgeoning field of social movements.
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American Journal of Sociology