Vivek Soundararajan along with colleagues Andrew Crane, Michael Bloomfield, Genevieve LeBaron, and Laura Spence, has published new research on the complexities of freedom and unfreedom in worker hostels in global supply chains.
Worker hostels or dormitories are common in labour-intensive industries staffed largely by migrant labour and have long been associated with exploitative practices. More recently, hostels have come under scrutiny due to accusations that they are used to restrict workers’ freedom in ways that are tantamount to modern slavery.
Drawing on a qualitative study of a garment hub in South India where such claims have frequently arisen, this study explores the conditions of freedom and unfreedom in worker hostels and how suppliers who run such hostels respond to competing expectations about worker freedom.
The findings show that hostels perform three interrelated functions: restriction, protection, and liberation, which together constitute a complex mix of freedom and unfreedom for migrant women workers that we term hybrid (un)freedom. As a result, the study problematises the binary understandings of freedom and unfreedom that predominate in the modern slavery literature. The authors also develop a new way forward for examining freedom in the context of hostels that considers the system of relationships, traditions, and socio-economic arrangements that workers and employers are locked into and which prevent meaningful improvements in the freedom of women workers.
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