Hybrid (un)freedom in worker hostels in garment supply chains

Andrew Crane, Vivek Soundararajan, Michael Bloomfield, Genevieve LeBaron, Laura Spence

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Abstract

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, we explore the conditions of freedom and unfreedom in worker hostels and how suppliers who run such hostels respond to competing expectations about worker freedom. Our 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, we problematise the binary understandings of freedom and unfreedom that predominate in the modern slavery literature. We 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1928-1960
JournalHuman Relations
Volume75
Issue number10
Early online date4 Feb 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022

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