Carmen Bain

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Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society





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The expansion of global value chains, together with an export‐oriented development strategy by countries in the global South, has been accompanied by the growth of labor markets that are both flexible and feminized. However, the marginalization of sections of the working class, and women in particular, is not an inexorable ingredient of globalization. How, then, are social relations within the labor market constructed? Markets and their institutional arrangements, such as labor standards, are neither passive nor benign processes that simply reflect preexisting social relations. Instead, I argue, markets are socially constructed, and actors use institutions strategically to advance certain interests and preferences. Institutions are powerful because they enable and constrain opportunities, privileges, and responsibilities by defining a person’s rights and that person’s exposure to the rights of others within the marketplace. To understand this process, I conducted field research in 2005 within the Chilean fresh fruit export sector to examine a set of influential British and European retailer‐led standards known as the Global Partnership for Good Agricultural Practices (GlobalGAP). In this article, I show how GlobalGAP’s standards for worker health, safety, and welfare act to (re)shape and (re)structure the flexible and feminized labor market in Chile. First, GlobalGAP standards reinforce and extend flexible labor practices by disregarding the issue of subcontracted labor. Second, GlobalGAP’s most extensive standards—those that deal with safety issues related to agrichemicals—are applicable only to the relatively small segment of workers who are hired on a permanent, full‐time basis, thereby excluding temporary workers, the majority of whom are women. I conclude that major food retailers are constrained in their ability to advance the health and well‐being of all workers because their global business strategies benefit from such inequities within the labor market.


This article is published as Bain, Carmen. "Structuring the flexible and feminized labor market: GlobalGAP standards for agricultural labor in Chile." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 35, no. 2 (2010): 343-370. Posted with permission.

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The University of Chicago



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