12. EXPLOITATION OF THIRD WORLD WOMEN
Third World women, mostly between the ages of 17 and 21, have become
the world's new industrial proletariat ... an exploited class.
Light industrial manufacturing jobs, in textiles, computer components,
toys, and appliances, are shipped to Third World countries where safety
regulations are limited or non-existent, labor in cheap, and people
are willing to do repetitive, monotonous assembly line work.
Eighty to ninety percent of the low skilled assembly jobs are performed
by women because in many Third World countries women can be legally
paid less than men. It is also believed by management that only women
will do this kind of work. The personnel manager of a light assembly
plant in Taiwan told anthropologist Linda Arrigo, "Young male workers
are too restless and impatient to do monotonous work with no career
value. If displeased, they sabotage the machine and even threaten the
foreman. But girls, at most, they cry a little."
Women do not last long at their assembly-line jobs because of ill health
due to poor working conditions. Some of the worst health hazards have
been documented in South Korea in the garment industry which is composed
largely of local subcontractors to large American chains such as J.C.
Penney and Sears. Workers are packed into poorly lit rooms where temperatures
in the summer rise above 100 degrees. Textile dust, which can cause
permanent lung damage, fills the air. Forced overtime of as much as
48 hours at one stretch is required by management when deemed necessary
to meet rush orders. When women are too tired to work, pep pills and
amphetamine injections are provided.
The electronics industry, where women are required to peer through
microscopes 7 to 9 hours a day, results in another kind of health hazard:
women commonly lose the 20/20 vision necessary to keep their jobs. One
study in South Korea found that most electronics assembly workers develop
severe eye problems after just one year of employment: 88 percent had
chronic conjunctivitis; 44 percent became nearsighted, and 19 percent
It is estimated that the multinational corporations already have used
up as many as six million Third World women -- women who are too ill,
too old (30 is considered over the hill), and too exhausted to be useful
Governments, who court multination investments, often advertise their
women openly. An investment brochure by the Malaysian government tells
multinational executives: "The manual dexterity of the Oriental
female is famous the world over. Her hands are small, and she works
fast with extreme care ... Who, therefore, could be better qualified
by nature and inheritance, to contribute to the efficiency of a bench-assembly
production line than the Oriental girl?"
The media's failure to cover the role of American multinational corporations
in the exploitation of Third World women qualifies this story for nomination
as one of the "best censored" of 1980.
MS. Magazine, January, 1981, "Special Report: Life on the Global
Assembly Lines" by Barbara Ehrenreich and Annette Fuentes.