The MNC and the political economy of low wage female labour in Southeast Asian industrialisation : the case of Malaysia
In International Political Economy (IPE), feminist perspectives that highlight the centrality of gender relations to the functioning of the global economy have remained largely at the margins of the discipline. This is particularly the case in studies of the multinational firm, where the focus on the relative power of states vis a vis the rising power ofMNCs dominates debates. Although some scholars have sought to evaluate the impact ofMNCs on host societies, this analysis has largely been undertaken in gender neutral terms. The supposed gender-neutrality of multinational investment is reflected more widely in liberal accounts of economic development and globalisation that assume that the incorporation of local societies into the global market economy is a positive force for developmental and "progressive" change. Hence the MNC is regarded as an agent ofglobalisation, and the employment of women in MNCs leads the way for the progressive undermining of "backward" patriarchal attitudes. This thesis rejects this Western-centric discourse of the "progressive firm", suggesting that neither firms nor the global market economy can be perceived in such gender neutral terms. Using case study research, it is suggested that the firm can be seen as drawing upon and benefiting from gender and ethnic divisions deeply embedded in the local political economy of host states. This thesis, therefore, highlights the important role of gender in Wlderstanding the operations of a firm's overseas investment strategy. The case study firm selected for this thesis is a garment sector firm that has invested in Malaysia. The garment sector has traditionally been reliant on low wage female labour, and the thesis observes how this reliance led to the firm moving offshore in order to seek out new sources of cheap labour for the most labour intensive parts of its production process. But the thesis also draws attention to the role of the Malaysian state in adopting a model of economic development based largely upon the attraction ofFDI into labour-intensive sectors where female labour dominates. So ifFDI is a gendered process (both in terms of the firm's decision to move offshore and in terms of the policies implemented to attract FDI into a developing country), then what are the mechanisms through which this process takes place? This thesis suggests that an analysis of recruitment strategies and practices at the case study firm provides the sort of detail that enables us to examine exactly how the firm engages with the local society that it invests into - in particular how company recruitment strategies enable the firm to mobilise the sort of low paid workers required for labour intensive garment sector production. Thus despite the many advantages that factory employment may bring to women workers, by focusing on the operations of the firm itself (rather than the actual experiences of women workers as many gender and development scholars have done), it can be observed that the firm derives considerable benefit from the operation of gendered divisions oflabour and thus women remain stratified into low paid assembly line work.