Global sweatshops: The History and future of North-South Solidarity Campaigns in Bangladesh and Beyond by John Trumpbour

In a new blog post on the CommsWomen platform, Maryanna Mays, a student at the University of Alabama, College of Communication and Information Sciences, analyses an article on global sweatshops by John Trumpbour published by Labor History.

            John Trumpbour wrote an excellent review article analyzing the literature on global sweatshops. He identified two significant publications that focus on garment workers and the evaluation of advocacy approaches, “Achieving Workers’ Rights in the Global Economy”, by Appelbaum and Lichtenstein (2017), and “Unmaking the Global Sweatshop Health and Safety of the World Garment Workers” by Prentice and De Neve (2017).

Appelbaum and Lichtenstein (2017) have gathered the research and strategies of famous social scientists in the book “Achieving Workers’ Rights in the Global Economy”, which brings out the deplorable situation regarding sweatshops, especially those in Bangladesh. The tragic event of Rana Plaza in 2013 where more than 1,130 people died (Appelbaum and Lichtenstein 2017) emphasized this issue. Although minimum wages have risen in some countries, wage levels remain insufficient, perpetuating workers’ vulnerability and exploitation (Appelbaum and Lichtenstein 2017).

The book questions the effectiveness of CSR measures that are typically used by companies and do not require compliance with safety norms. These failures are most apparent in Bangladesh, where several factories labeled as ‘safe’ by CSR audits have been involved in fatal tragedies. Appelbaum and Lichtenstein (2017) note that the authors assert that CSR cannot substitute for strong legal compliance and effective unions.

Thus, Appelbaum and Lichtenstein call for better regulation and support of labor unions. Transnational Triangular Collective Bargaining (TTCB) is another promising concept that aims to unite workers, enabling them to negotiate directly with their immediate employers and indirectly with the global brands that dominate the sector (Appelbaum and Lichtenstein 2017). This approach seeks to implement repetitive manufacturing, and improve working conditions, thus offering a practical solution to avoid hazardous practices.

The book “Unmaking the Global Sweatshop Health and safety of the World Garment workers” by Prentice and De Neve (2017) also supports the findings of Appelbaum and Lichtenstein (2017) by scrutinizing the wellbeing of garment workers. While this work focuses on the weak health outcomes that many workers endure day by day, essential factors such as fatigue, malnutrition, and overheating are ignored (Prentice and De Neve 2017). Analyzing how citizens focus their attention on specific calamities such as factory fires and building collapses, the article establishes that health problems are equally as important.

            Prentice and De Neve (2017) express regret on how Rana Plaza only focused on building inspections and neglecting the consideration of workers’ health. Moving forward after this tragedy, demands for legal remedies, prevention, and the search for the root causes of employment situations become essential.  

This analysis suggests that additional efforts are necessary to advance garment workers’ rights and improve their working conditions. As a result, both points of view emphasize the importance of advocacy and activism in raising labor standards.

The full article can be read using this link.


John Trumpbour (2021). Global sweatshops: the history and future of North- South solidarity campaigns in Bangladesh and beyond, Labor History, 62:2, 109-114, DOI:

Appelbaum, R., & Lichtenstein, N. (Eds.). (2017). Achieving workers’ rights in the global economy. Cornell University Press.

Prentice, R., & De Neve, G. (Eds.). (2017). Unmaking the global sweatshop: health and safety of the world’s garment workers. University of Pennsylvania Press.

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