The Role of the State and Worker Power in Social Upgrading and Downgrading of the Mauritian Garment Industry

Källarsalen Session 3: Paths towards sustained development in the global south: Historical lessons organized by Erik Green and Ellen Hillbom


Linn Ternsjö


Developmental states have historically played an important role in achieving industrialization that brings about better economic conditions at the national level. On the other hand, the labour and production process rely on unequal power relations between firms along the value chain, within the workplace, as well as between workers and the state. Focusing specifically on the textile and garment industry in Mauritius, this paper examines how state policies have played out and what the local implications have been for workers at the lower end of the chain. The overarching research question asks whether, and in what ways, the state’s interactions with firms and labour organizations and workers have created opportunities or constrained the development of an industry that is driven by social upgrading in Mauritius.

The paper first examines how and in what ways social upgrading, defined as an improvement in workers’ rights and conditions, has been considered in Mauritius’ state policy in the post-independence period up to present-day. Moreover, how have policies and firms responded to workers’ concerns and actions? The paper explores capital-labour relations, and specifically worker power, via interviews with senior policy makers, industrialists, labour union representatives and workers in and around the garment industry.

Findings suggest that despite development of vertical integration and majority locally owned factories together with the implementation of a minimum wage and a discourse of inclusion and fairness, the Mauritian garment industry is struggling to renew itself and remains based on actor relationships that fosters marginalization and exploitation of labour. Labour is highly segmented in the industry along lines of gender, nationality, and migration status. Those firms that have survived the competitive landscape and expanded, have shifted toward more capital-intensive production. At the same time they have closely collaborated with the state in order to find new ways of accessing cheap labour. This has taken the form of employing disposable, migrant workers, predominantly men coming from Bangladesh, who since the 2000s have started making up increasingly large shares of the labour force on Mauritian factory floors. In parallel, the working conditions, including mandatory overtime in combination with lived experiences of sudden factory closures and relocation of the most labour-intensive garment manufacturing to Madagascar, as well as the emergence of employment alternatives in other economic sectors, make up some of the overlooked reasons for Mauritian labour shortages. In turn, these are shaped by historically contingent state-labour relations as well as interlinked spheres of capitalist production and social reproduction. At the same time, there appears to be evidence of worker power that has influenced the ways in which the Mauritian garment industry operates and which has translated into more developmentalist outcomes for all.


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