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Working for Family: The Role of Women's Informal Labor in the Survival of Family-owned Garment Ateliers in Istanbul, Turkey

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Working for Family: The Role of Women's Informal Labor in the Survival of Family-owned Garment Ateliers in Istanbul, Turkey
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  Working for Family: The Role of Women’s Informal Labor in the Survival of Family-Owned Garment Ateliers in Istanbul, Turkey by Saniye DedeogluSouthampton UniversityWorking Paper #281May 2004Abstract Since the implementation of export-oriented industrialization strategies in the early 1980s, small-scale firms have become increasingly important to Turkey’s economy. In an era of flexibleproduction and subcontracting, small-scale firms have been able to enter the global marketplaceby cheaply producing and exporting labor-intensive commodities, such as textiles, food,garments, and leather goods. This paper investigates the changing nature of Turkey’smanufacturing sector by investigating one increasingly prominent type of small-scale firm:garment ateliers ( atölye) in Istanbul.As family-owned businesses, ateliers draw on inexpensive (and often unpaid), flexible, and loyalimmediate and extended kin to provide labor. Garment ateliers operate informally on theoutskirts of big cities, such as Istanbul, where rural migrant families comprise a cheap labor poolfor enterprising migrant business owners. These small-scale firms then depend on unpaid andunderpaid labor, encouraged by large-scale manufacturing factories seeking cheapsubcontracting linkages to take over the labor-intensive parts of industrial production. Thispaper—through two case-studies—focuses on family labor and extended kin social networks toanalyze the role of women’s unpaid and underpaid labor in these small-scale garment ateliers. Biography Saniye Dedeoglu is currently a research fellow at University of Southampton, Division of Sociology and Social Policy, UK and is also a research student in the Development StudiesDepartment of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), UK. Her research interestsare the dynamics of female employment in Turkey, implications of household organization, andthe impacts of kinship related social networks on women’s work in the labor market. She has anumber of published articles in Turkish and English. Women and International Development  206 International CenterMichigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MI 48824-1035Phone: 517-353-5040 ~ Fax: 517-432-4845 ~ E-mail: wid@msu.eduWeb Address: http://www.isp.msu.edu/wid/    Copyright © 2004 MSU Board of Trustees    1 Working for Family: The Role of Women’s Informal Labor in the Survival of Family-Owned Garment Ateliers in Istanbul, Turkey   Introduction Turkey’s export-oriented industrialization strategies, first implemented in the early 1980s, havedramatically increased the production and export of labor-intensive commodities, such astextiles, food, garments, and leather. These strategies have created an environment where small-scale firms are able to enter the global marketplace—through subcontracting linkages with largerfirms—by cheaply producing these commodities. The result has been an explosion of small-scale enterprises, particularly those specializing in garment production—called ateliers( atölye )—which have mushroomed in immigrant neighborhoods of Istanbul. Ateliers oftenoperate informally, relying on the inexpensive or unpaid flexible labor of family and extendedkin.Women’s participation in garment production is critically important. Women are not only acheap labor source for these ateliers, but they also help to mediate the familial relations—including social networks of family, kinship, and neighborhood—upon which the survival of ateliers in the very volatile market of the garment industry depends. This paper focuses on theimportance of family labor and the nature of family-based production in these ateliers. Inparticular, the paper emphasizes the role of women’s unpaid and underpaid labor involvement insmall-scale garment ateliers in Istanbul and analyzes social networks of extended kin relations.By revealing the relations governing industrial production in Turkey, this paper argues thatwomen’s labor—while often unrecognized or rendered invisible—is crucial to the survival of families engaged in the labor-intensive garment industry. Small-Scale Firms and Flexible Specialization:Changes in Global Production Patterns and Women as Labor Pool To contextualize the Turkish case, I first shall consider the general development trajectory of small-scale industries in the Third World, especially those in the labor-intensive manufacturingsector. By establishing linkages between flexible production techniques and global commoditychains, I draw on theoretical arguments regarding flexible production and global commoditynetworks to examine the organization of production and labor in small-scale garment ateliers inIstanbul, with special reference to unpaid female labor.I refer to small-scale firms in the manufacturing sector as “small-scale industry,” a termdescribing companies with fewer than fifty employees that engage in the transformation andprocessing activities of production, as well as the making, servicing, and repairing of tools andequipment (Teszler 1993). In other words, small-scale industry refers to firms specializing in theproduction activities of the manufacturing sector. I purposefully omit from this definition smallfirms in the wide-ranging service sector, which usually specialize in trading activities.Third World involvement in worldwide industrial production has radically changed since themid-1970s, when transnational companies (TNCs) first began locating labor-intensive parts of electronics, footwear, and garment production in low-wage countries with large pools of cheaplabor. In many developing countries, free trade zones, often unprotected by labor and    2employment legislation, have been established to attract foreign firms. As a result, Third Worldcountries have increased greatly their production of manufactured commodities. This new formof worldwide industrialization has been termed the “new international division of labor” (Frobel,Heinrichs and Kreye 1980). In the pursuit of cost effectiveness, foreign firms have set upbranches and subsidiaries in developing countries, often as joint ventures with local firms.Networking with local subcontractors has become the new pattern in international out-sourcing,as TNCs minimize their production roles as much as possible (Gereffi 1994).In recent years, with the introduction of flexible production techniques in the manufacturingsector—which put small industries at the center of industrial development strategies—small-scale industry contributions to developing economies have received growing attention (Liedholmand Mead 1999; Piore and Sabel 1984). As a result, developing countries are increasinglyfocusing public policy on the creation and promotion of small firms, which have been hailed asengines for achieving self-sustained economic growth (International Labor Organization 1976)and creating income and employment opportunities for the urban poor (World Bank 1980).The flexible specialization theory, as put forward by Piore and Sabel (1984), suggests thatindustrialization does not necessarily require large-scale enterprises; it can also be attained byflexibly organizing production in small-scale firms (Schmitz 1990). The result is a fragmentedproduction process, where subcontracting and the “putting out” system prevail.Trade channels between local firms and international companies are established as local firmsbecome responsible for production while depending on multinational firms for markets,materials, and technical know-how (Mitter 1994:20). Relying on numerous local subcontractorsenables international companies to respond lithely and quickly to changes in market demands,making this type of international industrial production more flexible than “traditional”production through foreign direct investments. Moreover, it allows multinational companies toavoid certain production costs, volatility of markets, taxes, and unexpected changes in localeconomic policies, while enabling them to move between different suppliers without additionalcost. This form of international commodity production, usually called “Post-Fordist production,”depends upon cheap, flexible labor and local resources, and it generates a global hierarchyamong those countries that produce technology and know-how, and those with cheap labor andraw materials. Flexible industrialization affects labor processes, resulting in more casual andpart-time workers, with local small-scale firms able to directly access untapped and cheap poolsof labor in ways that large TNCs cannot, as is discussed below.In order to attract and keep the interest of large, TNCs, small-scale firms in developing countriesdepend upon informal and casual labor. By drawing heavily upon unpaid family labor in orderto minimize production costs, these small-scale firms attempt to stay competitive in volatilemarkets (Pedersen, Sverrisson and van Dijk 1994; Levitsky 1989; Liedholm and Mead 1999).Family labor—and particularly female labor, which is considered the free property of family—gives these businesses, especially those that are labor-intensive, a competitive edge in themarket.Female employment is closely associated with the “flexibility” of labor markets, and women arethe main recipients of casualized, instable, and insecure jobs (Elson 1996; Mitter 1994). This hasled, some argue, to a global feminization of the workforce (Standing 1989). Household choresand childcare cause women to have looser relations with formal productive activities than men.    3Their reproductive roles, which result in women entering and exiting the labor market, and thevalues attached to them make women very suitable for this type of informalized production.“Women have emerged as very desirable employees in these circumstance because theirrelationship to the labor market has traditionally displayed the characteristics of flexibility somuch wanted in the current conjuncture” (Jenson, Hagen and Reddy 1988:10 in Elson 1996). Inalmost every society, women are seen by policy makers as an untapped pool of labor, which canbe easily pulled in and pushed out of the labor market (Elson 1995). Macro Settings and Development Trends of Small-Scale Industry in Turkey  To understand the dynamics underlying small-scale industry in Turkey, it is necessary to look atthe country’s structural conditions. In the early years (1950-1960) of import substitution inTurkey, the state subsidized a variety of investment and trade regime programs to generate thecapital necessary to produce previously imported commodities. These programs includedestablishing high tariff barriers for goods produced in the country, subsidizing nationalinvestment in manufacturing production, and later overvaluing Turkish currency (1960s-1970s).The government and the State Planning Institution hoped these programs would spur thedevelopment of small-scale firms, which would grow then to become massive factories,generating employment and producing goods for the country.A policy shift in the 1980s, one favoring export-oriented industries, reversed these state taxbenefits and tariffs protecting the national market. As industries were opened up to the worldmarket and to price competition, the pressure to minimize costs and risks led large-scalemanufacturing firms to increasingly subcontract labor-intensive parts of the production line tosmaller firms. Subcontracting thus became a significant part of labor-intensive production inTurkey. Small-scale firms—especially those focusing on labor-intensive production, such asgarment ateliers—became an important link in a subcontracting chain of manufacturingproduction, and their importance continues to grow. Subcontracting between large-scale andsmall-scale firms is especially widespread in the ready-to-wear industry. Since the 1980s,Turkey has become one of the world’s leading garment exporting countries (Dicken 1998).Since the early 1950s, urbanization has been steadily increasing in Turkey. Migrants werespurred by the mechanization of agricultural production and the rising pool of marginal labor inrural areas, where agricultural production had been based on small-scale land ownership.Moreover, people were pulled to cities by employment opportunities generated by nationalindustries, which characterized the import substitution period of the 1960s. Since then, the ruralpopulation has been declining in number, while Turkey’s urban population has doubled in size.Whereas 25 percent of the population was urban in 1945, an estimated 65 percent was urban in1997 (TÜSIAD 1999).Yet, at the same time that the number of urban migrants has been increasing, several policieswith negative consequences for urban migrants have been implemented (TÜSIAD 1999; Yentürk1997). Post-1980 neoliberal economic policies—including structural adjustment programs—have resulted in public spending cuts to education, health, and social security. These policieshave had direct, adverse impacts on tight-budget, low-income families, who mainly live on theoutskirts (gecekondu 1 ) of big cities. The share of education and health in the government’ssocial spending has dropped from 23.6 percent in 1992 to 11 percent in 1998, shifting more of the burden of social reproduction to the private sphere, thereby increasing women’s care-taking    4roles and shortening years of schooling for children (TÜSIAD 1999; Boratav, Yeldan and Köse2000). Moreover, high rates of child employment, or early age employment, are a long-termconsequence of public cuts in education and healthcare spending, as is deteriorating incomedistribution in Turkey (Tunali 1997).Low-income migrant families have been negatively affected by the downward pressure on wagesand salaries generated by the combination of increasing domestic prices and high inflation. Theshare of wages in the manufacturing sector has dropped from 35.6 percent in 1977-80 to 20.6percent in 1983-87 and to 16.6 percent in 1995-98 (Voyvoda and Yeldan 1999). Although thisdata captures only the formal organized manufacturing sector 2 , it is possible that the decliningrate of real wages is stronger in the informal sector, as wages in the informal economy aretypically lower than in the formal sector.In sum, a combination of demographic and economic factors, leading on the one hand to moreand more people moving into cities and on the other hand to deteriorating living standardsamong these groups, has generated conditions where poor migrant families are often dependentupon informal activities for survival. The mass migration of people into cities, the reduction inthe real price of labor, policies that increase the prices of goods, and the stagnation of real wagesin a high inflation economy have converged to generate cheap labor pools for labor-intensivesectors, like manufacturing. The expanding manufacturing sector has accessed this availablepool of devalued and migrant labor through subcontracting arrangements with the help of family-based production in small-scale firms. Small-Scale Industry in Turkey In Turkey’s official statistics, many definitions of “small-scale” have been used. I use the StateStatistics Institute (SSI) definition, which limits small-scale industry ( kuçuk isletme) to firmswith one to fifty workers 3 . In manufacturing sector employment, the overall share of small-scalefirms employing fewer than ten employees is higher than all other firms combined. As seen inTable 1, the number of firms employing one to nine persons constitutes 95 percent of privatemanufacturing firms and employs 38 percent of total labor force. At the same time, Köse andÖncü (1998) provide evidence that the average annual cost of labor in the small-scale privatemanufacturing enterprises was below legal minimum wage levels throughout most of the 1980sand 1990s.As the sub-sectoral distribution shows, small-scale firms are concentrated in labor-intensiveproduction areas, such as food processing, textile, clothing, and wood products, and the wagelevel is lower than in larger-scale firms. As wages rise with the size of firm, labor productivityalso rises (Taymaz 1997).
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