ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revisiting Labour and Gender Issues in Export Processing Zones: Cases of South Korea, Bangladesh and India

This essay re-evaluates the historical trajectories and outstanding labour and gender issues of Export Processing Zones/Special Economic Zones on the basis of the experiences of South Korea, Bangladesh and India. The findings suggest the necessity of enlarging our analytical scope with regard to epzs/sezs, which are inextricably connected with external employment structures. Further, the study calls for an immediate and comprehensive review of the labour and gender conditions in Indian sezs where workers are in a disadvantageous position not only against capital but also in comparison with workers in South Korean and Bangladeshi epzs/sezs.

A n Export Processing Zone (EPZ)1 is a zone in which imported raw materials and components are processed to be exported without paying duties and with a minimum of customs regulations. It has been 50 years since the rst EPZ was established. Today, in some countries, EPZs are no longer a topic of interest whereas in others such as India, the advent of Special Economic Zones (SEZs, a variant of EPZs) has stirred fresh interest among academics and the public. It should be noted, however, that over the last 50 years, whether met with protests or indifference, EPZs and similar institutions have continued to proliferate. Does the expansion of EPZs signify any consensus regarding their efcacy as an instrument of economic development? Discussion of EPZs has produced a large volume of scholarly literature, both theoretical and empirical. In particular, EPZ labour issues, including womens employment, have been critically evaluated in the context of the theory of exploitation. But the discussion of these issues tends to be over-simplistic and static as regards the nature of EPZs. In this paper, we reect on the role of EPZs and its implications over a longer span of time and space, including the issue whether the exploitation theory still holds true. We also examine what the outstanding research issues may be.

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