Current Institutional Affiliation
David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Geography, University of North Carolina / Chapel Hill
Managing Global Guilt and Local Norms: Regulation in the Sri Lankan Clothing Industry

Since the 1980s, trade liberalization and the subsequent globalization of production networks have generated widespread concerns about a lack of regulation in the clothing industry, specifically about practices such as unsafe working conditions, child labor, low wages, and unstable employment. The universal compliance codes and monitoring systems devised to address these problems—herein called “ethical initiatives”—have not met the central objective of standardization, addressed root causes, or accounted for cultural specificities in the meaning of “ethical.” Adopting a multi-scalar, multi-sited approach, my research investigates the politics of ethical governance in global clothing supply chains with a focus on how global power dynamics, local norms, and gender relations shape notions of “ethical” in Sri Lanka. In addition to interrogating how the meaning of “ethical” is contested at multiple scales, I will compare ethical initiatives in export processing zones and villages in Sri Lanka because they have very different geographies of labor. Drawing on economic geography, political economy, and feminist geographies and ethnographies, I contend that the historical and geographical context of the factory and its labor force significantly shapes how ethical initiatives are put into practice and which kinds of spaces are considered to be within the bounds of corporate accountability. Due to its emphasis on multiple scales of governance, this study requires multi-sited fieldwork with key ethical initiative actors in Europe and the United States and extended fieldwork in Sri Lanka. Using multiple methods, I also aim for this research to inform contemporary debates about ethical initiatives with an emphasis on contextual dynamics, gendered geographies of labor, and reflexive program implementation.