Global Garlic and Its Labor Consequences

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: Booth 41
Oral Presentation
Kathleen SCHWARTZMAN , Sociology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
This paper investigates the dynamics of China’s integration into global commodity chains and a simultaneous race to the bottom. I explore this globalization-labor topic with a case study of garlic. Even in the garlic kingdom, the race to the bottom is visible.

  1) China took off as the global exporter of garlic around 1982 and has been the dominant exporter since then. In 2009, 84 percent of the globally traded garlic came from China.   

 2) China’s 2002 adherence to WTO allowed it to export to previously closed or high-tariff markets such as the United States. In 2002, China surpassed Mexico in capturing the U.S.market   

             The race to the bottom began with North-South competition. As the U.S. economy continued to contract  firms sought even cheaper labor, moving significant parts of the production process to Asia. Such moves threatened to undermine Mexico’s payoff from NAFTA. This capital mobility  unleashed a race to the bottom in labor standards and working conditions.  It is not possible for every nation to be a net exporter:  one country’s gain is another’s loss. Although they do not initiate the race, governments  become complicit because they, as much as foreign investors, want to hold onto their “competitive advantage” of cheap labor, lax working conditions, and lenient environmental regulations.   

            The South-South competition is reflected in the shifts in trade and investment flows. China’s export and foreign investment gains and Mexico’s losses are not simply those of two nations acting independently. 

            Labor conditions are oppressive, but firm owners, processors, exporters, and governments are not alone in their responsibility.  ‘Bottoming out’ is a response to global importers who search for better prices. 

            In this research I investigate the conditions of garlic workers in China and Mexico as they relate to U.S. producers and the import market.