Brave New World? Labour Conditions in Bangladesh’s Textile Industries 

Taslima Akhter


In the poor working-class areas in Bangladesh, millions of people – many of them flocking in from remote villages – hope they will be able to realise their dream of a better life. Among them, 4 million are working in the garment sector and are known as the cheapest labour force in the world. They do not ask for much, having not much more than coarse rice, cheap cloths and a roof over their heads. Their dream is not to own a car, or a house, or any luxury. They dream of a better future for their children and hope that their offspring will not come into the same profession as themselves: the garment work that claims so many lives. Unfortunately, many of the garment workers’ children are bound to be garment workers as well. Not only are they the cheapest labour force in the world – in the world market society of owners, governments, international buyers, and brands, their lives and dreams become cheap as well. The death of more than 1,000 workers in the Rana Plaza collapse, and of more than 100 people in the Tazreen factory fire set the example for us.

Among the 4 million garment workers in Bangladesh, 80% are women. Women’s labour force participation has increased significantly with the development of the garment industry in Bangladesh. But these women are facing exploitation both in their households and their workplaces. They are deprived of maternal leave, day-care centres, and other facilities. They also often face sexual harassment. With the label ‘Made in Bangladesh’, the ready-made garments (RMG) sector generates 80% of the Bangladeshi export income – almost 20 billion US dollars, generated by garment workers. They produce cloths for Europe, America, the international market, and brands like Walmart, Primark, H&M, and many more. What the workers’ living conditions must be like can easily be imagined when looking at their wages, their working conditions, and the fact that they do not have any trade union rights. The Bangladeshi government has made the garment industry an open market and part of the global production chain of cloths. With the motto of maximising profit, both national owners and international buyers overlook the interrelation of productivity and workers’ living conditions. Both parties try to make as much profit as possible, which results in an exploitation of the workers along every step of the production chain.

The Rana Plaza collapse, the Tazreen factory fire, and many other collapses and fires over the last few years happened due to unsafe working conditions and a lack of proper inspections. Thousands of workers have been the fatal victims of these inacceptable structural shortcomings. The state apparatus based on corruption, political violence, and the lack of good governance has not been able to improve the situation. The survival of the garment workers is not only a question for them. They constitute the main part of the Bangladeshi industry. Without ensuring better wages, better living conditions, basic trade union rights, and safe working conditions for garment workers, the productivity of the Bangladeshi industry cannot be preserved either. Changes in the form of improvements for the workers could result in a higher productivity of Bangladesh’s economy, and in a democratic transition of the Bangladeshi society that will ensure fundamental human rights for every citizen.




No Bread, but ‘Circuses’?
Major Events in Rio de Janeiro between Spectacle, Speculation, Right for City, and the New Brazil

Dr. Dawid Danilo Bartelt 

While the second largest Brazilian city, Rio de Janeiro, is still not adequately prepared to host big events, it already specialises in those events: in 2013, the Catholic World Youth Day and papal visit served as a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. As before the Pan American Games in 2007, but now with a much broader scope and a much deeper level of engagement, transformational processes have been set in motion – processes that are consuming considerable amounts of public funds and that are having deep effects on the spatial, social, and semantic structure of Rio de Janeiro (and its mythology). In a city (and a country) with historical inequality, an unmediated spatial dialectic between poor and rich, segregation and proximity, large and populous legally and politically poor areas in the middle of downtown, high levels of violence, enormous valorisation potential of urban complexes, institutionalised corruption and simultaneously progressive legislation, and a tradition of resistance and social movements, there arises a special dynamic of urban planning and development. The residents of Brazil’s cities are entitled to urban development plans that establish environmental protections and the commitment of urban land for social purposes, as well as democratic participation in city politics. FIFA, and with it the governments of countries that have hosted the World Cup, are promising positive development effects for the broader population. Rio de Janeiro: the showcase city of an emerging global player and the metropolis of the new Brazil. But analyses showing that this is the most expensive World Cup of all time stand in contrast to this: urban space is being commercialised; legal and financial systems have been installed that are socialising the costs of this mega-event while privatising the expected profits; and infrastructure policies are being implemented that are leading to considerable social upheaval and rights violations. Active social movements – the so-called World Cup People’s Committees – are raising awareness and organising resistance in all 12 venues. These movements were one of the precursors of the mass protests in June 2013, which called into question the success story of the new Brazil.




Education for Intercultural Realities in a Globalising World (Market) Society

Prof. Dr. Léonce Bekemans

Education and culture are priority policy areas in today’s increasingly interconnected societies. These areas need to respond to the contextual and content challenges of a globalising world (market) society which is facing multi- and intercultural realities. From this conceptual point of departure, education for intercultural realities needs to redefine its role. It should be oriented towards a more integral human development, based on the right to education for all. It further has to specify its objectives to a balanced responsibility/rights approach. Finally educational schemes should be developed that offer (life) competences, trajectories, and practices which favour intercultural citizenship education – a kind of education that serves as a tool to live and do together with a multiplicity of identities in a globalising society.




Global Inequalities and Citizenship. On the Inheritance of a Scarce Resource

Prof. Dr. Manuela Boatcă

Sociological common sense explains social inequality in modern societies almost exclusively in terms of acquired characteristics such as education level and occupational status. According to this understanding, vertical social mobility, i.e. social advancement, is available to every individual today, provided they strive – through education and training, and through enhanced performance on the labour market – to improve their position in the national structure of social inequality. On the other hand, ascribed characteristics (which individuals receive at birth as immutable categories such as sex, ethnicity, or race) should only still be of importance today either for the inequality structures of traditional, pre-modern, and simultaneously static societies in which social advancement is the exception, or at most as the remains of class distinctions. Recent legal and sociological studies on global inequalities have, however, shown that citizenship, an ascribed characteristic, represents a central mechanism for maintaining high levels of inequality between countries. Following this line of research, I will argue that the global rise in inequality goes hand in hand with an increasing commodification of citizenship. The implementation of official programmes of ‘investor citizens’ in the Caribbean and Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as the illegal(ised) trade in EU passports, will serve as examples.




The Transparent Citizen. On Total Transparency in the Age of NSA Surveillance

Prof. Hasan Elahi

With the widespread mainstream use of household digital tools today, we generate and archive more data than ever before. In an age where everything is archived and the need to delete is almost nonexistent, can we remain private anymore? Prof. Hasan Elahi will discuss the new normal of post-9/11 privacy and describe his experiences with FBI interrogations and his subsequent projects. An erroneous tip called into law enforcement authorities in 2002 subjected Elahi to an intensive investigation by the FBI. After undergoing months of interrogations, he was finally cleared of suspicions. After this harrowing experience, Elahi conceived ‘Tracking Transience’ (http://trackingtransience.net) and opened just about every aspect of his life to the public. Predating the NSA’s PRISM surveillance programme by half a decade, the project questions the consequences of living under constant surveillance and has continuously generated a database of imagery and locative information that tracks the artist and his points of transit in real-time. Although initially created for his FBI agent, the public can also monitor the artist’s communication records, banking transactions, and transportation logs along with various intelligence and government agencies who have been confirmed visiting his website.




Policy of World Society: Is the Global Dynamic Politically Accessible?

Prof. Dr. Dr. Udo Di Fabio 

In the shadow of the global financial crisis or climate change, many wonder if democracies can still shape and control conditions. Or are their proud citizens helplessly being driven on by dynamics that arose as a result of the globalisation of economics and science, social mobility on a global scale, and the alignment of lifestyles and consumer behaviour? Regional groupings of countries such as the EU, a transatlantic free-trade zone, or institutions such as the United Nations or the WTO can be seen as attempts to coordinate nationally anchored political forces and thus to adapt political power to the realities of a global society. But the idea of transferring some political power to higher levels is susceptible to failure both due to the conditions of the international political process and (from within) due to the conditions of democratic rule. Supranational and international forms of government require a great deal of willingness to compromise and adapt, which can produce internal tensions and threaten democracies. What might a future order that makes the world accessible to stable democracies look like?



Do We Need New Standards for the Global Market?

Prof. Dr. Lars P. Feld 

Globalisation has fostered the emergence of a world market society. There are many fears bound up with globalisation, but these are hardly justified. Globalisation has primarily been a success story. The participation of a multitude of economies in international trade and in the international division of labour has led to the reduction of a considerable amount of poverty in the world. There are now a large number of emerging nations that are on the brink of catching up with the industrialised ones. Increased globalisation has succeeded in raising human rights standards as well as social and environmental standards in the less developed countries of the world. Although this has led to increased competition in the developed states, it cannot so far be said that the existing social, labour, and environmental standards have been undermined there. Rather, the validity of the country-of-origin principle can clearly be seen. The decisive factor for correcting the existing negative developments is therefore legislation within individual countries.




The Collapse of Globalisation

Dr. John Ralston Saul

Proponents of globalism predicted that nation states were heading towards irrelevance: that economics, not politics or arms, would determine the course of human events; that growth in international trade would foster prosperous markets that would, in turn, abolish poverty and change dictatorships into democracies. The successes of globalisation include the astonishing growth in world trade and the unexpected rise of India and China, which seem slated to become 21st-century superpowers. But the collapse of globalisation has left us with a chaotic vacuum: the United States appears determined to ignore international critics; in Europe problems such as racism, terrorism, and renewed internal nationalism call for uniquely European solutions born out of local experiences and needs. Elsewhere, the world looks for answers to African debt, the Aids epidemic and the return of fundamentalism and terrorism, all of which perversely refuse to disappear despite the theoretical rise in global prosperity.




Contemporary Slavery and the Modern Slave Trade 

Prof. Dr. Zoe Trodd

Contemporary slavery is the exercise of the powers attaching to the right of ownership-control over a person by another such as a person might control a thing. There are an estimated 30 million slaves in the world today, including 1.1 million slaves in Europe. This lecture lays out new research into the facts, figures, and forms of global slavery and human trafficking. It offers a new, comprehensive definition of contemporary slavery, surveys the main global forms, and looks at the prevalence of slavery in particular countries. It emphasises that human trafficking is not in itself slavery, but rather a mechanism or conduit that brings a proportion of the world’s enslaved people into slavery. It also emphasises that most of the world’s slavery consists of people not trapped in sexual exploitation, but rather forced labour (enslavement outside the sex industry, in agriculture, factories, mines, domestic service, construction, hospitality, and numerous other sectors), contrary to the media’s focus on sexual exploitation. It explains the root causes of slavery and trafficking and ends by suggesting some anti-slavery strategies, focused on the EU and the trade of slave-made goods (as well as the trade in people) in particular.




Between Morals and Markets: Changing Social Landscapes in China

Prof. Dr. Yunxiang Yan

Since the late 1980s, the world market – and global capitalism – have played an important role in integrating China into the world system, and helped to bring out radical and rapid value as well as social changes. Chief among them are the rise of the individual, increasing diversity in values and behaviour patterns, greater mobility in both social and physical terms, the dominating influence of consumerism and the yearn for wealth, as well as the commercialisation of personal relations and social networks. As a result, both the moral and social landscapes in contemporary China are in the middle of a transformative process of individualisation.