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2022 | Book

The Political Economy of Post-COVID Life and Work in the Global South: Pandemic and Precarity


About this book

This edited volume highlights cascading effects of the pandemic and lockdown on informal economies of varied countries in the Global South. Uneven development after colonization, imperialism, and externally influenced conflict have caused many countries in the formally colonized or semi-occupied countries in the world to lag behind in wealth accumulation, investments in manufacturing, and technology. The fact that these countries were dragged into world market dynamics on an equal footing with already developed countries exacerbated these inequalities and saw the rapid burgeoning of informal economies. COVID-19 and the lockdown of western countries unravelled global production chains, resulting in hordes of workers in the Global South losing their livelihoods. Even people engaged in traditionally locally-bound economic activities, such as domestic work and sex work, found their livelihoods disappear. This volume brings together case studies from India, Brazil, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka to analyze global economic disruptions as they affected informal sector workers who were already largely invisible within state development policies. The chapters question whether existing models of neoliberal development are still conducive within the post-pandemic Global South as it grapples with rebuilding economies, livelihoods, institutions, and systems of governance.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Neoliberalism, Informality and Precarity
Uneven development after colonization, imperialism and outwardly influenced internal conflict, have caused many countries in the formally colonized or semi-occupied (literally and metaphorically) countries in the world to lag behind in wealth accumulation, investments in manufacturing and technology and equitable distribution.
Sandya Hewamanne, Smytta Yadav
Chapter 2. The Covid-19 Pandemic: Narratives of Informal Women Workers in Indian Punjab
COVID-19 is a health pandemic which has afflicted 216 regions of the world and caused more than 3.3 million deaths till date. Simultaneously, the countrywide lockdowns and quarantine measures implemented to control the spread of the virus have resulted in a host of negative socio-economic repercussions including heightened economic vulnerability, business closures and increased health risks for the most marginalised groups in society.
Nadia Singh, Areet Kaur
Chapter 3. When Hammer Misses the Nail: Health Aspirations and Internal Migration in India
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages through the world, public health systems in India continue to fail the poor, most notably migrant labourers and their families. The historical levels of death and economic damage have strengthened support for investment in health infrastructure. However, calls for investment in health infrastructure overlook the role of the agency of migrants in effective health systems. This chapter elaborates on the links between health aspirations and migration decisions of rural households. Through a case study of seasonal migrants in Nuapada, Odisha, this chapter argues that precarity of seasonal migrants deprioritizes health aspirations for a life that “they have a reason to value”. Using a framework based on the capacity to aspire and the capabilities approach, I find that rural households in the sample have generally low health aspirations for their children. These aspirations—including levels of health and debt for health expenses—are further lower for girls than for boys. While debt related to health expenses is a key factor in creating debt traps that sustain high-risk low-return seasonal migration, lower health aspirations impair any investment in health or access to health systems. This chapter cautions against a singular focus on building infrastructures, and argues for thoughtful integration of the agency of migrants to develop effective health systems in the future.
Kundan Mishra
Chapter 4. Female Labor Workforce and Precarity in India’s Construction Sector
Chantal Krcmar
Chapter 5. Diminishing Constructions: The Work of Exposure in Pandemic Times
Across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has brought the concept of exposure to the forefront of our everyday and political awareness. The air that we breathe in and out, the surfaces that we touch, and the spaces that we share have all become sites of anxious reflection and intervention. These concerns have become especially pressing in the realm of work, where the necessity of earning a livelihood forces workers to cede varying levels of control over whom they come in contact with and how.
Adam Sargent
Chapter 6. Women Workers at the Forefront of COVID-19: A Roadmap for Recovery and Resilience in India
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts, it is becoming abundantly clear that future preparations for health resilience need serious rethinking. COVID-19 has shed light on the cracks in economic systems that have poorly prioritized investments in the care sectors, leading to shortages in health workers and exacerbating poor working conditions of essential workers. This paper describes the context of community-based frontline health and child development workers in India, examining how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting their lives and work. Notionally, the state is the employer that has appointed these women workers; but by labelling them ‘volunteers’ and retaining them in informal working arrangements, the state has erased its own obligations around fair wages and social security. Pervasive gender norms confine women to underpaid work that expands unpaid household roles into undervalued community ‘volunteer’ service, while simultaneously reducing women’s capacity to be in formal full-time economic activity. We recognize the precarious nature of women’s economic activity (Dewan 2019) and recommend that the state acknowledge the economic contribution of women in the care economy rather than stereotype women as nurturing, self-sacrificing caregivers (King et al. 2020, Wichterich 2020). We propose pathways for a post-COVID economic recovery plan that could address the multiple axes of disadvantage faced by these women as well as put in place robust decentralized mechanisms for primary health care and social protection in anticipation of future shocks. Through our feminist analysis we emerge with a proposal to help improve the situation of women in the economy, improve conditions of work for CB-FLWs, and ensure broader outcomes for longer-term resilience.
Jashodhara Dasgupta, Kanika Jha Kingra
Chapter 7. Gendering Precarity in Postcolonial Sites: Health Securitization and Sexual Labor in India’s Commercial Sex Trade Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the vulnerability of the most marginalized populations, thus exposing the faultlines in neoliberal governance. Be it immigrants in the US, domestic migrant workers in India or violence against black bodies in western democracies, the pandemic has now enthused academics to think about the role of precarity and the resultant differential distribution of resources across the world. Amidst this, sex workers have been hard hit. On April 8, 2020 UNAIDS released a press statement asserting that as already criminalized, marginalized and living in financial precarity, ‘sex workers must not be left behind in the response to COVID-19’ (UNAIDS, Sex workers must not be left behind in the response to COVID-19, 2020). Yet, sex work precarity is by no means recent phenomenon. Sex work has been, for a long time, theorized as precarious labor and sex workers as precarious bodies. Sexual labor posits the body at the center stage of neoliberal biopolitics, whereby commodification, consumption and controlling of precarious bodies go hand-in-hand with and become integral for preserving the gendered/racialized neoliberal body politic. Thus, sexually precarious bodies become the site for several legal and pathological securitization initiatives.
Sudeshna Chatterjee
Chapter 8. Ready Made Garment (RMG) Factories During the Pandemic: Mapping the Effects in Bangladesh
Since the start of Covid-19 Pandemic in Bangladesh, policies were steered and stimulus packages were provided by the Government for the Ready Made Garments (RMG) industry which contributes heavily on the country’s economy through exports and employment generation of millions of workers but was struggling due to pandemic triggered supply chain disruption and order cancellation from global buyers. It can be a crucial exploration to know how RMG factories fought back after reopening from one month closure during the initial stage of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Bangladesh in 2020. This analysis is a contribution to such exploration by making a comparison based on the data of export oriented RMG factories in Bangladesh from two rapid surveys conducted in two phases in 2020 for understanding the effects of the pandemic on the Bangladesh RMG sector. While factories covered by the rapid surveys were sampled from the database of the ‘Mapped in Bangladesh’ project, the comparison of this analysis addressed several important factors  including operational status, capacity utilization and workers employed during Pandemic.
Fahim S. Chowdhury, Afshana Choudhury, MD. Faizul Islam, Sadril Shajahan
Chapter 9. Demoralizing Impacts of the COVID-19 on the Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment (RMG) Supply Chain
It took some time for the Bangladesh garments industry to recover after the Rana Plaza tragedy, a wake-up call for the industry. Since then, more than a hundred programs have been introduced by varied stakeholders. As a result of these initiatives, Bangladesh was on target to achieve the $50 billion export earnings by 2021. However, the future of the industry has been threatened by Covid-19. Based on secondary sources such as local and international news as well as research reports of different research institutions, this chapter focuses on the impact of coronavirus on the Bangladesh garments industry. The chapter will shed light on the consequences of this pandemic on the suppliers and Bangladeshi workers. It will also shed light on the role of buyers and the government of Bangladesh in encouraging or discouraging the effects of the pandemic, and the perspectives of local trade unions. The chapter concludes that the workers are the most vulnerable in the global supply chain and the buyers have failed to maintain Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It also explores the bleak future of the Bangladeshi suppliers and factories in mitigating the impact of the coronavirus on the industry.
Shahidur Rahman
Chapter 10. Wither Labor and Human Rights? Precarious Work and Informal Economies in the Post- COVID-19 Global South
This dialogue occurred between Neetha and me in May 2020, while we discussed a workshop scheduled for July 2020. The funding to organize the workshop (one of three) was provided in January 2020 and the grant was advertised before the world had any inclination of COVID-19. Thus, the funds were to be spent only on proposed activities with no flexibility. However, the pandemic caused the funding agency to be more flexible—allowing meetings to take place via zoom (as opposed to face-to-face) and some changes regarding budgeted expenses.
Sandya Hewamanne
Chapter 11. Supermarket Workers: Discovered and Uncovered During Covid-19 Pandemic
The aim of this paper is to understand how the pandemic crisis of COVID-19 confirms and aggravates precarious living and working conditions of supermarket employees in Brazil. On one hand, the set of studies in different countries and research conducted at Walmart in Brazil highlight the precariousness of the work that accompanied the processes of supermarketization and internationalization of retail. On the other hand, social inequality and Brazilian labour market conditions limit the prospects of these workers for better employment. The paper draws on qualitative research evidence from the field of research at Walmart Brazilian Stores, semi-structured interviews with workers and union leaders, national administrative data and based on secondary data from media material. Despite increased publicity for the importance of these workers and the precarious working conditions to which they are subjected, this article argues that recognition as an essential activity of supermarket workers in the context of the pandemic has been accompanied by further degradation of working conditions and greater exposure to the risks of their lives and their families.
Patrícia Rocha Lemos
The Political Economy of Post-COVID Life and Work in the Global South: Pandemic and Precarity
Dr. Sandya Hewamanne
Dr. Smytta Yadav
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