Project Director: Jo H. Kim, Ph.D.

international work  Firms across the globe that engage in international production and manufacturing employ many women. This research outlined various risks and perceived benefits associated for female employees.

tinyglobe Often referred to as the key force in the globalization process, TNCs - the firms that engage in international production - now comprise over 60,000 parent companies and some 500,000 affiliates throughout the world. While they are mostly large firms from developed countries, there are firms from developing countries, firms from economies in transition, and small- and medium-sized firms. In 1997, the world's 100 largest non-financial TNCs together held $1.8 trillion in foreign assets, sold products worth $2.1 trillion abroad, and employed some six million persons in their foreign affiliates.

International production - the production of goods and services in countries that is controlled and managed by firms headquartered in other countries - generates opportunities that are particularly welcome in host countries with high rates of unemployment. According to the World Investment Report 1999 (UNCTAD), the trend towards increasing employment is more pronounced for foreign affiliates in developing countries. However, employment in foreign affiliates is typically a small share of total paid employment in these countries, amounting to no more than two percent of the workforce. In the manufacturing sector, which receives the bulk of foreign direct investment, this share is higher.

Women are employed in TNCs in many areas of the world: Pacific Asia, Latin America, a few areas of Africa, and throughout industrialized countries. Although employment in TNCs is a small proportion of women's work in the global economy, the role of women's work in TNCs remains a critical component because women's employment in TNCs constitutes a growing proportion of women's paid labor in currently developing countries. For example, women workers have been critical to the existence of labor-intensive industries throughout the region of several Pacific Asian countries. Since the 1960s, in the newly industrializing countries (NICs) of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, women have provided the needed supply of low-cost labor for the remarkably rapid economic growth the region experienced. The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand have relied on female workers since the 1970s. During the 1980s, as the latest groups of Asian countries to establish export processing zones (EPZ) - tax-free industrial areas for foreign companies in which labor laws often are suspended and workers unprotected - Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and areas of China and India, have relied on the labor of women and often children. According to AFL-CIO, 90 percent of the 27 million workers in EPZ are women, most of them between the ages of 16 and 25; their working conditions are often poor and hazardous to health.

Many TNCs employ young women who are typically unmarried and without family responsibilities. They are unskilled or semi-skilled women, and TNCs provide them with minimal training. These positions usually do not lead to job openings for women in higher-skilled, higher-wage positions. While firms have been quick to employ more female workers, women are also the first to lose their jobs. Many employees view women as more easily controlled, less likely to organize into unions and more willing to work for low pay than are men. For example, only 10 percent of female workers in the maquiladorasˆ are unionized, although women also start organizing when they get some work experience.

In Latin America, women are employed in maquiladoras and their industries along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexico City, Costa Rica, Peru, Columbia, Brazil, and the Caribbean. They produce mostly garments and electronics. Besides maquiladora production, there are small sweater-making workshops in rural Mexico, as well as the newer service industry jobs in banking, airline reservations, and telemarketing in the Caribbean. In the United States, TNCs operate in the same type of labor-intensive industries (i.e., electronics and garments) as in developing countries. TNCs have also set up operations in North African countries and several countries in the western European semiperiphery, such as Greece, Spain and the Republic of Ireland.

There are mixed accounts regarding the impact of employment in TNCs on women. On the one hand, studies show that female factory workers consider TNC employment a favorable option initially because it provides them with immediate earned income, material benefits, and more independence from their families than existing alternatives. In addition, due to worker resistance and organization, women in NICs have experienced improved working conditions and absolute wage levels over time. On the other hand, other studies indicate that, over time, women in TNCs encounter a variety of adverse effects, such as occupational segregation and lack of advancement possibilities, job insecurity or loss, wages relatively lower than men's, and a variety of oppressing working conditions.

Furthermore, corporate responses to facilitate women's careers during the initial years of child rearing have been limited. Only a few large TNCs in some countries, such as Germany and Denmark, offer part-time professional jobs to mothers and both parents. Additionally, women are denied career opportunities on various other grounds as well, such as concern for women's physical safety, hazards of travelling and, especially for single women, isolation and loneliness.

You can read more about this research in the following publications:


AFL-CIO Working Women's Department. "Workers' Rights are Women's Rights"

Adler, Nancy. 1987. "Pacific Basin Managers: A Gaijin, Not a Woman." Human Resources Management 26: 169—-191.

Kamel, Rachel. 1990. The Global Factory: Analysis and Action for a New Economic Era. Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee/Omega Press.

Moghadam, Valentine M. 1999. "Gender and the Global Economy," in Revisioning Gender, edited by Mary Marx Ferree, Judith Lorber, and Beth B. Hess. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Ward, Kathryn B. and Jean Larson Pyle. 1995. "Gender, Industrialization, Transnational Corporations, and Development: An Overview of Trends and Patterns," in Women in the Latin American Development Process, edited by Christine E. Bose and Edna Acosta-Belén. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 1994. World Investment Report 1994: Transnational Corporations, Employment, and the Workplace. New York and Geneva: United Nations Publications.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 1999. World Investment Report 1999: Foreign Direct Investment and the Challenge of Development. New York and Geneva: United Nations Publications.

See also the following web pages for more information:

1. UN/USAID reports

Gender, Information Technology, and Developing Societies

Progress of the World's Women 2000

2. ILO

(with links to TNC websites)


3. Activist organizations

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA)

Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)

Center for Women's Global Leadership

Center of Concern (CoC)

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)

International Labour Organization (ILO)

National Labor Committee (NLC)


United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)

Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)

Women of Color Resource Center (WCRC)

Women's EDGE

Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)

Women's International Coalition for Economic Justice (WICEJ)

Worker Rights Consortium (WRC)


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