Hybrid (un)freedom in worker hostels in garment supply chains. / Crane, Andrew; Soundararajan, Vivek; Bloomfield, Michael; LeBaron, Genevieve; Spence, Laura J. .

In: Human Relations, 04.02.2022.

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  • Andrew Crane
  • Vivek Soundararajan
  • Michael Bloomfield
  • Genevieve LeBaron
  • Laura J. Spence


Worker hostels or dormitories are common in labour-intensive industries staffed largely by migrant labour and have long been associated with exploitative practices. More recently, hostels have come under scrutiny due to accusations that they are used to restrict workers’ freedom in ways that are tantamount to modern slavery. Drawing on a qualitative study of a garment hub in South India where such claims have frequently arisen, we explore the conditions of freedom and unfreedom in worker hostels and how suppliers who run such hostels respond to competing expectations about worker freedom. Our findings show that hostels perform three interrelated functions: restriction, protection, and liberation, which together constitute a complex mix of freedom and unfreedom for migrant women workers that we term hybrid (un)freedom. As a result, we problematise the binary understandings of freedom and unfreedom that predominate in the modern slavery literature. We also develop a new way forward for examining freedom in the context of hostels that considers the system of relationships, traditions, and socio-economic arrangements that workers and employers are locked into and which prevent meaningful improvements in the freedom of women workers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Early online date4 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Feb 2022
This open access research output is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

ID: 44348353