Home Institution

Columbia University

Publication Date

Fall 2017

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


The city of Buenos Aires is home to about five thousand sweatshops, which collectively employ an estimated thirty thousand bolivian migrants, many of whom work and live in these sweatshops under severely exploitative conditions. This phenomenon is part of a larger global trend of the fashion industry depending heavily on the production of clothes in small, local sweatshops where workers can face extensive hours, minimal pay, and dangerous conditions. Over the years, the problem of sweatshop labour, both internationally and here in Argentina, has become increasingly visibilized, in part through the use of the term “slavery” to describe the labour conditions to which sweatshop workers are subjected. In Buenos Aires, the word “slavery” is commonplace but controversial in the dialogue surrounding the sweatshops and the bolivian migrants who work in them, with some participants in the movement against these sweatshops implementing the concept in their discourse, while others reject it entirely.

This research project sought to analyze the strategic implications of the term “slavery” for efforts to combat the exploitation of bolivian migrant workers in the sweatshops of Buenos Aires. It did so by relying on a series of interviews, as well as legal and theoretical sources, to learn how this rhetoric affects both internal strategies, i.e. attempts to mobilize the workers to claim better working and living conditions, and external strategies, i.e. attempts to draw in public attention and secure the intervention of local institutions. Based on this research, this paper argues that, with regard to internal strategies, the term “slavery” has an alienating effect that nullifies the possibility of collaborating with the bolivian workers, and with regard to external strategies, the use of “slavery” provokes types of intervention that fail to address the systemic causes of the form of production found in the sweatshops and potentially leave the migrants in more precarious positions. Therefore, this paper finds that “slavery” rhetoric is not an effective strategic tool for those working to combat the exploitative living and working conditions imposed by the sweatshops of Buenos Aires on the bolivian migrant community.


Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Latin American Studies | Work, Economy and Organizations


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