The modern slavery act, global factory workers, and part-time sex work in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s global factory workers’ migration to cities and their conspicuous transgressions around the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) led to people placing them on a fluid moral scale ranging from ‘whores,’ innocent victims of bad men, or good women who resisted corrupting influences.
The talk focuses on how a United Kingdom law on forced labor interacted with local cultural norms and global structures of work to shape and reshape sex work and factory work, thereby affecting an ambiguous and dynamic space that had hitherto allowed women to play with identities and value positions.
I highlight how the Modern Slavery Act (2015), create additional layers of surveillance on women’s work and leisure, and impinges on the ’gray space’ within which they manipulate good girl/bad girl perceptions.
The talk thus showcases how a global legal narrative disrupts the potential for subversive politics, agency and empowerment, even as it reenacts old colonial power circuits.
Sandya Hewamanne teaches anthropology at the University of Essex.
She is the author of Stitching Identities in a Free Trade Zone: Gender and Politics in Sri Lanka, University of Pennsylvania Press (2008) and Sri Lanka’s Global Factory Workers: (Un)Disciplined Desires and Sexual Struggles in a Post-Colonial Society, Routledge (2016).