Chaumtoli Huq is an Associate Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law and the founder/Editor of an innovative law and media non-profit focused on law and social justice called Law@theMargins (www.lawatthemargins.com).  Her expertise lies in labor and employment and human rights.  From 2014 to 2015, she was a Senior Research Fellow with the American Institute for Bangladesh Studies (AIBS) where she researched the labor conditions of garment workers after the Rana Plaza building collapse. She has produced two short documentaries on her work in Bangladesh called Sramik Awaaz: Workers Voices, and a video on Bangladeshi women organizing in New York called Naree Shongotok.

Huq is a social justice innovator with extensive experience in movement lawyering, litigation, public policy, management and creation of programs from emerging trends in law, teaching, assisting non-profits and individuals with strategic direction and governance issues mainly in areas of labor, human rights both in the United States and South Asia.  She has devoted her entire professional career to public service focusing on issues impacting low-income New Yorkers, workers in Bangladesh, and human rights issue related to South Asia. In 2014, she was appointed as the General Counsel for Litigation for the New York City Office of the Public Advocate, becoming then the highest-ranking Bangladeshi-American in New York City government, for which she received a New American Heroes award from the New American Leaders Project.  Along with holding leadership roles at Legal Services of NYC and MFY Legal Services, she also served as Director of the first South Asian Workers’ Rights Project at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, as a Skadden Fellow, and as the first staff attorney to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a multi-ethnic, immigrant and worker led labor organization.   In 2019, she was awarded the Access to Justice Leadership Award by the South Asian Bar Association of New York.

 

Huq is a contributor to an edited volume titled, Labor, Global Supply Chains and the Garment Industry in South Asia; the anthology Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality (Ed. Sarah Husain; Seal Press 2006), co-author of “Laying the Groundwork for Post 9-11 Alliances: Reflections Ten Years Later on Desis and Organizing” (Asian American Literary Review, Volume 2, Issue 1.5, Fall 2011), and has authored Op-Eds in Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and Daily Star, the largest English daily in Bangladesh.

You can follow her on twitter @profhuq and follow Law@theMargins work at @lawatmargins

Women’s Empowerment in the Bangladesh Garment Industry through Labor Organizing

My article focuses on how Bangladeshi garment workers have used the trade union space to achieve social and economic empowerment and have gained leadership positions in their workplaces despite systemic social and legal barriers to labor organizing, including that it remains a male dominated space.  I make a critique of the rhetoric on empowerment in international development which aligns with neoliberal capitalist economic development discourse and is used to justify and maintain the exploitation of women in the garment industry.  I show how this empowerment rhetoric served the Bangladesh government’s economic agenda and I offer a reconceptualization of empowerment that is more collective in nature. I make some comments on the lack of interaction between middle class feminists and women workers and their complicity in this empowerment rhetoric because they saw waged work in factories as modernizing as compared to rural work. I recommend feminists and progressive allies work towards developing working class women’s leadership if they are committed to empowerment of women that changes the social-economic conditions of their lives.