For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Unpacking the Packing Plant: Nicaraguan Migrant Women’s Work in Costa Rica’s Evolving Export Agriculture Sector"

by Lee, Sang E (2010)


Nontraditional agricultural exports (NTAE) expansion and liberalized agricultural policies have changed the shape and structure of rural economies in the global South. This study focuses on how the change related to NTAE production determines where and how migrant women work in the agricultural industry. While a number of studies demonstrate an increase in labor demand and women’s participation in nontraditional agricultural export production and postharvest processing, there is a dearth of literature examining the relationship between international migration and export agriculture. This study uses the case of Nicaraguan migrant women working in pineapple and cassava postharvesting industries in north central Costa Rica to examine the relationship between international migration and NTAE production—more specifically, how legal status and gender shape work options and work structure for women. In‐depth interviews, surveys, and participant observation inform the study. Findings show that international production requirements by purchasing countries, namely, those in the European Union, are the most significant factor for segmenting the labor pool between documented and undocumented women migrant workers. Furthermore, women absorb the challenges of fresh crop production and export, such as irregular demands and perishability, through their work structure and piece‐rate wages in both pineapple and cassava packing plants. At the broadest level, this study seeks to link international development and international migration between countries in the global South to illuminate how the process of economic globalization unravels on the ground as labor demands and organization shift in the NTAE industry, where, arguably, the most marginalized workers participate in the global economy.


Ethnography, Nicaragua, Agriculture, Migration, Migrant Labour, Womens Work, Female Labour, Gendered Labour, Division Of Labour, Gender, Cost Rica


Third World Women, Migrant Workers, Women and Work, Non-Western Societies

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