Charting Global Economic Inequalities and Emancipatory Human Rights Responses from the Ground Up: The Tea Workers’ Movement of Bangladesh

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Chaumtoli Huq is a Associate Professor at CUNY School of Law.

Tea workers in Bangladesh, a workforce created by the indentured labor system under British colonialism and whose exploitation is maintained by existing laws, have been mobilizing against the threatened seizure of the land that they cultivate for sustenance in order to create a special economic zone to attract foreign investors. Because it was the government of Bangladesh, rather than a multinational corporation, that was threatening to forcibly acquire the land, the tea workers’ movement did not draw popular attention as a global labor and human rights struggle, revealing that marginalized communities often do not have any legal recourse to challenge their displacement where nation-states collaborate with global capital. Using the tea worker movement as a case study, this Article examines the ways in which national and international legal structures and economic policies facilitate the entry of global capital in subnational spaces, threatening the displacement of marginalized communities and creating further economic inequality. Further, this Article reveals how neither domestic law nor international human rights law is adequate to address these harmful impacts of globalization. Thus, it posits that international human rights lawyers must develop legal responses to counter the harmful impacts of globalization. Using a socio-legal research methodology, this Article explores the possibilities of legal responses from the ground up that articulate new human and labor rights for workers. Finally, this Article shows how the tea workers’ movement of Bangladesh offers valuable lessons to other marginalized communities who are impacted by globalization and provides possibilities for mobilization around an alternative vision of how our laws and economies can be organized.

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