Ethnic Variations on the Small Firm Labour Process

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Consistent with a growing recognition that all entrepreneurs irrespective of ethnicity are grounded in social capital, we argue that the deployment of labour in UK Asian firms is best understood by reference to the mainstream literature on small firm industrial relations. Conventionally, Asian firm owners are seen as enjoying exceptional advantages through uniquely privileged access to an unusually cost-effective co-ethnic labour force. Yet reference to the general discourse shows that one of the defining features of the small firm labour process is its great diversity, with workers subject to a varying mix of control strategies. Ethnicity of ownership is only one of a range of factors here, with influences such as sectoral location, market position and managerial role requiring greater attention. Drawing both from the mainstream small business and ethnic minority business literatures and from our own Asian firm case histories in the clothing and catering industries, we demonstrate that, while ethnic ties certainly do help to shape employer-worker relations, they do not operate independently of universal forces that are ethnic-non-specific. As Kloosterman et al. (1999)’s concept of mixed embeddedness suggests, ethnic minority firms must be seen as grounded in an external structural context as well as in their own community networks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-173
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Small Business Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2010


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