Changing labour power on smallholder tea farms in Kenya

Lone Riisgaard, Obadia Okinda

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Informal wage workers on smallholder tea farms make important contributions to world export of tea. The literature on Global Production Networks only recently begun to pay more detailed attention to conceptualizing the role that labour plays in such networks and has so far focused mainly on industrial settings – not smallholder farming. Similarly the literature on sustainability standards has focused on wage-workers in large scale workplaces such as factories or plantations. This article seeks to remedy this lack of attention and make contributions to both literatures by arguing first, that labour agency in export-oriented smallholder tea production in developing countries may not be advanced much by the sustainability certifications demanded by Western buyers and second, that labour agency can nevertheless be present at ‘the margins’ of Global Production Networks even though informal rural wage workers are most often assumed to lack both ‘structural’ and ‘associational’ power. These arguments are made on the basis of a case study of on-farm wage labour in smallholder tea production in Kenya. The article finds labours bargaining power to be stronger in some locations compared to others and that differences between locations can be fruitfully explored by looking not just at workers insertion into the vertical structures of the Global Production Network but by also including more ‘horizontal’ dimensions relating to the local context in which smallholder tea production and on farm wage-workers are embedded.
TidsskriftCompetition and Change
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)41-62
Antal sider22
StatusUdgivet - 7 jan. 2018


  • Labour agency
  • smallholder tea
  • wage workers
  • Kenya
  • sustainability standards

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