Worker power, state-labour relations and worker identities: Re-conceptualising social upgrading in global value chains

Kristoffer Marslev, Cornelia Staritz, Gale Raj-Reichert

Publikation: Working paperForskningpeer review


Poor working conditions are widespread in global value chains (GVCs). In GVC research, the concept of social upgrading aims to understand how working conditions may improve focusing on lead firm strategies and inter-firm governance in GVCs, often seeing social upgrading as a result of economic
upgrading by supplier firms. Building on work criticizing this understanding of social upgrading, we re-conceptualise social upgrading through the lens of worker power exercised at the intersection of transnational relations on a vertical dimension and local relations on a horizontal dimension. We focus in particular on the embeddedness of worker power within state-labour relations and the
intersectionality of worker identities along the horizontal dimension to explain why social up- and downgrading occurs in GVCs. Case study analyses of the apparel sectors in Cambodia and Vietnam employ this re-conceptualization. In both cases, worker power expressed in strike action was a key causal driver of social upgrading; and in both, the outcomes were critically shaped by shifting statelabour relations and intersections of class and worker identities linked to gender, household and community relations.
UdgiverDepartment of Development Studies, University of Vienna
Antal sider29
StatusUdgivet - 2021

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