Southern actors and the governance of labour standards in global production networks: The case of South African fruit and wine

Matthew Alford, Margareet Visser, Stephanie Barrientos
DOI number

#Trade and FDI
#Corporate responsibility and lead firms

Recent studies highlight the emergence of standards, including multi-stakeholder initiatives developed and applied within the global South where supplier firms are usually based. This trend has created a complex ethical terrain whereby transnational standards flow through global production networks and intersect with domestic initiatives at places of production. The paper complements global production network analysis with the concepts of ‘space of flows’ and ‘space of places’ and insights from relational economic geography, to examine how some multi-stakeholder initiatives in the global South can shape the broader governance of labour standards in global production networks. The following questions are addressed: How is the governance of labour standards in global production networks shaped by dynamic spatial interactions between actors? What role have diverse Southern multi-stakeholder initiatives played in influencing the governance of South African fruit and wine? We draw on research conducted over seven years into two standards in South Africa, the Wine and Agriculture Ethical Trade Association and Sustainability Initiative of South Africa. Our analysis shows that these two Southern-based multi-stakeholder initiatives contributed to shaping the broader governance of labour standards through dynamic non-linear waves of interaction over time, involving both collaborative and contested exchanges between actors across space of flows and places. We further argue that despite the development of multi-stakeholder initiatives by Southern actors, commercial power asymmetries in global production networks limit their ability to promote significant improvements for producers and workers.


Matthew Alford

Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester

Stephanie Barrientos

University of Manchester

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