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Gale Raj-Reichert

Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin

Gale Raj-Reichert is Research Fellow at Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB) and the Principal Investigator of the DFG funded project ‘Labour governance in global production networks: Assessing labour standards in a new generation of public procurement legislation and trade agreements linked to market access into the European Union’ (LG-GPN). The project, which is in cooperation with researchers at the University of Vienna and the Technical University of Vienna, assesses in what ways socially responsible public procurement and labour standards in trade agreements in the EU improve labour governance in the electronics and clothing industries in Vietnam. Gale is currently on secondment from Queen Mary University of London School of Geography where she is a Lecturer in Economic Geography.
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publication
Sustainable Global Supply Chains Report 2022

Global supply chains affect the economy, the environment and social welfare in many ways. Worldwide, economies are experiencing global supply shortages today, affecting key industries such as automotive and consumer electronics as well as vaccine and medical supplies industries. These preoccupy policymakers, who are debating independent national production capacities and restrictions on international trade, but also large companies, which consider reshoring production and abandoning just-in-time procurement. At the same time, the greening of the global economy requires a restructuring of global production to massively decrease its environmental footprint. This creates new supply chain challenges – how to move towards circular economies and how to reorient energy-intensive industries towards renewables and green hydrogen, for example. And let‘s not forget: Consumers are increasingly demanding higher social and environmental standards. Transparency requirements and binding due diligence obligations will in particular affect countries that export raw materials and labour-intensive goods produced under problematic environmental and social conditions. All of this calls for policies that shape global supply chains in accordance with globally agreed social and environmental objectives. Policies along these lines will have to balance the legitimate interests of different countries and they may easily fail to achieve their objectives unless they are firmly grounded in a thorough understanding of the respective structures in supply chains, including the power relations between the actors. Further, the economic, social and environmental effects of alternative policy options need to be well understood. Science can make an important contribution here, especially if it maintains a constant dialogue with politics and society. This is why the international “Research Network Sustainable Global Supply Chains” was initiated by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). It currently comprises about 100 internationally leading scientists from all over the world and is jointly coordinated by our four institutes. Its tasks are: To conduct and stimulate research that contributes to making supply chains more sustainable; and to collect and synthesize the best international research on this topic and make it accessible to policy makers and other societal actors. In addition to its own research, the network organises academic conferences and discussions with policymakers, organises a blog and produces podcasts. With this report – the first in a new annual series – we present new research highlights, provide a forum to debate controversial supply chain topics and identify policy-relevant research gaps for the network‘s future work. The report is, at the same time, an invitation to participate in the discussions on how investment, production and trade will be reorganized in a global economy that has to respond to geopolitical challenges.

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Rethinking social upgrading in global value chains around worker power
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Rethinking Social Upgrading in Global Value Chains: Worker Power, State‒Labour Relations and Intersectionality

This article builds on critiques of the concept of social upgrading in global value chain (GVC) research, which problematize its coupling to lead firm strategies and economic upgrading by supplier firms, by reconceptualizing social upgrading through the lens of worker power. It argues that a better understanding of the causal processes of social upgrading can be obtained by integrating insights from labour geography, which situates worker agency at the intersection of a ‘vertical’ dimension of transnational relations and a ‘horizontal’ dimension of local relations, with conceptualizations of worker power from (global) labour studies, particularly the modes of structural and associational power. The authors call for a deeper theorization of the places in which GVCs ‘touch down’, arguing that worker power is decisively shaped by state–labour relations as well as the intersectionality of worker identities and interlinkages between spheres of production and reproduction. Case study analyses of the apparel sectors in Cambodia and Vietnam employ this reconceptualization, drawing on the authors’ own fieldwork. In both cases, worker power expressed in strike action was a key causal driver of social upgrading; and in both, the outcomes were conditioned by GVC dynamics as well as shifting state–labour relations and intersections of worker identities linked to gender, household and community relations.

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Conceptualizing the Regulator-Buyer State in the European Union for the Exercise of Socially Responsible Public Procurement in Global Production Networks

Labour rights violations and poor working conditions are rife in global production networks (GPNs). Until now research on labour governance in GPNs has been dominated by private measures. We ignite discussions on the role of the state in governing labour conditions in GPNs by focusing on a less well-known public governance instrument – socially responsible public procurement (SRPP). SRPP is the inclusion of social criteria on working conditions in public procurement contracts. Revised European Union (EU) directives on public procurement widened the space to exercise SRPP including for outsourced and offshored production. Understanding how states can exercise SRPP as a labour governance instrument requires a conceptualization of state powers. We present a conceptualization of the hybrid regulator-buyer state and show that an effective SRPP approach requires both strong regulator powers, differentiated as legislative, institutional, judicial and discursive, and buyer power which depend on purchasing volumes and supplier and market characteristics.

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Exercising associational and networked power through the use of digital technology by workers in global value chains

While there are heated debates about how digitalization affects production, management and consumption in the context of global value chains, less attention is paid to how workers use digital technologies to organize and formulate demands and hence exercise power. This paper explores how workers in supplier factories in global value chains use different digital tools to exercise and enhance their power resources to improve working conditions. Combining the global value chain framework and concepts from labour sociology on worker power, the paper uses examples from the garment industry in Honduras and the footwear industry in China to show how workers used old and new digital tools to create and enhance associational and networked powers. Digital tools were used by workers and their allies in the global value chain to lower costs of communication, increase information exchange and participate in transnational campaigns during labour struggles vis-à-vis firms and governments in structurally and politically repressive environments. The paper contributes to our understanding of how workers use of digital technologies to exercise and combine different resources of power in online and offline actions in global value chains, as well as how they are confronted by new dimensions of constrains which include digital surveillance and control by the state.

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Socially responsible public procurement by the city and districts of Berlin: protecting workers in global supply chains

Workers in factories of global supply chains in the global South producing goods governments purchase often face poor working conditions. A governance tool to improve the situation is socially responsible public procurement. We assess this potential vis-à-vis the newly revised public procurement law in Berlin. While challenges include limited knowledge, resources and fragmented purchasing, there are opportunities for ensuring social criteria in procurement contracts of goods at risk of violating international labour standards and for fair trade, and through pooled procurement.

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Handbook on Global Value Chains

Global value chains (GVCs) are a key feature of the global economy in the 21st century. They show how international investment and trade create cross-border production networks that link countries, firms and workers around the globe. This Handbook describes how GVCs arise and vary across industries and countries, and how they have evolved over time in response to economic and political forces. With chapters written by leading interdisciplinary scholars, the Handbook unpacks the key concepts of GVC governance and upgrading, and explores policy implications for advanced and developing economies alike.

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Global Value Chains, Contract Manufacturers, and the Middle-Income Trap: The Electronics Industry in Malaysia

The electronics industry has been a cornerstone to the successful industrialisation process in Malaysia since the 1970s. However, since the 2000s the industry, which is deeply integrated in global value chains, has failed to upgrade. Its stagnation is indicative of the general economic situation in Malaysia which has contributed to its middle-income trap. This paper argues two key factors combined have led to the electronics industry’s inability to upgrade within the global value chain. First is Malaysia’s excessive reliance on foreign investment which has contributed to a prolonged dominance of foreign firms, particularly large transnational contract manufacturers, which have maintained low-value-added production in the country. Second is the influx of low-skilled and low-waged foreign workers, which has contributed to trapping the industry in labour-intensive lower rungs of the value chain.

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The powers of a social auditor in a global production network: the case of Verité and the exposure of forced labour in the electronics industry

Research on labour governance actors in global production networks (GPNs) has been limited to civil society organisations, firms and governments. Understanding the influence of actors in GPNs has been dealt with singular and overt modes of relational power. This paper contributes to both debates by examining an intermediary actor—the social auditing organisation Verité—and its exercise of multiple modes of overt and covert powers to illustrate the complex terrain of change in GPNs. Verité, whose exposure of forced labour in Malaysian electronics subsequently changed labour governance practices in the electronics industry, mobilised power resources of credible information to exercise powers of expert authority and acts of dissimulation across various networked relationships in the GPN. This paper puts forth a multi-power framework of analysis to understand the micro-politics of GPNs.

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