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Jennifer Bair

University of Virginia

Jennifer Bair is a sociologist of globalization, with interests in trade and the political economy of development, and the relationship between gender and work. Her research agenda centers on the comparative study of export-led development, and she has conducted fieldwork in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Bangladesh. She is the editor of Frontiers of Commodity Chain Research (Stanford University Press) and the former chair of the ASA’s section on the Political Economy of the World System. She has spoken at the United Nations, the European Parliament, the International Labor Office, and the Collège de France about supply chains, development, and labor conditions in factories around the globe. Jennifer received her B.A. in International Studies from Johns Hopkins University and her Ph.D. in Sociology from Duke University, with a Concentration in Women’s Studies.
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publication
Contextualising compliance: hybrid governance in global value chains

Widespread disappointment with compliance auditing in supply chains has led to a search for new governance solutions in global industries. Recent scholarship on labour standards in supply chains emphasises the need for complementarity between public and private forms of governance, and the importance of local contexts in shaping compliance outcomes. This paper, in contrast, argues that the distinction between public and private governance belies the complex interaction of regulatory forms and industry dynamics in global production networks. It develops this argument via ananalysis of the International Labour Organisation Better Work programme,which, over the last decade, has metamorphosed from a country-specific monitoring programme into a unique model of hybrid governance that has been implemented in a half dozen countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Drawing from field research conducted on Nicaragua’s Better Work programme, it examines the achievements and limitations of hybrid governance, and proposes that these can best be understood when the global value chain for apparel is seen as a transnational field with in which relational struggles between different stakeholders at the global and national levels shape the political contexts within which particular governance solutions are pursued.

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publication
Forcing change from the outside? The role of trade-labour linkages in transforming Vietnam's labour regime

Do trade-labour linkages improve the conditions and rights of workers in low-wage countries? We consider this question in Vietnam, a market economy with socialist orientation that has seen rapid growth in export manufacturing and foreign direct investment, while signing regional trade agreements, which include labour rights provisions, with high-income trading partners. Our paper focuses on two such agreements – the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. We ask how, if at all, these negotiations have influenced changes in Vietnam's labour regime, particularly regarding the representation and participation of workers in the country's system of industrial relations. Comparing binding and nonbinding provisions, we find that the effects of trade-labour linkages are mediated by their enforceability, and prospects for strengthening associational rights are improved by the possibility of commercial sanction. Overall, we find that gains for workers in Vietnam continue to be made by collective action, despite a context hostile to freedom of association, and that external influences to improve labour standards and conditions have had a minimal effect.

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publication
Linking Up to Development? Global Value Chains and the Making of a Post-Washington Consensus

Over the last decade, the global value chain (GVC) approach, with its associated notions of chain governance and firm upgrading, has proliferated as a mode of analysis and of intervention amongst development institutions. This article examines the adoption and adaptation of GVCs at four multilateral agencies in order to understand the purchase of value chain approaches within the development field. Mixing GVC perspectives with other theoretical influences and applied practices, these institutions deploy value chain frameworks to signal a new generation of policies that promise both to consolidate, and to advance beyond, the market fundamentalism of the Washington Consensus. To achieve this, value chain development frameworks craft interventions directed toward various constellations of firm and non‐firm actors as a ‘third way’ between state‐minimalist and state‐coordinated approaches. The authors identify key adaptations of the GVC framework including an emphasis on value chain governance as an instrument to correct market failure in partnership with state and development agencies, and upgrading as a de facto tool for poverty reduction. They find that efforts are ongoing to construct a ‘post’ to the Washington Consensus and that the global value chain is enabling this process by providing a new language and new object of development intervention: ‘the chain’ and the local–global linkages that comprise it.

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