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Lindsay Whitfield

Copenhagen Business School

Lindsay Whitfield is Professor Business and Development at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. She holds a B.A. in Politics and a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in the USA, a M.Phil. in Development Studies and a D.Phil. in Politics from the University of Oxford, UK. The main research area of Lindsay Whitfield is comparative political economy of development, and her regional focus is on Sub-Saharan Africa.
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Monthly Seminar Series | Industrialization in the era of GVCs – A case study of the South African automotive industry
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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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Automation versus relocation in clothing global value chains: Will investments shift from China to Africa at a big scale?
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Local supplier firms in Madagascar’s apparel export industry: Upgrading paths, transnational social relations and regional production networks

This article asks whether and how local firms in low-income countries can participate, upgrade and capture value in apparel global value chains in the context of increased entry barriers and asymmetric power relations. It focuses on Madagascar, which is the top apparel exporter in Sub-Saharan Africa and one where there is a significant number of local firms. The article examines the capability-building processes of local firms, which are the basis for upgrading paths and broader sector development. We do this by combining conceptual insights from the Technological Capabilities literature with the conjunctural approach to Global Value Chains and Global Production Networks. Based on extensive fieldwork in Madagascar’s apparel export sector, the article explains how the relational, local and regional assets that local firms can leverage in building technological capabilities influence their choices with regards to export strategies and their upgrading paths. In turn, these assets are linked to different types of local ownership, and they emerge through historical legacies and the national socio-economic context, which give rise to specific transnational social relations, as well as through regional economic formations and global value chain dynamics.

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Global Value Chains, Industrial Policy and Economic Upgrading in Ethiopia's Apparel Sector

This article examines whether low‐income countries can still benefit from participating in manufacturing global value chains (GVCs) in terms of broader industrial development in a global context of greater competition and higher requirements. It contends that developing internationally competitive local firms and domestic linkages, in addition to upgrading, is crucial for participation in GVCs to drive industrialization. The study focuses on Ethiopia's recent experience with developing an apparel export industry through strategic industrial policy. Based on original empirical data collected through firm‐level surveys and interviews with government officials, industry experts and buyers, the article analyses the upgrading and localization trajectories of foreign and local apparel‐exporting firms. It argues that value‐capture benefits in assembly positions in apparel GVCs have become more difficult. The potential for localization benefits depends on the type of global buyers and foreign producers and their levels of embeddedness, but whether this potential is realized also depends on local firm characteristics and related industrial policy. Ethiopia's industrial policy has been relatively successful regarding national economy linkages, but less successful in developing competitive local export firms due to a weak local manufacturing tradition combined with a global context that has led to a supplier squeeze.

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The Learning Trap in Late Industrialisation: Local Firms and Capability Building in Ethiopia’s Apparel Export Industry

Local firms in new supplier countries face major challenges in entering manufacturing global value chains (GVCs) in the context of increased competition and requirements. To understand these challenges, we argue for the importance of looking more closely at local firm capability building, which is a costly and uncertain process and in the early stage of industrialisation was historically facilitated by industrial policy and leveraging foreign knowledge. This article examines the opportunities and constraints that Ethiopian-owned firms faced in building capabilities to enter apparel GVCs, using a survey designed to measure firms’ capabilities and firm histories to understand learning paths. We find that local export firms had a large capability gap between their existing capabilities and what is required to enter apparel GVCs, leading to high learning costs and risks, while the profit margins were very low, and there were limited learning channels. Industrial policy evolved taking into account these constraints, but faced challenges in providing learning channels for local firms in the context of a weak manufacturing class and hyper-competitive apparel GVCs. This resulted in a learning trap where local firms do not even try to enter manufacturing GVCs, or enter but fail to remain.

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Exporting out of China or out of Africa? Automation versus relocation in the global clothing industry

This Discussion Paper examines the opportunities that the rising industrial wages in China will bring for Africa. China has been the industrial workbench of the global economy for decades. However, its competitive advantages are waning, particularly for labour-intensive assembly activities in the clothing, shoe, electronics and toy industries. The Chinese government estimates that up to 81 million low-cost industrial jobs are at risk of relocation to other countries - unless China can keep the companies in the country through automation. Against this background, three complementary studies were carried out. The first examines where the automation technology for clothing and footwear production stands today; the second, how clothing companies in China deal with the cost pressure: to what extent they automate, relocate within China or abroad and how great is the interest in Africa as a production location. The third part is devoted to Africa's competitiveness in clothing assemly, with empirical findings from Ethiopia and Madagascar. The Discussion Paper shows that the manufacture of clothing can already be robotized today, but that for sewing, robotization will probably remain more expensive than manual labor in the next 15-20 years. China's companies are investing heavily in the automation of all other production processes and at the same time shifting production to neighbouring Asian countries. In Africa, only Ethiopia is currently competitive in the manufacture of clothing, and here too there are significant institutional difficulties in absorbing large amounts of direct investment.

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Technological Capabilities, Upgrading, and Value Capture in Global Value Chains: Local Apparel and Floriculture Firms in Sub-Saharan Africa

Many local firms in sub-Saharan African countries are failing to enter and upgrade in new manufacturing and agribusiness export sectors. This article argues that we need to look more closely at the costly, risky, and uncertain firm-level processes of building capabilities in order to understand this challenge. However, local firm agency is constrained and has to be situated in asymmetric structures that are determined by transnational interfirm relations in global value chains (GVCs) as well as the country and region in which local firms are embedded. The article presents a new framework for researching how firms build capabilities in GVCs, and demonstrates how it can be applied using the cases of apparel and floriculture export sectors in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Madagascar. The cases show that firms build specific capabilities linked to export strategies, leading to uneven capability-building, specific upgrading paths, and value capture trajectories. Variations in local firms’ export strategies and success with those strategies are explained by differences in the financial capital, tacit knowledge, and social networks that they can leverage in building capabilities. The nature and extent of these intrafirm resources, especially in the early period of export industry development, are shaped by shared networks between local and foreign supplier firms, regional proximity to existing supplier countries, strategic interests of global buyers, and government industrial policy.

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