Integrating Work and Gender into Global Value Chain Analysis Exploring the Conceptual Challenges

Friday, 3 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW1.2.01 (Tower One)
Stephanie Barrientos, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
The expansion of global value chains has significant implications for the analysis of work and gender. Outsourcing has led to the global relocation of jobs across borders (particularly within the global South); fragmentation of production and ‘trade in tasks’ has reconfigured the global division of labour; buyer pressures on suppliers (cost, efficiency, speed and quality) have increased the intensity and flexibility of work, contributing to ’feminization’ of the labour force in many sectors; consumer-oriented lead firms seeking out new market niches are increasingly ‘commercialising’ reproductive work traditionally carried out by women within households. These dynamics are transforming the nature of work, and the gender division of labour between productive and reproductive labour globally, although with uneven effects between countries. They often challenge entrenched socio-economic norms where men are concentrated in productive, full-time, paid work deemed more physically demanding or skilled; and women concentrated in reproductive, unpaid or casual work deemed more caring and service related. There is a growing awareness of the need for greater analysis of work (and less so gender) within mainstream global value chain (GVC) and global production network (GPN) approaches, which some indicate has been largely overlooked (e.g. Coe et. al. 2008; Cumbers et. al. 2008; Bair 2009; Carswell and de Neeve 2013).  Similarly, researchers focused on trade and labour economics (e.g. ILO forthcoming 2015), as well as labour process theory (e.g. Taylor et. al. forthcoming 2015) are becoming more aware of the need to incorporate GVC/GPN analysis. Few feminist economists take a GVC/GPN perspective. This paper argues a body of academic literature spanning over a decade has examined work and gender in GVCs/GPNs (e.g. Barrientos 2001; McCormick and Schmitz 2001; Dolan and Sorby 2003; Collins 2003; Hale and Wills 2005; Knorringa and Pegler 2006; Riisgaard 2009; Bolwig et. al. 2010; Barrientos, Gereffi and Rossi 2011; Milberg and Winkler 2011; Martens and Swinnen 2012; Phillips 2013), but has tended to remain separate with limited integration into mainstream GVC/GPN analysis. The paper considers why established approaches to GVCs, GPNs, labour and feminist economics struggle conceptually to integrate the transformation of work and gender into analysis of contemporary value chains. It does so by examining the limitations of applying established conceptual perspectives on labour and gender developed within the context of producer-led, output-oriented, market economies to the changing context of buyer-led, consumer-oriented, global value chains. It argues that the labour/gender divide (labeled ‘gender bias’ by feminist economists) prevailing in analysis of market economies is also an impediment to analysis of the transformation and reconfiguration of work within GVC/GPNs.  It draws on transnational retail as an example of where a more holistic analysis of GVC/GPNs, work and gender enhances understanding of how their transformation is integral to the changing dynamics of the contemporary global economy. [References indicative only - contact author for full citations].