Social Upgrading Trajectories of Apparel Workers in Romania: Europeanization, Fast-Fashion and the Crisis

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW2.2.04 (Tower Two)
Cornelia Staritz, Austrian Foundation for Development Research (ÖFSE), Vienna, Austria
Leonhard Plank, Vienna University of Technology, Department of Spatial Planning, Centre of Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy, Vienna, Austria
Within the literature on global value chains (GVCs) and global production networks (GPNs) a strand of research has emerged that focuses on an initially neglected area, namely the role of and socio-economic effects on workers employed in GVCs/GPNs. In this regard the concept of social upgrading - understood as the process of improvements in the rights and entitlements of workers as social actors by enhancing the quality of their employment - has become the key analytical frame. An important insight from these debates so far has been that although the expansion of GVCs/GPNs has been an important source of employment generation in many developing and transition countries, the qualitative aspects of work are less optimistic often being characterized by high flexibility, uncertainty and precariousness. The ultimate drivers of these outcomes are industry dynamics such as fast fashion and lead firm strategies in GPNs. Equally important are, however, multi-scalar institutional contexts and state policies that influence social up- and downgrading trajectories. Against this background, the paper assesses the up-/downgrading trajectory of apparel workers in Romania, a key regional supplier to Western European markets since the 1990s. In addition to the sourcing practices of lead firms we focus on the process of Europeanization and the global economic crisis as influential shapers of GPN outcomes.