First CIRI seminar of the year 2014

Category: Events| Research

3 Jan 2014

CIRI would like to invite you to the first CIRI seminar of the year 2014 with the titleVoluntary Initiatives in Global Value Chains: Towards Labour-led Social Upgrading?’ presented by CIRI member Dr. Karin Astrid Siegmann.

The venue will at the ISS, Tuesday 14th January 2014, 13-14 hrs, room 339.


The organisation of production in global value chains (GVCs) has been accompanied by a rise of informal and insecure work. Yet, the role of labour agency has received scant attention in the GVC and related literatures. Selwyn (2013) therefore demands to shift attention towards engagement with labour movements to identify what he terms ‘labour-led’ social upgrading.

We engage with this plea by investigating the role of voluntary initiatives (VIs) as non-governmental systems of labor regulation in GVCs. The paper asks under which conditions VIs with a more active role for labour emerge in GVCs. In order to answer this question, we apply Wright’s (2000) theory of the factors enabling positive class compromise to a VI that has been implemented in the Indonesian sportswear industry: In June 2011, a Protocol on Freedom of Association (FoA) was signed by Indonesian trade unions, large Indonesian manufacturers and major multinational brands.

Based on the analysis of this case, we show that, while the spatial dispersion of production has weakened state mechanisms for the guarantee of labour rights, new pressure points for labour have also emerged, e.g. brands’ reputation or just-in-time production. Besides, new possibilities for transnational labour networks have opened that strengthen workers’ associational power. Moreover, GVCs fragment capital in different factions, such as producers and brands. Their material concerns are not necessarily congruent. Workers’ movements might be able to benefit from such divergent interests. We conclude that if VIs are to create conditions under which decent work can be strengthened, the involvement and strength of local labour organisations is required and producers’ and/or buyers’ dependence on workers’ cooperation may act as a catalyst.

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CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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