Global value chains are driven by considerations of cost and efficiency but just as much by power relations. This appears evident from studies of industrial relations and labour outcomes within value chains, especially those where drivenness is most explicit. Within a context of disaggregated but more coordinated production across borders, the standards “industry” continues to grow as a regulatory structure of chain outcomes. Yet the processes by which many workers and communities continue to be made flexible, vulnerable and voiceless, within value chains, are not so clear. The research discussed in this paper is aimed at exploring the feasibility of labour rights promotion within the context of sustainable global value chains. By this it is meant that the conditions of work and livelihoods (e.g. at the beginning of chains) are “decent/good” and that these are compatible with the reproductability of their environment. A central concern is how to improve the conceptual lenses we use to analyse labour outcomes, and their governance, within value chains. This ISS (Brazil-Holland) project is based on a desire to more effectively link 1) the actors which drive chains, with 2) considerations of work, livelihoods and security for the workers and communities (i.e. their “inner” drivers) supplying those chains. The question of this research derives from a comparison of the “logic” (e.g. efficiency) of these chain drivers vis a vis the “logic” of those at the beginning of chains. The fundamental starting question concerning sustainability is thus whether such competing “logics” can be resolved within global value chains? The concept of governmentality expands the theoretical frame for the consideration of how messages /rules/norms are established, transmitted and contested across these chains. Labour process analysis (expanded with considerations of gender, livelihoods and human security) is suggested for use with those at the beginning of chains. Chains are not static - they are “webs of interaction, where negotiation takes place between actors (and with institutions) at each node” (Loconto, 2010, p. 217). The substantive evaluation of Decent Work, livelihoods and Human Security possibilities in a sustainable context therefore requires research into the existence and viability of multiple “logics” between nodes within such chains. Such studies have much to contribute – to academic and conceptual debates on labour rights and sustainable development, to Government policies in respect to fair trade, sustainability, procurement and human rights and, to the policies and strategies of social movements and other civic actors.

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International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Pegler, L. (2011). Sustainable Value Chains and Labour - Linking Chain and "Inner Drivers" (No. 525). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 525, pp. 1–42). Retrieved from