Accepted paper:

Garments, value chains and power in a plural world


Donald Curtis (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh challenged the value chain strategies of global garments retailers, revealed weakness of state and opened a field for analysis of plural power play that spans anarchic global trading space, national political [un]settlements and street protests in Dhaka.

Paper long abstract:

The ready-made garment industry has been central to Bangladesh's economic achievement in recent years. Globally operating garment retailers developed contractual relations with factory owners in Bangladesh giving access to an environment that is low cost but risky because of ineffectual government regulation. Reputational damage following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April 2013 [which killed more than 1000 people] led to two different collaborative trade associations, the ACCORD and The Alliance, representing leading European and US brands, which set up, funded and jointly governed factory inspection and certification processes to remedy this lack of safety. Collaboration on this scale involves difficult compliance issues on the part of the collaborators as well as the factory owners but both agencies want to demonstrate success. Many factories remained outside the orbit of ACCORD or The Alliance and did not participate. A sub-contracting culture further weakened control. In 2018 Government of Bangladesh withdrew recognition of this purchaser side process, perhaps to protect the country's 'low cost' status. The Alliance has ceased operations and ACCORD awaits the outcome of a legal challenge, putting an end to this chapter of 'transnational private regulation'. In examining the role of the governments [US, EU as well as GoB] in this scene, the paper will question whether 'ineffectual' is not in practice favoured 'low regulation' and whether political un-settlement is both outcome [in Bangladesh] and favoured strategy elsewhere in support of global corporate interests.

panel H5
Global value chains, the state and the political economy of development