Gender and work in global value chains: challenges and opportunities for workers in Asian apparel
Stephanie Barrientos (Global Development Institute, University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
This paper interrogates the gender dimensions of downgrading and upgrading in global value chains, drawing studies from Bangladeshi and Indonesian apparel. Sustainable upgrading requires more proactive strategies (private, public and social) to achieve positive gender equitable outcomes for workers.
Paper long abstract:
The majority of trade is now channeled through global value chains (GVCs) largely sourcing from middle and low-income countries. Hundreds of millions of workers are linked to GVCs, a significant proportion female. GVCs are governed by global and regional lead-firms coordinating cross-border supplier networks. Buyers pressure suppliers on cost and speed of delivery, whilst requiring quality and compliance with standards covering environment and social criteria. A development challenge is whether this leads to economic and social downgrading (lower value production with poorer conditions and rights for workers); or it can contribute to economic and social upgrading (higher value production with better working conditions and rights)? This paper interrogates the gender dimensions of downgrading and upgrading, asking why women are concentrated in labour intensive 'low skilled' work, and what are the opportunities for gender equitable upgrading? It draws on comparative case studies from Bangladeshi and Indonesian apparel to examine the emeddedness of gender subordination underpinning downgrading, and drivers of more gender equitable upgrading. It argues upgrading is journey involving a combination of social contestation, private and public and interventions challenging prevailing commercial strategies and barriers to gender equality within a workforce that is largely female. Sustainable upgrading requires more proactive strategies (private, public and social) to achieve positive gender equitable outcomes for workers.
- Transnational political economies of development