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Global Development Institute

Global production networks, trade and labour

Within the framework of a critical understanding of globalization, researchers in this research group explore how global production networks and global value chains are organized, structured, governed and their development implications.

It considers the impacts of these processes on the ability of firms and local communities to enter global production networks, upgrade and compete. The group examines the consequences of societal embeddedness in such processes and we investigate the implications that arise for labour and its incorporation into globalized production systems.

The current work builds on The University of Manchester’s rich tradition of research related to global production networks and global value chains. The origins of this lie in the pioneering work undertaken on global production networks within the geography department at Manchester. This has been augmented by conceptual and empirical work in GDI on global value chains, standards, gender, South-South trade and economic and social upgrading. Together, this research agenda is often referred to in the literature as the “the Manchester School”.

The group of staff and PhD students from Geography and the Global Development Institute meet regularly and conduct cutting edge conceptual work, detailed empirical studies, and actively engagement with leading national and international public and private policy actors.

Global production networks, trade and labour 2015 conference

Last year the Global production networks, trade and labour held an international workshop bringing together a small number of leading international and UK academics working on the issue of ‘Global Production and Local Outcomes’. This collection of researchers are using the distinct frameworks of GVCs (international development); GPNs (economic geography) and ‘global factories’ (international business). A number of key policy actors are also invited from multi-lateral trade organisations, private sector and key global civil society organisations.

Current projects

Rising Powers and the Governance of Labour Standards in Global Production

Funded by: Economic and Social Research Council 

Research group members: Professor Khalid Nadvi

This 3 year project, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, involves comparative study in Brazil, China and India of leading RP firms and small firm clusters as well as State and civil society organisations. The research will draw on mixed on mixed methods approaches, including quantitative and qualitative data, to address the following questions:

  • First, how do rising power firms work with, challenge and modify global labour and social standards which their global value chains?
  • Second, how do civil society actors shape attitudes, norms and values on social standards?
  • Third, how does the State in Brazil, China and India regulate on labour and engage in the international institutions where trade rules on labour and social standards are defined?
  • Fourth, what are the consequences of these developments for:
    • Competitiveness of RP lead firms and the organisation of global ties?
    • For firms and states in OECD and developing economies?
    • For future trajectories of global and social standards?
    • For national and global policy actors

Gender and global value chains

Funded by: Leverhulme Major Fellowship

Research group members: Professor Stephanie Barrientos

Labour in the global electronic industry

Funded by: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship

Research group members: Dr Gale Raj- Reichert

Local pharmaceutical production in East Africa: south-south production networks and the state

Funded by: Regional Studies Association Early Career Grant

Research group members: Dr Rory Horner

India’s pharmaceuticals in Africa: strengthening health security or undermining local production?

Funded by: Hallsworth Research Fellowship

Research group members: Dr Rory Horner



Other academic members

Current PGR membership

  • Rachel Alexander
  • Corinna Braun-Munzinger
  • Alexandra Dales
  • Aarti Krishnan
  • Natalie Langford


Previous events

Tim Bartley masterclass

Global Production Networks and Social Upgrading - Early Career workshop

Thursday 5 May to Friday 6 May

Research on global production networks (GPNs) and related global value chains (GVCs) has helped progress beyond nation state-centric accounts of trade to look at the roles played by specific actors, governance relationships and implications for upgrading/downgrading producers development prospects. In recent years, considerable progress has begun to be made in exploring the possibilities for social upgrading in GPNs, understood as improvements for workers. This early career, interdisciplinary workshop will seek to provide critical reflections on, and deeper understandings of, social upgrading within GPNs. The workshop, which will involve more than 20 early career scholars from a wide range of disciplines, such as business, geography, international development, political science and sociology, will address topics including: 

  • Whether and how workers can benefit from participation in GPNs
  • Corporate social responsibility and GPNs
  • Private codes and multi-stakeholder standards
  • Gender and GPNs
  • Social upgrading within South-South production networks
  • Public governance of labour in GPNs

This workshop includes a lecture by Jennifer Bair, University of Colorado at Boulder, on Wednesday 4 May.