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Global Development Institute

Global Production Networks, Trade and Labour

Global production networks, trade and labour

The challenge:

Global production networks (GPNs) account for more than 80% of global trade, involving a range of firm and non-firm actors engaged in the production of goods and services from raw materials to final consumption.

The emergence of global production networks, or global value chains, raises various challenges for sustainable production and consumption. Existing inequalities may be reinforced as transnational and public governance struggles to regulate and control flows that cross national borders. Farmers and firms must meet stringent barriers to entry within global production networks, and face difficulties in moving out of lower value-added activities to capture the gains.

Workers often face extremely difficult everyday conditions producing goods and services for major companies in global markets. Upgrading be it economic improvements or for workers or the environment is a key goal, but is often elusive and can involve trade-offs.

How we are addressing it:

The organisation of global production is undergoing significant evolution, under the influence of rising powers and more polycentric trade patterns, new technologies such as digitisation, and the challenges of sustainable development.  Our research focuses on:

  • Shifting geographies of production: Rather than emphasizing North-South oriented production networks, contemporary polycentric trade involves overlapping, multiple production networks oriented towards different end markets –across both global North and South.
  • The 4th Industrial Revolution: The digitisation of production and the combinations of multiple technological advances will potentially transform global production networks, with a growing significance for technological platforms, more localized production, as well as new entry barriers.
  • Sustainability: While initial research on GPNs took a firm-centric and economic approach, more recently progress has been made in moving beyond such approaches to research on GPNs by incorporating labour and environmental concerns.

Research Projects

Our teaching agenda:

People and publications:

Click on the names below to read their latest publications or read the latest publications from the Global Development Institute.

This group works closely with colleagues from Geography and the Alliance Manchester Business School.

News and insights:


Previous events

26 June 2018 - Jan Nederveen Pieterse (UC Santa Barbara) gave a seminar on Multipolar globalization and development theory.

Wednesday 13th June - Jose Puppim de Oliveira (Fundação Getulio Vargas, Brazil) gave a talk on "Environmental management, CSR, and governance in clusters of small firms in developing countries: toward an integrated analytical framework".

19 October 2017 - Henry Yeung (National University of Singapore) and Weidong Liu (Chinese Academy of Sciences) gave a masterclass on "The role of the state in East Asian development". The masterclass followed Henry's lecture for the geography@125 series on "Rethinking East Asia in the New Global Economy". 

12 July 2017 -Mark Dallas (Union College) gave a talk on "Unpacking power in global value chains", and also gave a masterclass for early career researchers. 

26-27 June 2017 - GDI hosted a workshop on "From international to global development". Read about the workshop here. Watch the workshop participants outlining the key trends they see in global development below.

8 May 2017 - Richard Kozul-Wright (Director, Globalization and Development Strategies Division, UNCTAD) visited GDI to give a talk on "Emerging economies and the end of hyper-globalization". He also conducted a masterclass for early career researchers.

14 October 2016 - The Rising Powers, Labour Standards and the Governance of Global Production Networks Project and Global Production Networks, Trade and Labour research group hosted a talk by Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER).

20 June 2016 - Dr Hubert Escaith of the World Trade Organisation visited the GDI to give a talk on "Global value chains, trade and development" and a masterclass on ‘Bridging the gap between academia and policy/ practice’.

20 May 2016 - Professor Tim Bartley (Ohio State) gave a masterclass and lecture at the Global Development Institute

4 - 6 May 2016 - Early career workshop on "Global production networks and social upgrading" (funded by the Global Development Institute and also the Brown International Advanced Research Institute. This workshop included a lecture by Dr Jennifer Bair (University of Colorado)

29 June - 1 July 2015 – The "Global production and local outcomes" conference was hosted by the Global Development Institute