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


Previous events

18 November 2020 – Mark Anner gave a webinar on 'Covid-19, Garment Workers, and the Development Challenge in the Global South'

22 July 2020 – Panel discussion on 'Covid-19 and the Future of Global Value Chains' featuring Stephanie Barrientos (University of Manchester), Dev Nathan (Institute for Human Development), Rory Horner (University of Manchester) and Raphael Kaplinsky (University of Sussex)

5 February 2020 – Siobhan McGrath (Durham) gave a seminar on ‘The Business of Abolition: Marketizing ‘Anti-Slavery’’

29 January 2020 – Charlotte Yang (Hong Kong Baptist University) gave a seminar on ‘Path Transplantation from China to Vietnam: Divergent Practices in Cross-border Production of Electronics Transnational Corporations’ 

20 November 2019 - Kaxton Siu (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) have a seminar on ‘Chinese migrant workers and Employer Domination: Comparisons with Hong Kong and Vietnam’ 

19 September 2019 – Sukhpal Singh (Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad) gave a seminar on ‘Towards Transforming Agriculture for Achieving SDGs: A case of India’ 

10 June 2019 - Lindsay Whitfield (Roskilde) gave a seminar on ‘Getting out of the learning trap: African-owned firms building capabilities to compete in global value chains’ 

22 May 2019 - Mark Dallas (Union College, USA) gave a seminar on ‘Power and value transformations in GVC ecosystems’ 4 June 2019 - Justin Barnes (Toyota Wessels Institute for Manufacturing Studies, South Africa) gave a seminar on ‘Green, lean and unseen: Sub-Saharan Africa’s industrial policy dilemma’

7 November 2018 - Matt Amengual (Oxford) gave a seminar on ‘Labour standards in global supply chains: sourcing, incentives and compliance’ 19 March 2019 - Adnan Naseemullah (KCL) gave a seminar on ‘Development After Statism: Industrial Firms and the Political Economy of South Asia’

17 October 2018 - Jana Kleibert and Oliver Ibert (Leibniz Institute Erkner) gave a seminar on ‘Studying GPNs through the lens of dissociations: Symbolic value and the restructuring of the global fur-fashion complex’

16 October 2018 - Moazam Mahmood (Lahore School of Economics, Pakistan) gave a seminar on ‘Three regularities in development: growth, jobs and macro policy in developing countries’

4 September 2018 - Eduardo Armando (University of Sao Paolo) gave a seminar on ‘Competitiveness Factors of Business Clusters and Participation in Global Value Chains: Proposal of a Model for Comparative Analysis of Upgrading in the Medical Devices Industry’

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

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. 

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.

PhD Researchers and Post-Doctoral Fellows

  • Jeongseong Lee - A comparative study of the EU and China’s policy in foreign aid
  • Mariana Lopez Rodriguez - Global Feminist Production Networks: a study of feminine hygiene products
  • Beletchei Ebia
  • Yuna Lee - A New Normative Labour in Global Production Network: The dynamics of employment relationship in the Vietnamese textiles and apparel industry
  • Karrar Karrar - The Path to Pharmaceutical Self-Sufficiency - How Africa Can Achieve a Thriving Local Vaccine Manufacturing Industry?

News and insights: