Background and objectives
Globalization has brought with it a new level of production co-ordination between countries.
These global value chain (GVC) structures highlight how the governance of production and distribution is often unequally distributed across the globe. Yet even when firms in southern regions do become more involved, this process still often leaves particular individuals, groups and regions in a disadvantaged situation. Spreading the benefits of globalization requires not only an understanding of the various ways in which these processes of upgrading and exclusion interrelate but also new strategies for inserting these groups/regions within production systems in more equitable and sustainable ways.
Cluster members take a step back from more optimistic views of local development and social inclusion implicit within many value chain studies.
First, the promotion of upgrading in many developing situations may require a more active local coalition and governance building process than assumed. Secondly, upgrading on its own may not be enough to ensure that further incorporation in value chains will necessarily even improve labour rights for formal workers. Moreover, the risks and uncertainties evident for a large number of developing country workers (particularly women, informal, rural and home workers) mean that any assumed links between upgrading and inclusion must be even more seriously questioned. Consequently, the objective of the cluster is to map the different possible combinations of upgrading and social inclusion and to use these to help in the development of new models of organization and development.
Debates about these issues form a key theme at the forefront of current thought at the academic level but also within the policy agendas of most development agencies. However, the work of the group will be unique due to the fact that it seeks to explicitly combine global value chain dynamics with meso level local and regional development processes and micro analyses of labour rights, inclusion and sustainability.
The cluster comprises experienced researchers from ISS as well as partner institutions and academics from a number of developing countries with which ISS staff has connections and research experience.
Existing partners and institutions in these countries include Brazilian organizations such the FGV (Public and Citizenship Department- Sao Paulo), the Brazilian Social Observatory and Universities such as UNISINOS.
In India, the Centre for Education and Communication, the CESS Institute, the Indian Labour Economics Network and Departments of prominent Universities (e.g. Bombay) are and will be involved. In Vietnam, on the other hand, gender themes will be particularly prominent as is reflected in the role of the Women's Union in such issues. Other Vietnamese agencies involved with the ISS on these themes include the National University of Economics, the University of Can Tho and the Delta Institute, an institute that has been involved in many value chain studies on behalf of various UN organizations and bilateral agencies such as the SIDA.
The cluster is also deeply embedded in the Dutch research environment through its links with a cross cutting CERES network under the same thematic banner.
This CERES network involves researchers from a large number of academic and project based institutions in the Netherlands. As with the ISS, researchers from these institutes are deeply involved in value chain studies from perspectives such as local & sustainable development, representation, gender inclusion, fair trade, CSR and labour rights. They also bring their experiences and the resources of other southern research institutes to this effort. Finally, members of the network and cluster will be ensuring that their Phd and MA students working on value chain related topics will have the opportunity to be actively involved.
Activities and expected outcomes
The ultimate purpose of this collaborative effort is to reach a better understanding of the possible connections between local development processes and the above mentioned (inclusion-upgrading) problematic. A more variegated understanding of these processes has clear policy and capacity building implications. A further outcome of the project will arise from the fact that this process of comparative research will help the team develop a more integrated model for use in future research.
In regard to these goals, the present group has amassed considerable experience in both the present target countries (and many others) on value chain related topics such as social capital, cooperative development, women's rights and organizing, CSR, inter-firm learning and business association development and other types of employment impacts and community responses. Therefore as a first step towards consolidating these efforts, ISS staff and project partners propose carrying out a systematization of current studies and projects in this field. Moreover, through joint projects, members of the group will add new studies to this base of knowledge. Many of these will be chosen due to their inclusion of formal/informal employment, gender bias and mix of small and large firms, as well as their ability to help us integrate themes across existing sector and country level work. These stocktaking efforts and project development plans will be given further impetus through the preparations for and the holding of an international research conference in early 2009. Such future meetings are expected to also include the active engagement and discussions with key policy makers and agencies of programme delivery.
Finally, the cluster and network welcome the involvement of other researchers interested in themes involving value chain methodologies, processes and their impacts on local development, labour and communities in developing countries.