Global value chain
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In development studies, the concept of a value chain has been used to analyse international trade in global value chains which comprises “the full range of activities that are required to bring a product from its conception, through its design, its sourced raw materials and intermediate inputs, its marketing, its distribution and its support to the final consumer”. Specifically, when activities must be coordinated across geographies, the term global value chain (GVC) is used in the development literature. Simply put, the global value chain includes all of the people and activities involved in the production of a good or service and its global level supply, distribution and post sales activities (also known as the supply chain). GVC is similar to Industry Level Value Chain but encompasses operations at the global level.
The first references to the GVC concept date from the mid-1990s and were enthusiastic about the upgrading prospects for developing countries that joined them. In his early work based on research on East Asian garment firms, the pioneer in value chain analysis, Gary Gereffi, describes a process of almost ‘natural’ learning and upgrading for the firms that joined GVCs. This echoed the ‘export-led’ discourse of the World Bank in the ‘East Asian Miracle’ report based on the East Asian ‘Tigers’ success.
This encouraged the World Bank and other leading institutions to encourage developing firms to develop their indigenous capabilities through a process of upgrading technical capabilities to meet global standards with leading multinational enterprises (MNE) playing a key role in helping local firms through transfer of new technology, skills and knowledge.
Wider adoption of open source hardware technology used for digital fabrication such as 3D printers like the RepRap has the potential to partially reverse the trend towards global specialization of production systems into elements that may be geographically dispersed and closer to the end users (localization) and thus disrupt global value chains.
GVC analysis views “upgrading” as a continuum starting with “process upgrading” (e.g. a producer adopts better technology to improve efficiency), then moves on to “product upgrading” where the quality or functionality of the product is upgraded by using higher quality material or a better quality management system (QMS), and then on to “functional upgrading” in which the firm begins to design its own product and develops marketing and branding capabilities and begins to supply to end markets/customers directly - often by targeting geographies or customers which are not served by its existing multinational clients). Subsequently, the process of upgrading might also cover inter-sectoral upgrading.
This upgrading process in GVCs has been challenged by other researchers – some of whom argue that insertion in global value chains does not always lead to upgrading. Some authors argue that the expected upgrading process might not hold for all types of upgrading. Specifically they argue upgrading into design, marketing and branding might be hindered by exporting under certain conditions because MNEs have no interest in transferring these core skills to their suppliers thus preventing them from accessing global markets (except as a supplier) for first world customer.
Current research on governance and its impact from a development perspective
There are motivations behind renewed interest in global value chains and the opportunities that they may present for countries in South Asia. A 2013 report found that looking at the production chain, rather than the individual stages of production, is more helpful. Individual donors with their own priorities and expertise cannot be expected to provide comprehensive response to the needs identified, not to mention the legal responsibilities of many specialist agencies. The research suggests they adjust their priorities and modalities to the way production chains operate, and to coordinate with other donors to cover all trade needs. It calls for donors and governments to work together to assess how aid flows may affect power relationships.
In his 1994 paper, Gereffi identified two major types of governance. The first were buyer-driven chains, where the lead firms are final buyers such as retail chains and branded product producers such as non-durable final consumer products (e.g., clothing, footwear and food). The second governance type identified by Gereffi were producer-driven chains. Here the technological competences of the lead firms (generally upstream in the chain) defined the chain’s competitiveness.
Current research suggests that GVCs exhibit a variety of characteristics and impact communities in a variety of ways. In a paper that emerged from the deliberations of the GVC Initiative, five GVC governance patterns were identified:
- Hierarchical chains represent the fully internalised operations of vertically integrated firms.
- Quasi-hierarchical (or captive chains) involve suppliers or intermediate customers with low levels of capabilities, who require high levels of support and are the subject of well-developed supply chain management from lead firms (often called the chain governor).
- Relational and modular chain governance exhibit durable relations between lead firms and their suppliers and customers in the chain, but with low levels of chain governance often because the main suppliers in the chain possess their own unique competences (and/or infrastructure) and can operate independently of the lead firm.
- Market chains represent the classic arms length relationships found in many commodity markets.
As capabilities in many low- and middle-income economies have grown, chain governance has tended to move away from quasi-hierarchical models toward modular type as this form of governance reduces the costs of supply chain management and allows chain governors to maintain a healthy level of competition in their supply chains. However, whilst it maintains short-term competition in the supply chain, it has allowed some leading intermediaries to develop considerable functional competences (e.g., design and branding). In the long term these have the potential to emerge as competitors to their original chain governor (Kaplinski, 2010).
The theoretical concepts often considered firms as operating in a single value chain (with a single customer). Whilst this was often the case in quasi-hierarchical chains (with considerable customer power) it has become apparent that some firms operate in multiple value chains (subject to multiple forms of governance) and serve both national and international markets and that this plays a role in the development of firm capabilities (Navas-Aleman, 2011; UNCTAD, 2013).
Summary of Unctad report: global value chains and development
- GVCs make a significant contribution to international development. Value-added trade contributes about 30% to the GDP of developing countries, significantly more than it does in developed countries (18%) furthermore the level of participation in GVCs is associated with stronger levels of GDP per capita growth. GVCs thus have a direct impact on the economy, employment and income and create opportunities for development. They can also be an important mechanism for developing countries to enhance productive capacity, by increasing the rate of adoption of technology and through workforce skill development, thus building the foundations for long-term industrial upgrading.
- However, there are limitations to the GVC approach. Their contribution to the growth may be limited if the work done in-country is relatively low value adding (i.e. contributes only a small part of the total value added for the product or service). In addition there is no automatic process that guarantees diffusion of technology, skill-building and upgrading. Developing countries thus face the risk of operating in permanently low value-added activities. Finally, there are potential negative impacts on the environment and social conditions, including: poor workplace conditions, occupational safety and health, and job security. The relative ease with which the Value Chain Governors can relocate their production (often to lower cost countries) also create additional risks.
- Countries need to carefully assess the pros and cons of GVC participation and the costs and benefits of proactive policies to promote GVCs or GVC-led development strategies. Promoting GVC participation implies targeting specific GVC segments and GVC participation can only form one part of a country’s overall development strategy.
- Before promoting GVC participation, policymakers should evaluate their countries’ trade profiles and industrial capabilities in order to select strategic GVC development paths. Achieving upgrading opportunities through CVCs requires a structured approach that includes:
- embedding GVCs in industrial development policies (e.g. targeting GVC tasks and activities);
- enabling GVC growth by providing the right framework conditions for trade and FDI and by putting in place the needed infrastructure; and
- developing firm capabilities and training the local workforce.
Gender and global value chains
Gender plays a prominent role in global value chains, because it influences consumption patterns within the United States, and thus affects production on a larger scale. In turn, specific roles within the value chain are also determined by gender, making gender a key component in the process as well. Far more women than men are found in the informal sector, as self-employed workers or subcontractors, while specific jobs and broader fields of work differ between men and women.
Women in global value chains
Carr et al. argue that “the vast majority of subcontract workers or industrial homeworkers, who earn some of the lowest wages worldwide, are women.”
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