Call for Papers: “Global Production Networks and Social Upgrading: Labour and Beyond”

Early Career Workshop – University of Manchester, 05th-06th May 2016

Supported by Brown International Advanced Research Institute Alumni Research Initiative (Brown University) & the Global Development Institute (University of Manchester)

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. This rapidly growing body of research initially took quite a firm-centric and economic approach to understanding development (Coe and Hess, 2010). In recent years, however, considerable progress has begun to be made in moving beyond such approaches to research on GPNs by incorporating labour (e.g. Barrientos et al., 2011; Coe and Hess, 2013; Locke, 2013, Berliner et al. 2015, Newsome et al. 2015). In particular, this body of work has explored the possibilities for social upgrading in GPNs, understood as improvements for workers (e.g. regular employment, better rights and protection for workers) (Milberg & Winkler, 2011; Selwyn, 2012; Barrientos et al. 2011).

Thus far, labour has been the dominant focus of research on social upgrading in the context of GPNs. However, we would like to move forward these debates by exploring labour as one among a number of crucial social issues necessary to understand globalisation and its development consequences. For example, GPNs can also have important implications for the environment (e.g. De Marchi et al. 2013), health and justice, along with emerging debates around what is sometimes referred to as ‘modern slavery’, all of which are creating distinct challenges for governance.

We are thus organising an early career, inter-disciplinary workshop that will seek to provide critical reflections on, and better understanding of, social upgrading within GPNs. The workshop is open to scholars from a wide range of disciplines, such as business, geography, international development, political science and sociology. Indicative topics that could be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  • To what extent can workers benefit from participation in GPNs?
  • How can unfree labour be addressed in GPNs?
  • What do we know about gender in GPNs?
  • What are the possibilities and challenges for environmental upgrading in GPNs?
  • What are the implications of GPNs for health?
  • Methodologically, how do we study social upgrading in GPNs?
  • How do private codes and multi-stakeholder standards contribute to social upgrading?
  • What agency do public policymakers have to promote better social outcomes in GPNs?

We will seek to address some of these questions through a small and focused two-day workshop at the University of Manchester. The workshop will benefit from a keynote lecture, panel debate and discussion from a small number of invited senior scholars in the field. We aim that the best papers presented at this event will result in a publication output in the form of a journal special issue or edited volume.

This event is primarily targeted at early career researchers (post-fieldwork/in-write up phase PhD students to those within 4 years of PhD award). With the generous support of the Brown International Advanced Research Institute and Manchester’s Global Development Institute, there is no fee for participation in the workshop, while travel and accommodation expenses will be covered for some selected participants. Abstract acceptance will be competitive given the small size of the workshop.


DEADLINES: Abstract Submission: Friday 11th December 2015 (max 250 words) to Annika Surmeier (

Confirmation of accepted papers: Friday 08th January 2016

Full Paper Submission: Friday 15th April 2016 (max. 8,000 words excl. abstract, notes, references etc.)

QUERIES: to any of the organising committee.


Rory Horner (Global Development Institute, Manchester

Fabiola Mieres (Geography, Durham

Vivek Soundararajan (Birmingham Business School

Annika Surmeier (Human Geography, Marburg

Shamel Al Azmeh (International Development, LSE

Rachel Alexander (Global Development Institute, Manchester


Associated senior scholars:

Stephanie Barrientos (Global Development Institute, Manchester)

Martin Hess (Geography, Manchester)

Richard Locke (Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown)

Khalid Nadvi (Global Development Institute, Manchester)

Andrew Schrank (Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown)

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