University of Sussex
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Economic and social upgrading in global production networks: the case of the garment industry in Morocco

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:51 authored by Arianna Rossi
The conditions under which social upgrading, i.e., the process of improvements in the rights and entitlements of workers as social actors by enhancing the quality of their employment, takes place in global production networks [GPNs] have not been sufficiently explored. This research addresses the following research questions: how is social upgrading defined? Under which conditions does social upgrading occur? How does economic upgrading influence social upgrading? How does the local and global social and institutional context influence social upgrading opportunities? First, the thesis establishes a definition and categorisation of social upgrading. Then, it answers these questions by analysing the empirical case study of the garment industry in Morocco. The analysis of key informant interviews, semi-structured interviews with factory managers and focus group discussions with workers shows that participation in GPNs can deliver opportunities as well as challenges for developing country workers. The main argument and contribution of the thesis to the existing literature is that the attainment of social upgrading is hindered by the tension existing between commercial embeddedness and social embeddedness of GPNs. All actors in GPNs find themselves caught in between commercial dynamics and the subsequent need for competitiveness, and the need of considering workers as social agents with rights. In particular, supplier firms in developing countries have to respond to international buyers’ pressures to lower costs, increase quality and productivity, as well as deliver products on short notice and with great flexibility. At the same time, they have to comply to labour standards set by national and international regulations and by private buyers’ codes of conduct. These pressures are contradictory and create a critical dilemma for suppliers. Struggling to reconcile buyers’ requirements and faced with this tension, they attempt to mitigate it by employing two types of workers: regular workers who guarantee high quality and continuity, and are the recipient of social upgrading; and irregular workers, who ensure low costs and a high degree of flexibility, and are largely excluded from social upgrading opportunities and are often socially downgraded. Therefore, participation in GPNs delivers a mix of social upgrading and downgrading depending on the type of worker under consideration.


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