Global Commodity Chains, Production Networks and Informal Work

Key information

Start date
End date
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Development Studies

Module overview

This course examines the impact of neoliberal globalisation on the production and trade trajectories of developing regions and maps the socio-economic and spatial implications of these processes in the realms of work, gender, poverty, mobility and social reproduction. After discussing the demise of the early industrial consensus and the rise of the neoliberal paradigm, the course analyses the incorporation of developing regions into the transnational geographies of production shaped by neoliberal globalisation; namely, ‘global commodity chains’ (GCCs), ‘global value chains’ (GVCs) and/or ‘global production networks’ (GPNs). Attention is paid to different analytical understandings of global chains and networks, which are explored both with reference to labour-intensive manufacturing, like sweatshops, and to agro-food production. In mapping the way in which labour, gender, poverty and mobility interplay in global chains and networks, the lectures highlight linkages between the current structure of global production circuits and that characterising the colonial and imperial era. They discuss contemporary processes of informalisation and feminisation of labour across the global assembly line; examine the global reorganisation of social reproduction into Global Care Chains; and explain the relevance of labour mobility in restructuring reproduction within and around global production circuits. In its final sessions, the course analyses issues of global labour regulation and methods. It explores the purchase of contemporary notions of ‘modern slavery’ to tackle forced labour, and it reviews debates on global labour standards and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), identifying their links with the new ‘abolitionist industrial complex’. The course concludes by illustrating some methodological challenges in the study of global production and informalised labour circuits and identifying key concepts in political economy and feminist theory that can guide concrete field-based research. All lectures reflect on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications on global production and work, through the inclusion of specific viewpoints.


Topics include:

  • Global Production & Trade from Neoliberalism to COVID times
  • The formation of global manufacturing chains
  • Global agro-food chains
  • Informalisation of labour in global chains and networks
  • Feminisation of labour across the global assembly line
  • Global care chains: social reproduction and/as global production
  • Labour chains: international and internal labour migration
  • ‘Modern Slavery’: inside and outside commodity chains
  • Global labour standards from CSR to New Abolitionism
  • Methods for the study of global production & informal labour circuits

* Please note that the list of topics is indicative and some may change based on expertise and the evolution of the literature and/or key debates.

Objectives and learning outcomes 

Students will:

  • Analyse the impact of neoliberal globalisation on the the rise of supply chain capitalism.
  • Explore varied approaches to the study of global production circuits (i.e. GCCs, GVCs, GPNs) and their methodological challenges
  • Assess the implications of the global restructuring of production for labour, gender, poverty and social reproduction.
  • Critically evaluate global policy debates on global labour standards, CSR, modern slavery and forced labour
  • Learn to present and write critically on global supply chain capitalism for different audiences, both individually and in groups


Teaching takes place through a weekly 2 hour seminar.

Method of assessment

100% Coursework including group work.  Resubmission of coursework regulations apply.

Suggested readings

  • Baglioni E., Campling L., Coe N.M., Smith A. (2022) Labour Regimes and Global Production. Agenda Publishing.
  • Kumar, A. (2019) Monopsony Capitalism: power and production in the twilight of the sweatshop age. Cambridge University Press.
  • LeBaron G. (ed) (2018) Researching Forced Labour in the Global Economy: Methodological Challenges and Advances. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Mezzadri A. (2021) Marx in the Field. Anthem Press.
  • Nathan D., Silliman Bhattacharjee S., Rahul S., Kumar P., Dahagani I., Singh S., Swaminathan P. (2022) Reverse Subsidies in Global Monopsony Capitalism
  • Gender, Labour, and Environmental Injustice in Garment Value Chains. Cambridge University Press.
  • Ouma S. (2015) Assembling Export Markets: The Making and Unmaking of Global Food Connections in West Africa. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Suwandi I (2019) Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism. Monthly Review Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules