SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Retail Shift: Transforming Work and Gender in Global Production

Professor Stephanie Barrientos

Date: 24 January 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 24 January 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: Alumni Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Seminar

The expansion of global retail has significant implications for analysis of work and gender. Within the retail sector supermarkets, agrifood and manufacturing brands play a central role transforming production, processing, distribution and consumption across developed and developing countries. Women are engaged in retail value chains as customers, service providers, suppliers, workers, farmers, smallholders and own-account workers. Retail expansion often involves ‘commercialisation’ of reproductive activities traditionally undertaken unpaid by women within households, transforming gender patterns of work. Global retail is driving fragmentation of work, with women largely concentrated in more insecure and poorly remunerated value chain segments. This paper advances a gendered analysis of global (re)production networks (GrPNs), drawing on global production network and value chain analysis, labour geographies and feminist political economy. It examines articulations between commercial dynamics of corporate sourcing (by retailers and brands) and societal dynamics of paid and unpaid work (waged, own account, smallholder) within developing economies. It analyzes these articulations as contested processes across geographical locations embedded in diverse social, gendered, institutional and political norms. This provides insights into how social upgrading and downgrading can play out in diverse ways for different workers and smallholders. This frames an examination of comparative case studies from fruit, flowers and apparel sourced in Africa and Asia. A G(r)PN analysis helps unpack how advance of global retail is transgressing traditional boundaries between women’s (unpaid) reproductive work and (paid) productive work, contributing to disruption of prevailing gendered socio-economic norms in many locations. It argues this is an uneven process, leading to both upgrading and downgrading outcomes for women along retail value chains. The paper considers to what extent this process compounds gender exploitation and inequality, or opens up channels for women’s economic empowerment.

Stephanie Barrientos is Professor in the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester. She has researched and published widely in the academic literature on different aspects of global production networks and value chains including: gender, agribusiness, employment, trade and labour standards, corporate social responsibility, fair and ethical trade. She has undertaken research in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. She was PI on research commissioned by Cadbury mapping socio-economic sustainability of cocoa production in Ghana and India. This informed formation of the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership/Cocoa Life to support cocoa farmers, and adoption of Fairtrade. She led with Professor Gary Gereffi (Duke University) the DFID funded international research network Capturing the Gains: Economic and Social Upgrading in Global Production Networks, linking researchers in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and USA. She has advised companies, NGOs, multi-lateral and government organisations. Stephanie held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2013-16) examining Gender and Transformation in Global Retail Value Chains.


Organiser: Dr Feyzi Ismail and Professor Alfredo Saad Filho

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