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Issue Paper
The Gender Dimensions
of Global Value Chains
Development and LDCs
September 2016 |
Penny Bamber
Cornelia Staritz
Development and LDCs
The Gender Dimensions
of Global Value Chains
Issue Paper
September 2016
Penny Bamber
Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness
Cornelia Staritz
Austrian Foundation for Development Research (ÖFSE)
Published by
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This paper was produced under ICTSD’s Programme on Development and Least Developed Countries
(LDCs) as part of a project focused on global value chains which is aimed at empowering LDCs
and low income countries to effectively utilise value chains to achieve sustainable and inclusive
economic transformation.
The authors would like to thank Mike Morris for his valuable review and feedback.
ICTSD is grateful for the generous support from its core and thematic donors including the
UK Department for International Development (DFID); the Swedish International Development
Cooperation Agency (SIDA); the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (Danida); the Netherlands
Directorate-General of Development Cooperation (DGIS); the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of
Finland; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway; and the Australian Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade.
ICTSD welcomes feedback on this publication. These can be sent to Fabrice Lehmann, ICTSD
Executive Editor (
Citation: Bamber, Penny, and Cornelia Staritz. 2016. The Gender Dimensions of Global Value
Chains. Geneva: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD).
Copyright © ICTSD, 2016. Readers are encouraged to quote this material for educational and
non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this
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Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect
the views of ICTSD or the funding institutions.
ISSN 1995-6932
Development and LDCs
Table 1. Potential Indicators to Measure Women’s Participation in GVCs
Development and LDCs
CSR corporate social responsibility
EPZ export processing zone
ETI Ethical Trading Initiative
GDP gross domestic product
GVC global value chain
ICT information and communications technology
MDG Millennium Development Goal
NGO non-governmental organisation
SDG Sustainable Development Goal
TNC transnational corporation
TVET technical vocational education and training
This paper seeks to integrate gender into the global value chain (GVC) framework, to assess the
gender dimensions of integration and economic and social upgrading in GVCs, and to offer GVC-
related policy recommendations that support economic and social development.
Policymakers are increasingly turning to GVCs as a means of driving development, including
generating employment and raising incomes. Access to and benets from participation in GVCs
are closely related to gender issues. The opportunities associated with GVCs differ for men and
women as a result of gender-based segregation and constraints that exist to different degrees in
all societies. Not seeing these inequalities is problematic from a gender equality perspective and
can hinder the broader effectiveness of trade and development policies. Taking gender issues into
account and addressing them is critical to harness the potential for GVCs to contribute to both
sustainable economic and social goals.
The prominent role female workers play in many export-oriented industries integrated in GVCs
often leads to claims that GVC participation results in positive development benets for women
in developing countries. But overall female employment share says nothing about the nature and
quality of the work, the implications of how women and men participate in chains, and what this
means for the type of integration into GVCs and economic and social upgrading prospects. An increase
in employment opportunities for women often contributes to female empowerment, but this does
not necessarily lead to reduced inequalities, such as gender segregation in types of occupations and
activities, gender gaps in terms of wages and working conditions, and gender-specic constraints
in access to productive resources, infrastructure, and services. The case literature reviewed in the
paper shows that such gender-specic dynamics and outcomes exist in GVCs and are an important
additional dimension of power relationships that span the local, national, and global level.
Policies have to take these issues into account to ensure that both men and women can access
GVCs, improve their positions, and gain from upgrading.
First, as a basis for policy interventions, a gendered GVC analysis is essential as this improves
understanding of the roles men and women play in these chains, how access to and exclusion from
particular activities differ by gender, and the gender-intensied constraints and opportunities in
Second, trade-related policies should mainstream gender aspects. Leveraging multilateral trade
interventions, such as Aid for Trade, is particularly effective to help countries mainstream
gender issues into trade support through information sharing, capacity building, and targeting aid
programmes at areas where women are concentrated and/or face particular challenges.
Third, actions by all GVC actors, including governments, lead rms, industry associations, trade
unions, and NGOs should be leveraged. Particularly, lead rms can play a pivotal role, as their
production and sourcing policies may reinforce gender issues. These rms can drive change by
including a gender lens to their employment, training, sourcing, and corporate social responsibility
policies, as well as supporting their suppliers to adopt gender-sensitive policies.
Fourth, complementary policies focusing on overcoming gender-based segregation and constraints
embedded in laws or in socially constructed gender norms need to be aligned with trade-related
policies. Most important are improving access to information and networks for women; increasing
access to training, as well as nance, and productive resources for women; and reducing the burden
of reproductive work on women.
Development and LDCs
The global economy is increasingly structured
around GVCs which account for a rising share of
international trade, global GDP and employment.
Production in many sectors has become
fragmented across multiple countries that link
rms, workers and consumers around the world.
No longer are products simply made in one country
and shipped to another for sale. Indeed, products
often go through many stages, traversing several
borders and adding components and value before
they reach their nal markets. It is imperative
for effective trade, competitiveness and broader
sustainable development polices to take GVCs as
the overwhelming reality of globalisation.
Policy makers are increasingly turning to
integration and upgrading in GVCs as a means
of driving development, including generating
employment and raising incomes (OECD 2012).
With statistics indicating high levels of female
employment in many GVCs, this integration is
also being seen as a way to reduce poverty and
support gender equality through incorporating
women into the workforce. It is thus crucial from
a policy perspective concerned with sustainable
development to understand GVCs and their
dynamics, possibilities and challenges in order to
access and increase the benets of international
trade integration, particularly for developing
In the context of the organisation of trade around
GVCs, and the new development commitment
to ensuring gender equity agreed upon in the
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs), this paper seeks to integrate gender into
the GVC framework and to assess the gender
dimensions of integration and economic and
social upgrading in GVCs. In doing so, it aims to
contribute to policymakers’ understanding of key
gender dimensions of GVC participation and offers
recommendations to improve the effectiveness of
trade and export promotion policies that support
both economic growth and social development.
The paper will also focus on policy suggestions
to ensure that women and men can access GVCs,
improve their positions and gain from upgrading
processes. GVC and policy illustrations will be
provided from different sectors with a focus on
horticulture, apparel, electronics, call centers
and tourism.
The recently adopted SDGs once again illustrate
global commitment to development that
encompasses both economic and social dimensions
while recognizing that these dimensions are highly
intertwined and can reinforce or contradict each
other. Hence, it is no longer enough to highlight
the long-term impact of economic development
on social improvements, but it has become
crucial to directly link the economic and social
dimensions in development plans and policies.
This recognition that both economic and social
objectives have to be jointly addressed and
understood has likewise been seen in recent
GVC research which has widened the concept
of upgrading to include social issues. Apart
from a focus on economic upgrading (i.e. rms,
producers or countries moving to higher value
activities in GVCs), social upgrading, understood
as enhancing conditions and rights of workers in
GVCs, has been brought to the forefront of GVC
analysis in recent years. Research ndings show
that GVC integration and economic upgrading
can but does not necessarily lead to positive
social outcomes (Barrientos et al 2011; Milberg
& Winkler 2013; Rossi 2013). While GVCs often
provide opportunities for workers, producers and
entrepreneurs in developing countries to increase
sales, exports and wages, learn new skills and
technologies, and gain exposure to successful
business practices, they are also often based on
low value added activities and low waged workers
with problematic working conditions (ILO 2015).
In order to understand how GVCs can contribute
to SDGs, it is crucial to view GVCs through a
gender lens. Access to and benets from GVC
participation, in particular, are closely related to
gender-specic issues. Despite important similar
challenges that female and male entrepreneurs,
producers and workers face, there are gender-
specic differences related to gender-based
inequalities that exist to different degrees in
all societies. Not seeing these gender issues
is not just problematic from a gender equality
perspective but also from a broader social and
economic development perspective as they may
hinder the broader effectiveness of development
policies. While gender equality is an end in itself
and a matter of social justice (Fontana 2014), it
is also a means to achieve poverty reduction,
economic growth and export expansion. Gender
blindness can lead to large resources being
ploughed into policies aimed at raising exports
and competitiveness — without success, as
the very women involved and their gender-
based constraints are not adequately seen and
addressed (Barrientos 2014).
This dual role for gender equality is embraced
by the SDGs. In contrast to the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) where gender
equality focused mostly on education and
agency of women and not on obstacles women
face as economic agents (Goal 3), the SDGs
focus more on access to productive resources
as a precondition for ensuring gender equality,
achieving productive employment and ghting
poverty. Specically the SDGs include targets on
ensuring that women and men have equal access
to economic resources, basic services, property
and inheritance, technology, nancial services
and markets as a means to achieve gender
equality and ght poverty (UNCTAD 2015). Seeing
women as economic agents and understanding
their specic constraints is crucial to ensure that
the benets of integration into GVCs are reaped
by women and the economy more broadly. In
this way, trade can be used as an enabler of
sustainable socio-economic development as
envisaged in the SDGs.
The prominent role female workers play in many
export-oriented industries integrated in GVCs —
as high as 80 percent of workers in some sectors
such as apparel or horticulture — shows that
participation in GVCs has important impacts on
women and gender relations. Often this leads to
claims that GVC participation results in positive
development benets for women in developing
countries. However, this is based on overall
female employment share without examining
the nature and quality of the work, the
implications of how women and men participate
in chains and what this means for the type of
integration into GVCs and economic and social
upgrading prospects. An increase in employment
opportunities for women is important, and
often contributes considerably to female
empowerment, but this does not necessarily
lead to reduced gender inequalities such as
gender segregation in types of occupations
and activities, gender gaps in terms of wages
and working conditions, and gender-specic
constraints in access to productive resources,
infrastructure and services. Overcoming these
challenges is essential to harness the potential
for GVCs to contribute to both economic and
social goals, including gender equality. A more
holistic approach to integrating gender into the
GVC framework is hence required to identify key
issues, opportunities and challenges for gender
equality and socio-economic development.
This paper is structured in four sections: Section
2 gives an overview of GVCs and sustainable
development; Section 3 discusses GVCs as
gendered structures with important gender
dimensions and outcomes; Section 4 identies and
analyses key issues, opportunities and challenges
related to gender and integration and upgrading
in GVCs; nally, section 5 concludes with policy
interventions for supporting upgrading, gender
equality and socio-economic development in
Development and LDCs
The global economy, particularly the
organisation of global production and
international trade, has changed signicantly
in the last three decades of globalization.
The contemporary economy is increasingly
structured around GVCs where transnational
corporations (TNCs) break up the production
process in different parts and relocate them on
a global scale. It is estimated that between 55-
80 percent of world trade now passes through
G V C s ( O E C D & W T O 2 0 13 ; U N C TA D 2 0 1 3 ) . C h a n g e s
in communications, transportation, technology
and most importantly government policies
(trade liberalisation and shift from import-
substitution to export-oriented development
strategies) and corporate strategies (focus on
core competencies and vertical disintegration)
have led to a signicant change in industrial
organisation. While no longer directly engaged
in all operations, these TNCs have maintained
control of production as global buyers and
coordinators of GVCs. Such global production
arrangements can be found in sectors as diverse
as apparel, footwear, vegetables, fruits,
beverages, owers, electronics, automobiles,
tourism and business service outsourcing. GVC
analysis explores how the linkages between the
production, distribution and consumption of
these products are globally interconnected and
how lead rms control or govern the terms on
which different rms participate and upgrade
within these chains (Geref 1994; Kaplinsky &
Morris 2001).
These transformations in production have
crucial implications in terms of global trade and
employment as well as how developing country
rms, producers and workers are integrated
in the global economy. The extension of
GVCs have often provided a stepping stone
for developing country rms to integrate into
the global economy and contributed to the
signicant increase in productive capacities in
developing countries in the last three decades.
In manufacturing, for example, this can be seen
in the increasing share of developing countries
in world manufacturing exports. It rose
constantly from around 5 percent at the end of
the 1980s to almost 35 percent in 2014. Similar
shifts have occurred in the agricultural sector;
Latin American countries, Chile and Peru, now
rank amongst the leading global exporters
of fruits and vegetables (UNComtrade 2016).
Participation in GVCs can facilitate access to
external and diversied markets, economies
of scale and scope, technological learning and
knowledge transfer.
However, integration into GVCs can also lock
rms and countries in low value added activities
relying on static competitive advantages in
terms of low production (often labour) costs
without long lasting benets for learning and
development. For example, rms and countries
can remain integrated as assembly production
sites fullling simple labour-intensive tasks
where competition is very high. This has
occurred in the apparel export sectors in Sub-
Saharan African, Central and Eastern European
and Central American countries (Bair & Geref
2003; Morris et al 2016; Pickles et al 2006). In
the electronics sector, in both Latin America
and Central and Eastern Europe contract
assemblers operate in “enclaves” without
creating linkages to the wider economy
(Dussel Peters, 2008; Gallagher & Zarsky
2007; Plank & Staritz 2013), The number of
developing countries that have successfully
upgraded into high value services provision is
likewise limited (Fernandez-Stark et al 2011);
the Philippines, for example, has found it
difcult to move beyond call centers into more
sophisticated services and existing operations
are isolated from the domestic economy
(Kleibert 2015). Furthermore, as participation
in GVCs increasingly involves fullling strict
requirements with regard to quality, lead
times and exibility and compliance with
process, product and social standards, many
rms in developing countries can be excluded
(Kaplinsky 2010).
To take advantage of the opportunities and to
cope with the challenges resulting from this
global environment, rms and countries need
to improve competitiveness and ‘upgrade.
Most generally, economic upgrading refers
to moving to higher value activities in value
chains to increase the benets (e.g. security,
prots, skills, technology, knowledge) from
participating in global production (Bair 2005).
Upgrading is generally categorized into four
types (Humphrey & Schmitz 2002):
process upgrading (improving technology
and/or production systems),
product upgrading (producing more
sophisticated, complex or better quality
functional upgrading (increasing the range
of functions or changing the mix of activities
to higher value tasks) and
• chain upgrading (moving from one industry
to another).
Upgrading processes are shaped by the type
of value chain in which developing country
rms are inserted, and in particular by the
governance structure of chains. Governance
structures determine the power relationships
among the different actors involved and
the ow and allocation of resources within
chains. Hence, they determine the prospects
of rms in developing countries to engage in
GVCs and how the benets of participation (to
both rms and workers) are distributed along
the chain (Geref 1999; Geref et al 2001;
Geref et al 2005; Kaplinsky & Morris 2001).
These structures are crucially inuenced by
lead rms though their control over product
specications, technical standards, and broad
cost and performance structures according to
which global networks of suppliers operate.
Lead rm governance strategies can both
enable or constrain upgrading prospects of
supplier rms (Kaplinsky & Morris 2001).
The upgrading debate has largely focused on
economic upgrading but in the last decade has
shifted to also include a focus on workers and
social upgrading. Particularly in the context
of the SDGs, upgrading has to shift from a
sole focus on economic aspects to one that
integrates implications on working and living
conditions of the workers, producers and
communities engaged in value chain trade and
more broadly what integration and upgrading
in value chains imply for inclusiveness and
equity. Social upgrading is generally dened
as increases in employment and changes in
the working conditions and rights of workers
as well as skills development which improve
the quality of their employment (Geref et
al Forthcoming; Rossi 2013). This perspective
can be extended to also include producers
in addition to workers and also take into
account social implications of exclusion from
value chains. Importantly, and in the vein of
the SDGs, social aspects should not be seen
in isolation but integrated with economic
aspects. In such a broader perspective, social
upgrading is oriented towards reducing poverty
through job and income creation and ensuring
decent work and rights for workers, producers
and communities, and also supporting value
addition and the sustainability of activities
integrated in value chains for which economic
upgrading is important. Particularly, supporting
education, skill development and innovation
are important as they have a clear economic
and social upgrading dimension.
Evidence on the outcomes for workers in
GVCs is mixed. On the one hand, GVCs have
created new employment opportunities for
marginalized groups such as unskilled workers
without previous access to wage employment
(ILO 2015). These have brought serious gains for
many workers, especially women, previously
locked into a harsh and dependant existence
with little chance of major improvements
in the economic and social quality of their
lives. However at the same time, globalization
of production and especially requirements
deriving from lead rms’ commercial practices
that combine demands for low costs, high
quality, short lead times and high exibility,
often lead to high pressure being put on supplier
rms and, in turn, on workers in the form of
low wages and precarious working conditions
and labour arrangements (Barrientos et al
2011; Locke 2013).
Development and LDCs
Economic and social dimensions of upgrading
are often intertwined, but one does not
necessarily lead to the other (Barrientos et al,
2011). There are examples where economic and
social upgrading has occurred together, where
outcomes are mixed for different groups of
producers and workers, and where economic
and social downgrading have reinforced each
other. For economic upgrading, growth in
export market share is often associated with
declining unit export values. Likewise, for
social upgrading, overall trends in employment
growth are often associated with lower real
wages (Bernhardt & Milberg 2011; Milberg &
Winkler 2013). This indicates that expanding
participation in GVCs can but does not
necessarily result in higher paying jobs,
improvements in workers’ well-being and
higher bargaining power (Barrientos 2014).
Understanding these complex and potentially
varying impacts on rms, producers and
workers will be crucial to assess the overall
development impacts of upgrading processes
and GVC interventions and how these ultimately
contribute to the goals set out by the SDGs.
In terms of the wider economy, GVCs are
gendered structures because of the structural
differences between the positions and roles
of women and men in the household, the
community, the labour market and the economy
(Benería et al 2000). These differences are
rooted in social structures, norms and roles,
and although there is important variation
across countries, they exist in all societies.
GVCs are embedded within and interact with
these social and gender norms and relations.
They can change them, dampen or reinforce
them, particularly through practices of
lead firms in activities such as recruitment,
promotion, skill development, knowledge
transfer, procurement, working conditions
and possibilities to combine work and family
Clearly, however, women and men are not
homogenous groups. Gender is a crucial socio-
economic identity and gender norms and roles
are prevalent in households, communities and
the economy, but it is intertwined with other
socio-economic identities such as age, status,
income class, education and skill levels,
nationality, ethnicity and race. Therefore
women as a group share similar opportunities
and constraints but the extent, articulation
and consequences of these may be quite
different for different groups of women
with regard to their material, educational or
ethnic background.
Structural differences between women and
men, most importantly, include (i) the gendered
composition of the labour force, (ii) women’s
primary responsibility for reproductive work,
and (iii) women’s differential access to and
control over resources relative to men.
(i) Women tend to be concentrated in
fewer sectors (such as food production,
apparel, domestic and other social
services) than men, who seem to be more
evenly distributed across a larger range
of occupations and productive activities
(Fontana 2011). Women also tend to be
located in different occupations and
activities within these sectors than men,
leading to gendered job segregation.
Women are more likely than men to be
found in low value added and precarious
forms of work (UNCTAD 2015).
(ii) Women’s response to potential
opportunities in new economic activities
is dampened by time constraints due
to their primary responsibility for
reproductive, care and unpaid work,
such as domestic work, childcare, and
caring for the sick and elderly. Poor
infrastructure and services heighten
this challenge for women in developing
countries. These responsibilities
structure and often constrain their
participation in the paid economy.
In countries where data is available,
women are reported to spend more than
twice the number of hours that men
do on unpaid domestic and care work
on average (Ferrant et al 2014). Many
studies point to the presence of other
female members in the household as a
determinant of women’s participation
in new opportunities created by trade
(Fontana 2011).
(iii) Women also face greater disadvantage in
responding to new economic incentives
because of gender differences in access
to productive resources such as land,
credit, education, skills, infrastructure,
utilities and services (e.g. health,
transport, water, electricity) and also
information and networks. While both
women and men in developing countries
generally experience constraints in these
areas, gender interacts with other socio-
economic inequalities to exacerbate
women’s disadvantage leading to “gender-
intensified constraints” (Fontana 2011).
Because of these gendered structures women
and men are involved at different stages
of GVCs as workers, managers, producers
Development and LDCs
and entrepreneurs. Gender relations underlie
this involvement and inuence the workings
of GVCs and upgrading processes. Hence, the
expansion of GVCs has different impacts on men
and women, and they may not be in an equal
position to take advantage of the opportunities
of GVCs. Indeed, trade has had a considerable
impact on increased employment opportunities
for women as workers in export-oriented sectors;
at times, the rst waged job these women have
held. Yet, women are often concentrated in
specic sectors and types of jobs. Demands for
low-cost and exible labour in export-oriented
industries have often led to relatively low wages
and poor working conditions in these “female
jobs.” Upgrading in some sectors has improved
women’s working conditions but in other sectors
upgrading has led to women being replaced by
men in higher value, skill or capital intensive
activities (Tejani & Milberg 2010). Women as
producers and entrepreneurs have often been
less able to benet from new export opportunities
given gender-intensied constraints particularly
in terms of access to training and skills, credit,
inputs and networks.
Gender-based inequalities in turn also impact
on trade relations and outcomes as gender
inequalities inuence the patterns of resource
allocation and competitive advantages of
countries (Fontana 2009). Gender inequality
may be a source of export competitiveness
as the segregation of jobs by gender tends
to keep women’s wages articially low in
the labour market; and this gender wage gap
may become a stimulus for export growth in
sectors that compete on the basis of low costs
(Seguino 1997, 2000). In this context, GVCs
take advantage of existing gender relations
by using female labour to produce low-cost
(but often high quality) products with high
exibility for export markets (Barrientos
2014). Hence, in labour-intensive sectors,
including manufacturing, certain types of
services and non-traditional agriculture,
the rapid growth of export capacity in many
developing countries has been associated with
an increase in the demand for female labour
(Tejani 2011).
But gender inequality may also limit trade
expansion and the gains from integration in
GVCs, through its negative impact on the
process of skill development and innovation
in higher value added and technology sectors
(Fontana 2011; Seguino 2000). This can affect
women in their roles as workers, managers,
producers and entrepreneurs. Gender-
intensified constraints can, for example, mute
upgrading responses as gender discrimination
may undermine workers’ productivity
and managerial efficiency; while women
entrepreneurs’ limited access to skills and
credit may undermine quality improvements
and investments in GVCs. Generally, women’s
limited access to resources constrains their
activities as entrepreneurs and results in
female entrepreneurs being concentrated in
small firms and informal trade (ODI 2009).
Gendered GVC analysis improves our
understanding of the specific roles,
opportunities and constraints of women and
men as well as of the overall functioning of
GVCs and upgrading processes (Barrientos
2001; Fontana 2011). A gender-differentiated
analysis is, firstly, imperative because it
highlights the impact of GVC integration
and upgrading on female workers, producers
and entrepreneurs, and thus, the broader
socioeconomic effects of such processes.
Secondly, it is crucial because it allows
an understanding of gender-specific
opportunities and constraints concerning
competitiveness and upgrading, hence
improving the effectiveness of interventions
and policies. Particularly as women account
for a large portion of the workforce in many
GVCs, failing to understand and address their
specific constraints can undermine countries’
ability to be competitive and upgrade in
A gendered GVC analysis requires:
(i) identifying in which sectors, occupations
and stages of the GVC women and
men work, and employment terms and
rewards of women relative to men;
(ii) identifying gender-based constraints
that reduce the benefits of women from
GVC integration and upgrading may mute
supply responses, export performance
and upgrading prospects for the whole
(iii) identifying policy interventions that
would remove these gender-based
constraints to achieve equal benefits for
women and men from GVC integration
and upgrading.
A gender GVC analysis involves also giving
visibility to those areas of work that tend to
be often overlooked in policy interventions
— reproductive work that is primarily the
responsibility of women and strongly impacts
on women’s paid work possibilities.
However, much of this analysis remains
difficult due to the lack of available data
and in order to ensure that gendered GVC
approaches can contribute adequately to
development policies, new indicators must
be incorporated. Table 1 includes potential
indicators for developing empirically based
gendered GVC analyses.
Development and LDCs
Challenge Indicator
Reproductive work
Average time spent on paid work of women vs. men
Average time spent on unpaid reproductive work (household responsibilities, child care, etc.)
of women vs. men
Access to electricity, water, etc. in reproductive work
Women as Workers
Patterns of
Participation of women by sector, GVC stage, occupation, or job prole
Job status
& access to
Women’s share of supervisory, managerial, professional, technical, and clerical work
Women’s share of informal/contract/seasonal employment
Women’s share in permanent jobs with contracts
Wage gap Average wages by gender by GVC stage
Ratio of women’s wages to men’s wages for similar work
Average number of working hours for women vs. men
Number of occupational health and safety incidences for women vs. men
Share of women with access to social security
Share of women with access to paid sick leave
Share of women with access to maternity leave
Provision of on-site child care and nursing facilities
Share of female workers with discrimination/sexual harassment claims
Access to training Women’s participation rate in TVET and other external training programmes
Women’s participation in “on the job” training programmes
Women as Entrepreneurs
Patterns of
Share of female entrepreneurs/producers vs. men’s in GVC-linked operations
Participation of women by sector, activity, or crop type
Size of women’s rms compared to size of men’s
Access to land Women’s share of land access, landholding, and immoveable property
Women’s size of landholdings/land access vs. men’s
Access to nance Women’s share of bank/savings accounts
Women’s share of total loan portfolio
Size of women’s loans compared to size of men’s loans
Access to
infrastructure &
Proportion of female-owned businesses with access to electricity, water, transport, etc.
Proportion of female-owned businesses with access to mobile phones & internet
Share of female entrepreneurs/producers with discrimination at customs clearance claims
Access to inputs Women’s participation in collective buying & production schemes
Women’s use rate of storage & processing facilities
Access to skills &
Women’s participation rate in skill training programmes in different areas (entrepreneurship,
technology, etc.)
Women’s participation rate in extension services
Access to
information &
Women’s participation in relevant industry associations
Women’s participation in trade unions & workers’ groups
Women’s participation in cooperatives
Inclusion of women’s groups in industry-relevant negotiations
Gendered effects
of upgrading
Benets from
in GVCs and
Women’s vs. men’s share of employment by value chain segment
Women’s vs. men’s share in higher skilled jobs created due to economic upgrading
Women’s vs. men’s ownership of businesses that successfully upgraded
Change in gender share due to economic upgrading of jobs & rms
Benets from
social upgrading
Women’s vs. men’s share in better jobs created due to social upgrading
Change in gender share due to social upgrading of jobs & rms
Table 1. Potential Indicators to Measure Women’s Participation in GVCs
Source: Authors based on Fontana (2012); Staritz and Reis (2013); and UNCTAD (2014).
The discussion above illustrates that there
is a two-way relationship between gender
dynamics on the one hand, and integration
and upgrading in GVCs, on the other. This is
particularly the case for low income countries
attempting to embark on an industrialization
and development trajectory. Integration and
upgrading in GVCs are influenced by, and have
an influence on, gender relations. Hence,
trade matters for gender and gender matters
for trade (Fontana 2012).
This section examines this two-way
relationship in the context of a number of
GVCs, including the agricultural, apparel,
electronics, offshore services and tourism
sectors. As cross-country data to facilitate
the analysis remains limited, this section
draws on the growing country case literature
to illustrate these dynamics of gendered
opportunities, constraints and outcomes
in GVCs in a range of geographic locations,
including Africa, Asia and Latin America.
While the examples provided may not be
representative of all GVCs, nor all countries,
they demonstrate certain common issues
and patterns as well as illustrate how the
gendered dynamics of GVCs integration and
upgrading can play out differently across
diverse sectors and contexts.
Importantly, it should be highlighted that
this section seeks to identify and classify the
complex interactions between gender equality
and GVC dynamics in these varying contexts
and their implications for policies (see next
section), rather than to draw straightforward
conclusions on positive or negative outcomes.
Hence, just because more points below refer
to challenges does not necessarily mean that
the overall assessment is negative. It shows
the complexities regarding the challenges and
the multi-faceted ways that gender inequality
and GVC dynamics interact.
1. Entry into GVCs generally has a
positive impact on female employment
generation, providing an important step
towards economic independence: GVCs
have contributed to rising levels of female
employment in manufacturing, agriculture
and services in developing countries. This has
important economic and social implications
as access to paid employment remains one
of the most important avenues towards more
economic independence of women. Generally
speaking, developing countries tend to
exhibit similar patterns of entry into GVCs —
first, entering lower value, labour-intensive
segments in non-traditional agricultural,
basic manufacturing (particularly apparel),
and tourism (Bamber et al 2013; Cattaneo
et al 2013). These “starter” industries offer
disproportionally higher opportunities for
female workers (Kucera & Tejani 2014).
For example, on average, 60-80 percent of
production workers in the apparel chain in
the top 27 apparel exporting countries are
women (Barrientos 2014). In horticultural
70-80 percent of packing jobs are female
(Bamber & Fernandez-Stark 2013) and in
floriculture women account for 75-80 percent
of the workforce (Christian et al 2013). In
tourism GVCs, 70 percent of jobs are female
(Christian 2013).
Strong female employment with value chain
entry also holds as countries upgrade into
more sophisticated sectors. In the electronics
sector, over 50 percent of smart phone
assembly roles in China are female with often
higher shares in other products and countries,
while in call centers, the typical entry point
for developing countries in the offshore
service GVC, women make up around 70
percent of all agents (Batt 2007). This strong
bias towards female GVC employment is
reflected in many emerging export processing
zones (EPZ), where the female labour share
Development and LDCs
varies between 50 percent and 90 percent
(Milberg & Amengual 2008; Tejani 2011). For
these female employees, this is often their
first waged job and provides an important first
step towards economic independence (Said-
Allsopp & Tallontire 2014; Tejani 2011). As
such, integration into GVCs has provided new
opportunities to earn incomes or wages for
tens of millions of women, without previous
access to international trade.
2. The gendered division of labour in
economies is largely perpetuated in GVC
employment: Most of the jobs created in
GVCs do not challenge or dismantle gendered
job segregation and related stereotypes
but are based on and use these gendered
structures. While there is a moderate decline
in horizontal segregation related to GVCs as
women are also employed in traditionally
more male-dominated sectors such as export-
oriented agriculture, offshore services and
electronics, segregation in occupations
within sectors tends to be persistent
(Barrientos 2014; Fontana 2006; Staritz &
Reis 2013). This appears to be deeply rooted
in social constructs and perceptions of what
is considered appropriate male and female
work. Men are typically favoured for positions
that require physical strength, technical
know-how, and supervisory and management
skills, while women are preferred for jobs
that depend on finesse, attention to detail
and social and caring competencies. The
perceived skill for ‘nimble fingers’ has
resulted in the recruitment of women in the
more delicate tasks required for assembly
work in mobile phones, apparel and food and
vegetables (Christian et al 2013). Women
workers are also seen as flexible, hard-
working, easier to manipulate and without
(collective) bargaining power, which makes
them suitable for jobs in labour-intensive
industries operating under significant global
This pattern is pervasive across sectors and
many country contexts. In the horticulture
industry, across developing countries, men
do work that involves operating machinery,
such as transportation and logistics, and hold
management roles, while women generally
do work that requires careful handling
and attention to detail: nursery work,
transplanting, quality control, washing,
grading and packing (Bamber & Fernandez-
Stark 2013). In Ugandan floriculture, the
majority of senior supervisors are men,
while 70-85 percent of harvesters are women
(Christian et al 2013). In the Lao rice sector,
male farmers are in charge of land preparation
while female farmers do most of the drying.
While women are involved in some processing
activities they are mostly excluded from
activities that involve transport, networking
and marketing (Fontana 2012). In the apparel
and electronics sector, job functions are also
strongly gender segregated. In the former,
women account for the majority of sewing
operators (including often also cutting,
packaging and ironing); while workers in
textile production that is more capital
intensive, tend to be male. Women seldom
rise to the rank of supervisor and even less
so to the technician and management level;
the only exception being human resource
management positions (Frederick & Staritz
2012; Silvander 2013).
In electronics, women carry out the
monotonous, low-wage production line tasks
that require precision, while engineers,
technicians and management positions
are taken up by men. Female employees
are favoured on the assembly line as they
are considered to possess finesse and
meticulousness, be submissive, adaptable and
with little ambition for career advancement
(McKay 2006). In the tourism industry, women
are concentrated in the accommodation
segment, mostly as low- to mid-skill workers in
hotels, e.g. housekeeping, laundry, food and
beverage, and clerical work whereas men are
typically tour guides and managers (Christian
2013). In the offshore services value chain,
while women constitute the majority of
frontline agent positions in many countries,
perceptions of science and technology as
male roles largely keep women from higher
paying information technology positions such
as coding (Ahmed 2013). In India, for example,
the number of women working in higher paid
engineering support call centers is only 11-19
percent in contrast to being the majority in
less high tech call centers (Basi 2009).
3. Women’s roles are often cast as unskilled,
limiting their remuneration and taking
advantage of higher value opportunities:
Often jobs where women are concentrated
are perceived as low skilled jobs and are
paid accordingly. This is related to gender
perceptions of what is perceived as skilled and
un-skilled. Given gender wage gaps prevalent
in most economies, casting particular skills
or functions as “feminine” allows GVC
recruitment of women at lower overall labour
costs (Barrientos 2001). For example, a (male)
truck driver with formal skills is perceived as
‘skilled’ whereas a (female) packaging worker
in the horticulture industry that has learned
how to handle fruit and vegetables in the
household and is valued for her dexterity and
attention to detail is perceived as ‘unskilled’.
These socially acquired skills — that are not,
however, formally accepted as skills — create
important value in GVCs, particularly at the
intersection of quality, time and price, but
(female) workers are often not rewarded for
them accordingly. Hence, gender inequalities
that ascribe lower value to “feminine” tasks
means women’s contribution to value creation
is insufficiently remunerated, limiting women
from taking advantage of higher valued jobs
and facilitating value capture by other actors
in GVCs (Barrientos 2014).
4. Female employment also often goes hand
in hand with lower payment and poorer
working conditions: Sectors and positions
in which women are concentrated are often
paid a lower wage and face poorer working
conditions than positions in which men
are concentrated. Or women may be even
paid lower wages for the same work than
men. Gender wage gaps — both unadjusted
(i.e. the average difference between men’s
and women’s aggregate hourly earnings) or
adjusted (i.e. taking into account relevant
differences in the type of occupation,
education levels, work experience, etc.) —
exist in many sectors as portrayed in the case
literature. In the Indian cocoa sector, for
example, women are paid less than men for
the same work (Christian et al 2013). In the
apparel sector, in some countries, product
segments within apparel are paid at different
rates, such as in Bangladesh where knitters
receive higher wages than weavers with
men being concentrated in the former group
(Bhattacharya & Rahman 1999; Frederick
& Staritz 2012). Wage disparity tends to be
lower in call center functions than in other
GVCs, but still persists; in the Philippines,
for example, female agents earn 13 percent
less than their male colleagues (Messenger &
Ghosheh 2010). However, it is important to
note that compared to other employment
opportunities open to women in developing
countries, wages and working conditions can
be the same or even better in GVC related
activities (Jenkins 2005).
Working conditions and insecure work in
particular, is one of the most frequently
cited challenge for women. Much of the
case literature suggests that women are
disproportionately kept in informal, short
term or seasonal employment (Barrientos
2013). This is the outcome of firm response
to the need for high flexibility and often
seasonality of orders by lead firms in GVCs
where temporary or subcontracting work
models have become central to maintaining
competitiveness. There are numerous
examples of this in the case literature. Female
casual workers are on the increase in the
Mombasa tourism sector as local hotels under
pressure from global tour operators are trying
to cut costs; casual workers can earn up to 50
percent less than their permanent colleagues
and have no access to social protection
(Christian 2013). In Lesotho, in order to
remain flexible to the changing demands in
the US apparel market, an important share
of the (mostly female) workers in apparel
factories are kept on part time basis (UNCTAD
2014). In the highly seasonal horticulture
sector, women dominate poorly paid and
insecure casual work (Christian et al 2013);
Development and LDCs
temporary labour is also commonly used in the
packhouse where women dominate (Barrientos
& Kritzinger 2004). In the electronics sector,
the use of temporary workers has at times
accounted for as much as 90 percent of
workers in Mexico (ILO 2014). The call center
segment deviates from this trend slightly,
as the tight supply of qualified workforce
in developing countries contributes to an
increase in permanent contracting in general
(Fernandez-Stark et al 2013). Women’s role
as temporary labour is often justified as
providing them with the necessary flexibility
to manage their reproductive responsibilities
and the assumption that female wages
are complementary to those of the male
breadwinner of the family. However, this does
not reflect the reality that many women are
single earners.
5. Gender-intensified constraints limit
women’s abilities to break these patterns
of feminisation of the low value stages of
chains and defeminisation of trade in higher
value roles: Women as a group share similar
gender-intensified constraints to participate
and upgrade in GVCs. These include unequal
access to productive resources, training
and skills development and networks and
information, as well as being more time
constrained than their male counterparts due
to reproductive work responsibilities. Female
entrepreneurs face additional challenges of
gender-constrained access to land, finance,
physical infrastructure and support services.
Yet, access to skills, finance, productive
resources and networks are fundamental to
integration and upgrading in GVCs and in
meeting the increasingly strict process and
quality requirements by global lead firms.
Hence, because of restricted access to
economic resources, the majority of women
are more unlikely to be in a position to take
advantage of any new economic opportunity
resulting from GVCs than men (Fontana 2011).
6. Access to training and skills development:
In developing, especially in low income,
countries, women in general face higher
constraints in accessing skills development
than men, particularly in lower value
stages of value chains. The limited access
seems to be less overt in general primary
and secondary education where in many
countries, women have importantly caught up
relative to men, but it is more problematic
in vocational training, skill development
programs, and extension services, particular
in technical and management related fields.
This is persistent across different regions and
sectors. Regarding extension services, for
example, in Mozambique, twice as many men
as women in the agricultural chain participate
in extensions services (45 percent versus 23
percent) (Fontana 2011). The same is true
for Asian countries. In Cambodia, women
account for just 10 percent of extension
beneficiaries and in Vietnam, women make
up 25 percent and 10 percent of participants
in training programs on animal husbandry and
crop cultivation, respectively (Fontana 2012).
In Honduras, greater gains have been made,
but women still only account for 33 percent
of extension service beneficiaries (Bamber &
Fernandez-Stark 2013).
Access to training is often not overtly
discriminative towards women but does not
take into account gender specific constraints.
Social restrictions such as interacting
with male teachers, trainers or extension
agents or taking transportation late at
night or to faraway places and reproductive
responsibilities can all constrain access to
training. Women may however, also face
constraints to be selected for training given
their limited networks and representation in
supervisory and management positions as well
as industry associations and trade unions, and
employers not wanting to invest in women
given their expected withdrawal from the
labour force due to family reasons. Hence,
women are under-represented in vocational
and technical education, as well as among
vocational teacher and trainers. Training
often also reinforces gender based job
segregation as boys and girls are channeled
into different subjects. Gender-intensified
constraints on access to training and career
development can result in a shortage of
qualified labour, limiting productivity and
preventing upgrading into higher segments of
7. Access to networks and information:
Access to information and networks,
including access to inputs, technology,
markets and support services, is of crucial
importance. However it is limited for many
female producers and entrepreneurs due
to the dominance of gender based decision
making in many business networks and
industry associations. For example, in the
tourism sector, female entrepreneurs are
less likely to upgrade their own businesses.
This is because many supplier decisions in the
tourism sector are taken by men, who, simply
by choosing suppliers from their own personal
network, tend to perpetuate a male-centric
business network limiting access for female
entrepreneurs (Christian 2013). Women often
also face barriers to membership in rural
or farmers’ organisations and cooperatives
which inhibits a channel to facilitate market
access (Doss 2011).
Access to networks is particularly fundamental
for smaller businesses to integrate and
upgrade in GVCs. Networks allow them to
exchange ideas to manage common problems,
reduces information asymmetry, and builds
social capital to empower firms to engage with
more sophisticated markets (Markelova et al
2009). This can provide economies of scale
necessary to serve global markets, as well
as increase bargaining power to secure key
inputs. Coordinated networks can also help
alleviate other gender-intensified constraints
such as access to finance, productive
resources and training. Access to networks
is also important for female workers. Insofar
as women are under-represented in workers’
associations or trade unions issues pertinent
to gender based constraints tend to be under-
represented. Trade unions — if they exist —
remain dominated by men, even in sectors
where production jobs are overwhelmingly
female such as in the apparel and electronics
8. Access to land, finance and productive
resources: In many countries and sectors,
women have more limited access to these
resources which makes it difficult for
them to become independently involved
in export production. Access to finance is
particularly important to fulfill requirements
and standards of global lead firms and to
initiate upgrading processes. Access to land is
important in itself, particularly in agricultural
sectors, but also to get access to finance due
to its role as collateral. Even if they are the
primary farmers, women often do not have
independent ownership of land (Barrientos
2014). In Kenya and in other African countries,
land policies overtly disadvantage women
through the enforcement of customary laws.
These laws in many countries have favored
male inheritance and allocation of productive
assets. Even in Mozambique, where official
land laws grant women equal access to land,
the few female farmers who own land have
still smaller plots than men (Fontana 2011b).
This problem is also apparent in Central
America; in Honduras, women have less access
to land than men — in the 1960s, they made
up just three percent of the beneficiaries
of land reform (Bamber & Fernandez-Stark
2013). This discrimination makes it difficult
for women to gain access to title deeds and
collateral for loans. As a result they have
a harder time getting loans from financial
institutions to develop businesses in different
sectors (Fontana 2011).
In sectors highly dependent on land as an
input, such as agriculture, this constraint is
particularly binding for women’s integration
and upgrading in GVCs. For example, in
Honduras, selling to higher paying US buyers
requires the installation of expensive
and sophisticated irrigation systems and
greenhouses. However many female farmers
simply cannot finance these (Bamber &
Fernandez-Stark 2013). In Laos, modernized
rice farming requires mechanisation, high
yielding varieties, more intensive use of
fertilisers and supplementary irrigation
systems which requires access to credit where
Development and LDCs
women farmers face specific constraints. This
explains why it is predominantly men that
control motorised equipment and dominate
cash crops (Fontana 2012). A large body of
empirical evidence from many different
countries shows that female farmers are just
as efficient as their male counterparts but
they have less land, less access to finance
and use fewer inputs, so they produce less
(FAO 2010). It has been demonstrated that
equalising access among women and men to
fertiliser and other agricultural production
factors increased maize production by 11-
16 percent in Malawi and by 17 percent in
Ghana (World Bank 2012). Similarly, in the
horticulture sector, female entrepreneurs
have been found to be as capable — if not
more so — as their male counterparts when
gender-based constraints of access to nance
are removed, and more responsive in repaying
loans (Bamber & Fernandez-Stark 2013).
9. Economic upgrading can have varying
effects on gender equality related to
gendered job segregation and gender-
intensied constraints: Economic upgrading
often leads to the creation of higher skilled
jobs and activities, which can provide
important opportunities for women and men
alike. However there is evidence that men may
benet more from these new opportunities
related to upgrading. In the case of functional
upgrading, or moving into higher value
segments of the chain, employment statistics in
more advanced countries suggest that women
are displaced by increased male employment.
Particularly in manufacturing sectors, there is
evidence that women are disproportionately
favored in low stages of the chain but that
they are often disadvantaged in the context
of upgrading within a sector or between
sectors to higher technology ones (Kucera &
Tejani 2014). For example, in countries such
as Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Singapore and
South Korea that have undergone structural
transformation from low value to higher value
manufacturing exports, women’s share of the
total labour force in EPZs declined signicantly
(Fontana 2006).
The share of female workers in the labour force
has also declined across a number of different
industries as a result of certain functional,
product and process upgrading (Ahmed 2013;
Kucera & Tejani 2014; Tejani 2011). In the
apparel sector in Bangladesh, the female share
has declined in the context of upgrading to knit
products and to textile production with men
being overwhelmingly employed in these higher
waged activities. In knitwear, for example,
women constitute only 14 percent of the labour
force. Female employment has remained
highly concentrated in the woven segment of
ready-made apparel while other subsectors
are predominantly male (Bhattacharya &
Rahman 1999; Frederick & Staritz 2012).
In the electronics sector with increased
mechanisation of production processes, male
workers tend to be preferred (McKay 2006).
Similar developments are seen in the call
center industry, as the industry upgrades into
more complex services the workforce becomes
male dominant (Ahmed 2013). This is largely
the result of the gendered job stereotypes
which attribute women to roles with careful
‘handling’ requirements and men in technical
positions. Hence, when higher or automated
technologies are implemented — key for many
upgrading processes in manufacturing — men
are favoured over women.
Outcomes seem to be different when upgrading
is oriented towards reducing seasonality;
an essential step for rms to smooth cash
ow operations over the year and maximise
returns on their xed assets. Where product
and market diversication and process
upgrading can ensure year round production,
both women and men have been able to
benet from more secure jobs. For example,
in the horticulture industry in Peru, product
diversication from asparagus and avocados to
grapes and blueberries and the installation of
greenhouses and extensive irrigation systems
have led to year-round production. This has
enabled exporters to retain and invest in
their workforce, increase overall permanent
employment and reduce the burden of
seasonality which particularly affected female
workers (Fernandez-Stark et al 2016). Similar
results are seen in Uganda where improvements
of processes and products contributed to an
increase in the share of permanent female
workers (Gibbon & Riisgaard 2014). In the
tourism sector, developing and marketing
multiple tourism products to diverse target
markets (including regional and domestic
markets) also helps offset uctuations due to
seasonality and ckle tourist demand and can
improve stability for both male and female
employment (Christian 2013).
10. Gender inequalities impact on and
often constrain economic upgrading efforts:
Gender inequalities can both facilitate and
inhibit industry competitiveness. Low wages
and exible employment of predominantly
female workers help reduce costs for employers,
enabling them to offer cost-competitive,
exible and high quality products. But there
may be a trade-off between short-term gains
and longer-term upgrading. Lack of training
and career development of female workers can
negatively impact productivity and prevent
economic upgrading into more sophisticated
segments. For women as producers and
entrepreneurs, gender-intensied constraints
of access to resources, skills and networks
limit their participation and upgrading in GVCs.
Hence, while lower-cost and exible female
labour can help drive cost-competitiveness
in the lower segment of GVCs, gendered job
segregation and gender-intensied constraints
have the potential to limit a country’s access
to higher value segments of GVCs where the
availability of skilled labour and access to
nance, training and networks is a crucial
competitiveness factor.
11. Social upgrading often improves
women’s working conditions but gender
specic issues have to be taken into
account: Growing public awareness of how
products are produced in GVCs has spurred the
emergence of numerous private governance
initiatives such as the Ethical Trading Initiative
(ETI) (multi-sector), the Better Work Program
(apparel), Fair Trade (agriculture) or the
International Cocoa Initiative (cocoa) (Lund-
Thomsen & Lindgreen 2014). In addition,
voluntary codes of conduct by lead rms have
been on the rise to address social issues in
their GVCs in the context of corporate social
responsibility (CSR). Moreover in developing
countries government initiatives to raise labour
standards have increased. While many of these
programs have been accessed quite skeptically
and may be yet to achieve important aspects
of social upgrading, they tend to have directly
and indirectly (through improved working
conditions) contributed to gender equality.
Governance initiatives, particularly when
NGOs are involved, have often contributed
to raising awareness of specic gender issues
such as discrimination, sexual harassment and
the need for on-site childcare and promoting
programs such as gender committees and
gender-sensitive management practices
(Barrientos 2014; Christian et al 2013; Said-
Allsopp & Tallontire 2014). Indirectly, women
workers often benet from initiatives that
improve wages and working conditions in
GVC-related employment as women account
for a large share of jobs in labour-intensive
segments. Gender-specic problems may
however be overseen if not directly addressed
such as gender-based job segregation and
Development and LDCs
The case literature highlights that gender
specic dynamics and outcomes exist in GVCs
and are an important additional dimension
of power relationships that span the local,
national and global level. In order to foster
competitiveness and upgrading and to ensure
that benets of integration into GVCs and
upgrading are available to both women and
men, this section offers a range of policy
interventions. The objectives of these policies
is to use trade as an enabler of sustainable
development by increasing the value captured
from participating in GVCs, secure equal access
to the benets for both women and men,
and create a gender inclusive and sensitive
environment by reducing gendered job
segregation and gender intensied constraints.
Most importantly, trade, industrial, export
promotion and GVC intervention policies need
to take into account gender aspects to make
policies more effective drivers of sustainable
development based on gender equity. Gender
aspects as has been the case also with social
aspects — should not be put aside to other actors
and policy areas but must be mainstreamed
into trade and related policies and aligned
with complementary policies. It is however
important to not shift the responsibility
alone to complementary policies as there are
often limits in funding and effectiveness and
more importantly some gender inequalities
are deeply rooted and difcult to overcome.
Complementary interventions in other policy
areas include most importantly overcoming
gender based segregation and constraints that
are embedded directly in laws (legislation,
regulations) or in socially constructed gender
norms. Unless the capacity of women and men
to participate in GVCs is strengthened through
aligned trade, industrial and complementary
policies, the development outcomes of GVC
integration and its contributions to the SDGs
may be well below its potential.
1. Identify and acknowledge the role and
contribution of women and men in GVCs: One
of the most inuential constraints to adequate
policy development is the misconception of
male versus female roles in GVCs. The most
striking example is agriculture which is usually
thought of as a male domain, yet, 79 percent
of women in developing countries report
agriculture as their primary economic activity
(Doss 2011). In Uganda, broadly illustrative of
Sub-Saharan Africa, 75 percent of agricultural
producers are estimated to be women (World
Bank 2009). A gender lens in policy making
and implementation is required to identify the
positions and roles women and men are located
in GVCs, and what their specic rewards,
opportunities and constraints are. Hence,
there is a need to conduct gender-based
analysis and collect sex-disaggregated data
and indicators with regard to employment,
activities, rewards and constraints, as well as
approaching women groups, female producers’
and women workers’ associations (see Table 1).
Without including gender-based differences,
policies may address the wrong issues and
2. Support economic upgrading, taking
into account gender-based segregation and
constraints: Economic upgrading is crucial
for long term development and also to ensure
sustainable and high quality employment and
better bargaining power of supplier rms.
Hence, support for economic upgrading of
rms and producers is important but remains
inadequate in many developing countries.
Such support requires taking into account
gender intensied constraints as otherwise
women workers and entrepreneurs may not be
able to benet from upgrading, undermining
the effectiveness of the policies. Hence, to
ensure that economic upgrading also goes
along with positive gendered outcomes, it
needs to be reinforced by gender-sensitive
interventions that address gender-based
segregation and constraints (Barrientos 2014).
This involves a dual policy strategy. First,
improving the conditions for women workers
and entrepreneurs in occupational and sectoral
activities they are already concentrated in.
Second, focusing on more transformative
strategies to open up new opportunities for
women that counter traditional gender roles
and stereotypes (Fontana 2012).
3. Improve the quality and nature of female
work by supporting social upgrading: Given
that women are the majority of workers and
producers in many labour intensive stages
of GVCs especially in low income countries,
securing social and labour rights is key. But
gender issues should be incorporated more
explicitly into social upgrading initiatives as
otherwise certain working conditions may be
improved but not overall gender structures
in GVCs. Hence, women workers may earn
higher wages but may still be concentrated in
certain activities that are comparatively lower
remunerated and face lower upward mobility
than activities where men are concentrated,
leaving gendered job segregation and the
gender wage gap unaddressed. Hence, social
upgrading initiatives should include ensuring
enforcement of core labour standards,
non-discrimination and equality in wages,
working conditions, career mobility and job
opportunities between women and men. Social
standards would need to reach all workers,
also informal part-time workers where women
are concentrated, and along the whole chain,
including subcontractors where women also
tend to be concentrated (Barrientos 2013).
One approach for the latter is assigning liability
with the lead rm for the labour practices of
their subcontractors, as Chile and Uruguay
have done (Direccion del Trabajo-Gobierno de
Chile 2015; PwC 2014). Generally, collective
bargaining agreements that provide important
channels for negotiations need to be supported
and extended by gender specic issues. The
same is true for strengthening and training
labour inspectorates to enable them to full
their enforcement functions effectively.
4. Leverage actions by all GVC actors:
Governments play an important role in
implementing gender equity interventions.
However policies implemented by other GVC
actors (most importantly lead rms, industry
associations, trade unions and NGOs) are
crucial and can play a critical complementary
role. Given the power of lead rms in GVC
governance, they can play a particularly
pivotal role, as their production and sourcing
policies often reinforce deeply embedded
gender issues in production in order to capture
rents by accessing low-cost and exible
female labour. They can reverse this and help
develop understanding amongst GVC actors of
the social and business case behind reducing
gender inequalities. Most importantly, they
can drive change by including a gender lens
to their employment, training, sourcing and
CSR policies. Lead rms need to ensure their
commercial practices recognise and adequately
remunerate women producers and workers.
Lead rms could also encourage and support
their suppliers to implement gender-sensitive
policies and could enforce their application
through internal codes of conduct as well as
third party monitoring. They could introduce
longer-term contractual relationships with
suppliers which would allow suppliers to offer
more secure and longer-term employment
contracts, leading to increased job security.
Industry associations would be well placed to
identify gender-specic constraints and skill
gaps in GVCs and come up with innovative
approaches to ensure training curricula, courses
and other support programs are better tailored
to female workers and entrepreneurs needs.
Trade unions and NGOs play an important role
in raising issues of gender discrimination and
exploitation of women producers and workers
(Barrientos 2014).
5. Target multi-lateral trade interventions
such as Aid for Trade to secure positive
economic, social and gender outcomes:
Aid for Trade has centered on using trade
expansion as an engine for development and
poverty eradication in developing countries.
It has developed into the most important aid
Development and LDCs
channel in the area of trade, streamlining a
good portion of multilateral trade support.
In this role, it should be leveraged to help
countries mainstream gender issues into trade
support and better develop gender sensitive
trade and related policies. This can be done
through information sharing and capacity
building among key policy actors in target
countries, as well as through targeting aid
programs at areas where women are focused
and/or face particular challenges. First, a
gender dimension has to be added to Aid for
Trade guidelines, templates, best practices
and other policy materials. Efforts began to
focus in this direction following the Aid for
Trade monitoring exercises in 2011, including
exploring appropriate gender indicators
to include in assessments to drive more
empirically-informed policy making. But
stakeholders agree that more needs to be
done (WTO 2015b). Second, there could be
specic funds dedicated to projects targeting
challenges related to gender equality
and trade and GVC dynamics. Particularly
economic upgrading initiatives could be
supported that target activities where women
workers and/or producers are concentrated
through specic training, technology transfer,
nancing and/or networking activities (WTO
2015a). In such a way, Aid for Trade could be a
powerful instrument for driving and supporting
a gendered trade support and GVC approach
that integrates economic, social and gender
aspects in multiple countries.
6. Improve access to information and
networks for women: To get access to
information and inuence policies it is crucial
to support women’s inclusion and inuence
in industry or farmers’ associations and trade
unions that are often male-dominated, also
in sectors that have a predominantly female
workforce. Industry and farmers’ associations
and trade unions often function on gendered
premises and therefore do not see and take
action to resolve gender-specic problems.
Increased awareness, capacity-building and
inclusion of female members and leaders in
these representative organisations would be
necessary for these to recognize and address
gender based segregation and constraints
(Silvander 2013). Further, women’s groups and
associations for workers and entrepreneurs
need to be institutionally strengthened and
supported by assisting and nancing capacity
building in networking and leadership. Strong
women representation bodies provide female
entrepreneurs and workers with a voice in
policymaking, increase their bargaining power
and can help raise awareness of gender-
intensied constraints. Such networks can also
facilitate access to information, technology,
inputs and markets and hence contribute to
overcoming gender intensied constraints.
Moreover, a gender council could be established
that assesses specic gender based constraints
related to GVC participation and upgrading
and identies necessary policy measures. The
council would need to work in collaboration
with different government ministries and
agencies, industry and farmers’ associations,
trade unions, rms and women’s groups and
7. Increase access to training for women:
Eliminating gender disparity at all levels of
education is among the preconditions for
women to become efcient economic agents
and benet from GVCs and upgrading (UNCTAD
2014). Access to training for women as workers
and entrepreneurs is essential for learning
about GVC requirements and standards and
needs to be enabled and encouraged. Most
basically, training programs need to be
scheduled and located in such a way that
women can attend, accommodating their
reproductive responsibilities. They must also
take into account cultural and social norms
that may prevent women from interacting
with men. Further, training needs to be
targeted and tailored to the specic needs
of female workers and entrepreneurs and
at those areas where women are excluded
or under-represented such as technical and
management related elds. For example,
tailoring vocational training and extension
services better to female entrepreneurs’
needs could require, for example, adopting
participatory methods, focusing on tasks in
which female farmers or producers specialize
and increasing the number of female agents
or teachers (Fontana 2012). Further, managers
would need to undergo training on gender
specic challenges and be encouraged to
undertake on the job training in a gender
sensitive manner. Improvements in curricula
in formal education are not only important to
take into account gender based inequalities
but also to be more relevant to the skills
required in GVCs and for upgrading requiring
the government and the private sector to
work together. In addition, the recognition
of all skills required for particular industries
through certication programs, regardless of
whether these skills were obtained through
formal education, training, or life experience,
would be crucial to avoid a gender-bias in
role assignation and ensure that “feminised
skills” are rewarded accordingly. In addition
to reducing gender inequality, competency
certications can reduce transaction costs
related to recruitment and facilitate labour
8. Increase access to land, nance and
productive resources for women: In order to
support GVC entry and upgrading for female-
owned rms, it is important to address gender-
intensied constraints with regard to access to
land and nance. In many countries, access
to land tends to be more difcult to change
as it is related to customary laws. Hence, in
the short to medium term it may be easier
to address access to nance, in particular
also de-linking it from land as a collateral.
Addressing gender constraints to access to
credit requires raising awareness among
nancial institutions, initiating nancial
inclusion programs, developing innovative
nancial instruments and improving female
nancial literacy (Bamber & Fernandez-Stark
2013). The nancial sector has a clear role to
play in facilitating access to nancial services
for female farmers and producers (Fontana
2012). In the medium-term, resources could
be invested in making improvements to
infrastructure, in particular transport to
improve women’s mobility and ICT supply that
benets female entrepreneurs more due to
their limited access to information and higher
illiteracy rate. Further, the introduction of
modern, electronic customs clearance systems
could overcome the difculties women tend
to experience in border procedures related to
gender discrimination (Fontana 2011).
9. Reduce the burden of reproductive work
on women: This is a longer term challenge
to be addressed through changes in the
legal, education and cultural system and
equal sharing of reproductive responsibilities
between women and men. But in the short-
to medium-term, responsibilities can be
eased by policies that aim to reduce the work
burden related to reproductive obligations
and free up women’s time to participate in
productive activities. Such policies would
involve investments in improvements in
infrastructure, in particular improvements
to transport networks, electricity and water,
and promoting regulations and services that
facilitate combining paid and unpaid work
(e.g. child care, maternity and paternity
leave, care for the elderly, transport, housing,
health provisions, etc.). Easing constraints for
women through initiative such as providing
on-site child care, for example, has been
found to importantly reduce absenteeism in
the apparel, horticulture and tourism sectors
(Bamber & Fernandez-Stark 2013; Christian et
al 2013), which also contributes to increased
productivity and competitiveness in GVCs.
While there is no ‘one size ts all’ approach,
combining economic and social upgrading as
well as gender equality often requires multi-
stakeholder collaboration between public,
private and civil society actors within GVCs
to ensure competitiveness, value addition,
labour rights and gender equality are not
viewed as mutually exclusive but as reinforcing
objectives. This is required if GVC integration
should lead to upgrading and sustainable
development. This type of collaboration, while
not easy to achieve, offers a promising pathway
to bring together governmental, employer,
labour and women actors to simultaneously
achieve economic and social gains for both
women and men as set out by the SDGs. These
win-win outcomes envisaged by the SDGs
Development and LDCs
require that social issues and upgrading as well
as gender equity initiatives be fully integrated
into trade and industrial policy geared towards
competitiveness and economic upgrading.
To sum up, as a basis for policy interventions in
specic GVCs, sectors and countries, a gendered
GVC analysis is key as this allows seeing the
economy and GVCs as gendered structures
and understanding the gender composition of
employment, gendered access to and exclusion
from particular activities, and gender-
intensied constraints and opportunities in
GVCs. It requires including the differential
power relations between women and men
reecting wider gender inequalities in society
that can affect the positions, integration and
upgrading of rms, producers and workers at
any GVC node (Barrientos 2001; 2014). This
is important from a gender quality and social
justice perspective but also to understand
broader GVC and upgrading dynamics and to
further GVC integration, upgrading and socio-
economic development.
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ICTSD’s Programme on Development and LDCs aims to empower low income countries to leverage
trade opportunities for inclusive growth and sustainable development. Programmatic activities
cover regional integration, global value chains, and services trade.
Other publications from the Development and LDCs programme include:
• Global Value Chains, Industrial Policy, and Sustainable Development - Ethiopia’s Apparel
Export Sector. By Cornelia Staritz, Leonhard Plank, and Mike Morris, 2016.
Trade Policies and Sustainable Development in the Context of Global Value Chains. By ICTSD,
Inclusive and Sustainable Growth: The SDG Value Chains Nexus. By Raphael Kaplinsky, 2016.
• Global Value Chains, Sustainable Development, and the Apparel Industry in Lesotho. By
Mike Morris, Justin Barnes, and Moshe Kao, 2016.
Global Value Chains and Trade Facilitation: Opportunities for Sustainable Development. By
Ben Shepherd, 2016.
The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) is an independent think-
and-do-tank, engaged in the provision of information, research and analysis, and policy and
multistakeholder dialogue, as a not-for-profit organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland. Established
in 1996, ICTSD’s mission is to ensure that trade and investment policy and frameworks advance
sustainable development in the global economy.
... Overall, the dependence on primarily high school and technical education makes the industry well suited for growth in developing countries. Furthermore, unlike other sectors such as textiles and apparel and electronics which are highly feminized (Bamber & Staritz, 2016), the medical devices GVC is characterized by greater gender equity in overall employment numbers and lower variation as product composition changes. Many of the leading exporters of these products have similar shares of male and female employment. ...
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Duke GVCC's study into Pakistan's medical devices industry was sponsored by the World Bank.
... In many producing countries among developing countries, tree commodities contribute significantly to export earnings and hence to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Global supply chains are increasingly being seen as pathways for employment creation, income generation, and poverty alleviation, which all have the potential to contribute directly to SDGs 1, 2 and 8 (Bamber and Staritz 2016). However, global supply chains are often characterised by disproportionately favoured, powerful, well-integrated actors such as retailers, processors, and manufacturers. ...
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• Achieving gender equality and women empowerment is increasingly being recognised as a central tenet to achieving sustainable development in value chains for coffee and cocoa • This chapter explores the evidence on gender inequalities within cocoa and coffee value chains in East and West Africa, respectively • Additionally, the chapter highlights how gender gaps can be closed for coffee and cocoa value chains to be more inclusive to disadvantaged groups like women to participate and benefit. • Investing in gender-sensitive initiatives that ensure that institutional and legal barriers are removed to enhance women’s human, social, financial, and physical capital.
... In many producing countries among developing countries, tree commodities contribute significantly to export earnings and hence to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Global supply chains are increasingly being seen as pathways for employment creation, income generation, and poverty alleviation, which all have the potential to contribute directly to SDGs 1, 2 and 8 (Bamber and Staritz 2016). However, global supply chains are often characterised by disproportionately favoured, powerful, well-integrated actors such as retailers, processors, and manufacturers. ...
... There are multiple definitions of value chains, ranging from simple to extended value chains (Kaplinsky and Morris, 2000). However, a common feature of these definitions is that a value chain describes the range of activities, from the production of goods and services to their final consumption [Freeman and Liedtka, 1997;Christopher, 2000;Kaplinsky and Morris, 2000;Mutua et al., 2014;FAO (Food andAgriculture Organisation), 2014, 2015;Bamber and Staritz, 2016;Bougdira et al., 2016]. On the one hand, some refer to the value chain definition as: ...
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Achieving SDG5 requires an analytical and practical framework enabling a win–win participation of women with poor resources in gender-blind societies. Women with poor resources are mostly excluded from formal economic systems and face gender inequalities. In agricultural and food value chains, women are not equally included as men in highly attractive value chains, so they end up engaging in informal (less lucrative) agri-food activities alongside the value chains. However, the existing literature fails to design an adequate framework that efficiently addresses gender inequality and the poverty conditions of women in low-income countries, mostly gender-blind. This study contributes to filling this knowledge gap by proposing a gender-aware inclusive value chain from a theoretical perspective. For this purpose, we conducted a deep and extensive state-of-the-art study on value chain development and strategies over the past three decades. Two main types of value chains are drawn from this literature review: (1) conventional value chains, mainly exclusive or adverse, including the bottom of the pyramid populations and gender-blind; and (2) gender-aware value chains mostly focus on value chains that are controlled by women. Hence, the paper proposes a third type of value chains inspired by the Foucauldian perspective of human being: gender-aware inclusive value chain (GAIVC). This perspective considers a value chain similar to the human body in its functioning because the human body is composed of different organs that are autonomous but complementary to each other. GAIVC is also composed of different elements (actors/stakeholders, farms, storage, infrastructure, and so on) that should be complementary and non-competitive. From this perspective, it provides more opportunities for poor resource women to evolve into a non-discriminatory environment based on gender. It also breaks down the power relations between the chain actors, as they have to cooperate and avoid the chain from collapsing from within and outside threats. In this way, the sustainability of value chains is guaranteed, and all actors involved receive fair rewards from chain participation.
... This article is concerned with the gender dimension of GVCs. GVCs are embedded in socio-cultural contexts characterised by gendered norms, values and power relations that influence women's participation (Bamber and Staritz 2016). In particular, gendered patterns of behaviour shape the roles, responsibilities, distribution of resources and benefits that accrue to men and women (Barrientos, Dolan, and Tallontire 2003). ...
This article contributes to the literature on global value chains by examining how non-governmental organisations (NGOs) promote gender equality. NGOs have been instrumental in setting social standards that seek to institutionalise gender-sensitive governance structures. However, relatively little is known about their roles in doing so. Using in-depth empirical research on the Women@Work Campaign in the cut-flower sector in Kenya, the article examines how a coalition of Kenyan NGOs and an international NGO push for gender equality in global value chains. While the Kenyan NGOs do most of the actual work on the ground, the international NGO uses its position to facilitate and empower the local NGOs to do their work. Yet, we see that funding conditions hamper the local NGOs’ efforts to promote gender equality. Overall, our analysis highlights that NGOs fulfil important roles in promoting gender equality in horticulture value chains but the requirements of the international aid system act as a constraint.
... Labour participation of rural men and women inChile, 1990Chile, -2015 Source: Author's elaboration based on data from the CASEN series.The above changes align with the different gendered analyses of global value chains at the international level(Bamber and Staritz, 2016;Barrientos, 2001;Barrientos, Bianchi and Berman, 2019). Global value chains are primarily coordinated by multinational companies and are responsible for generating hundreds of millions of jobs in low-income countries and emerging economies. ...
Conference Paper
The thesis explores the process of neoliberal subjectivation in rural development in Chiloé, Chile, focusing mainly on the experience of local women. In general, the literature that critically explores rural development in southern Chile centres on the impact that extractivism and economic globalisation have on the environment and local livelihoods. Although these studies address essential issues such as rural-urban migration, the proletarianisation of farmers, and gender and cultural transformations, there is little analysis on the role that development has in shaping the behaviour and subjectivities of the rural population. The thesis aims to fill this gap by focusing on how the national and local state’s development practices and discourses shape people’s understanding of their own lives and their relationships with others. Empirically, the research focuses on a range of relevant governmental programmes during the salmon industry crisis and in the immediate aftermath. It draws on qualitative and quantitative data from diverse primary and secondary sources. Primary data includes interviews with local civil servants, programme implementers and civil society representatives, a socioeconomic household survey and in-depth interviews with local women. The thesis argues that there is no straightforward correspondence between what development intends to do and what occurs in practice. Although the efforts to create responsible, rational economic individuals shape the relation of the Chilean state with the rural poor, parallel state interventions and discourses do not necessarily point towards the same ideal. Building on these contradictions and their culture and knowledge, poor rural women in Central Chiloé find ways to deviate from neoliberal ideals and express subtle yet relevant critiques to the development approach of the Chilean state in rural territories.
... For instance,Barrientos (2019) andBamber and Staritz (2016). 2 BPO is a segment of the larger information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) and comprises the offshoring of enterprise resource, human resource and customer relationship management(Gereffi and Fernandez-Stark 2010). ...
This paper presents a framework to analyse the gendered impact of Covid‐19 on workers in global value chains using the business process outsourcing, garments and electronics industries. We analytically distinguish between the health and lockdown effects of the pandemic, and the supply and demand‐related impacts of the latter. Our gendered analysis of these pathways focuses on multi‐dimensional aspects of well‐being, understands the economy as encompassing production and social reproduction spheres, and examines the social norms and structures of power that produce gender inequalities. We find that the pandemic exposes and amplifies the existing vulnerabilities of women workers in GVCs.
We examine linkages between involvement in global value chains (GVCs) and gender wage inequalities. We use merged data from Structure of Earnings Survey and the World Input Output Database covering 18 European countries. We employ information on employees’ personal and company characteristics and a sectoral involvement in GVCs. In general, the wages of workers from sectors more involved in GVCs are lower. However, the relationship between GVC and wages differs according to gender: women are more affected by the negative impact of greater trade involvement than men. There is some education/skill heterogeneity: workers with a medium level of education and medium skills are most affected. Our results show different patterns for concentrated and competitive industries: a greater female wage penalty due to GVC intensification is observed in less competitive sectors. Finally, using the RIF decomposition we differentiate GWG into explained and unexplained part with GVC being responsible for the latter.
Resumen Este artículo plantea un marco para analizar el impacto diferenciado de la COVID-19 según el género en las cadenas mundiales de valor de la confección, la electrónica y la externalización de procesos empresariales. Se distingue entre efectos derivados de las repercusiones sobre la salud y derivados de los confinamientos, y entre consecuencias de la interrupción de suministros y de la contracción de la demanda, a partir de una visión multidimensional del bienestar, considerando las esferas productiva y reproductiva, así como las normas sociales y las estructuras de poder que producen desigualdades de género. Se observa que la pandemia expone y amplifica las vulnerabilidades de las trabajadoras en las cadenas mundiales de valor.
Résumé Les autrices proposent un cadre d'analyse des effets genrés du COVID-19 sur les travailleurs de trois chaînes de valeur mondiales (CVM): les services externalisés, l'habillement et l'électronique. Elles distinguent ces effets selon qu'ils sont induits par la maladie ou par les mesures de confinement, et selon qu'ils découlent de l'offre ou de la demande. Elles tiennent compte du caractère multidimensionnel du bien-être, de l'imbrication des sphères de la production et de la reproduction sociale et du fait que les normes sociales et les structures de pouvoir produisent des inégalités entre les sexes. Elles concluent que la pandémie révèle et renforce les vulnérabilités des travailleuses des CVM.
Technical Report
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The report is based on a desk-based review, drawing upon existing studies of GSCs to examine their impacts and implications for the development of domestic firms, their contribution to productive transformation and structural change and their impacts on the quantity and quality of jobs in the LAC region. It situates the expansion of GSCs in the region within an analytical framework that recognizes both the economic and social upgrading dimensions and the impacts on firms and workers. Special attention is given to the mechanisms for governing the terms and conditions of engagement between firms and between firms and workers in GSCs, with the aim of identifying ways to jointly pursue the goals of raising competitiveness and of promoting productive employment and decent work.
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This chapter explores—and explodes—the oft-quoted stylized fact that women produce 60–80 % of food in the developing world. It uses three approaches to shed light on this issue: (1) analyzing labor inputs to agriculture, using both employment data and time-use data; (2) analyzing different ways of assigning agricultural output to men or women, based on four nationally representative household survey datasets; and (3) estimating women’s labor productivity relative to men at the macro level, using national-level agricultural productivity data across time and countries. While it is not possible to substantiate the claim that women produce 60–80 % of the food in developing countries—or even that they provide 60–80 % of the labor in agriculture, women contribute a large portion of the measured contributions to agricultural labor and women’s share of the measured agricultural labor force has a positive impact on national-level agricultural productivity. While women are not the majority of agricultural workers, the agricultural sector is important for women: 48 % of the economically active women in the world—and 79 % in developing countries—report that their primary activity is agriculture. The “60–80 %” statistical claim obscures the complex underlying reality, that it is difficult to separate women’s labor from other uses and from men’s labor, and that it cannot be understood properly without considering the gender gap in access to land, capital, assets, human capital, and other productive resources.
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Globalisation has become a catchword for the international economy at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The increasing importance of export-oriented industrialisation has made integration into the global economy virtually synonymous with development for a number of nations. However, there is an acute awareness that the gains from globalisation are very unevenly distributed within as well as between societies. A growing body of work analyses globalisation processes from the perspective of ‘value chains’; that is that international trade in goods and services should not be seen solely, or even mainly, as a multitude of arm’s-length market-based transactions but rather as systems of governance - involving multinational enterprises - that link firms together in a variety of sourcing and contracting arrangements. Understanding how these value chains operate is very important for developing country firms and policymakers because the way chains are structured has implications for newcomers trying to participate in the chain and to gain access to necessary skills, competences and supporting services. Most of the papers in this Bulletin build on the results of a workshop in Bellagio, Italy in September 2000, where all these issues were discussed.