Environmental Upgrading in Global Value Chains: A Framework for Analysis

Aarti Krishnan, Valentina De Marchi, Stefano Ponte

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One of the main preoccupations of scholarship analysing global value chains (GVCs) and production networks (GPNs) has been understanding to what extent and under what circumstances participation in global industries by suppliers, regions and countries is possible and what benefits and costs might arise from it. Two main aspects have been at the centre of these discussions: the first involves examining the drivers, power dynamics and governance structures within value chains and production networks, which define the rules of participation and shape how value is created and distributed Dallas et al. 2019; Gereffi et al. 2005); the second is focused on upgrading through economic and social value creation, capture and enhancement or destruction (Milberg and Winkler 2011). Significant research has focused on the economic and social (e.g. labour rights) dimensions of upgrading in GVCs (Barrientos, Gereffi, & Rossi, 2011). Recent efforts have started to also unpack the environmental dimensions of upgrading (De Marchi et al, 2013) . Yet, the drivers, processes of value creation with relation to the environment have remained undertheorized. Much of the existing discussions around environmental upgrading, similar to those on economic upgrading, have applied a top-down approach focusing on lead firms in GVCs, or on large first-tier firms, which overlooks the agency of lower-tier actors (Tokatli, 2013). There has been a tendency to study the benefits of upgrading from the point of view of the actor dominating specific value chain relationships (Starosta, 2010). This raises the important question of ‘upgrading for whom’, and thus suggests the need for an epistemological shift in the unit of analysis — from dominant actors to lower tier actors. For instance, suppliers acquiring organic certification will be likely to improve reputation and achieve compliance with the corporate social responsibility goals of a lead firm, but at the same time organic practices may reduce crop yields by increasing pest and disease attacks and hence affect farmers’ competitiveness (Krauss and Krishnan, 2016). In the same vein, Giuliani et al. (2017) and Havice and Campling (2017), showed that farmers and fishers do not necessarily facilitate positive benefits for nature when environmentally upgrading, especially when they are under pressure to comply with sustainability certifications. This push to upgrade environmentally is often accompanied by a simultaneous ‘squeeze’ on suppliers further down the value chain, as lead firms transfer the burden of achieving lower environmental footprints onto suppliers (Ponte, 2019), impacting environmental distribution. Thus, there is a need to improve understandings on the different dimensions of environmental upgrading, along with the ensuing environmental outcomes and how they are experienced by different actors along the value chain. This paper seeks to provide a nuanced framework to unpack the drivers and motivations across value chain actors accounting for the non-linearity in environmental upgrading processes and outcomes which lead to different forms of environmental value creation, value capture and distribution. This requires a nuanced model of agency that reflects upon different actor epistemologies and that captures the diverse distributive effects of the environmental value generated and captured by different actors.
StatusUdgivet - 2020
BegivenhedSASE 32nd Annual Conference 2020 - Virtual Conference: Development Today: Accumulation, Surveillance, Redistribution - Virtual, Amsterdam, Holland
Varighed: 18 jul. 202021 jul. 2021
Konferencens nummer: 32


KonferenceSASE 32nd Annual Conference 2020 - Virtual Conference