WOERRC-SPERI Workshop: Conceptualizing Labour ‘Unfreedom’ and Degradation Along the Supply Chain

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Conceptualizing Labour ‘Unfreedom’ and Degradation Along the Supply Chain

Workshop at the University of Sheffield, May 26-27, 2016

Since the economic crisis of 2008-2009, labour unfreedom has intensified at the bottom end of the labour market. Working conditions, remuneration, and collective bargaining rights have stagnated or declined for large-swathes of the low-waged workforce. At the same time, evidence from several sectors suggests that the practices commonly known as ‘forced labour’ have become widespread and are accelerating in global value chains. Indeed, the era of austerity seems to have condensed labour market opportunities and across the bottom rungs of the labour market.

The expansion of Global Value Chains has significant and far-reaching implications for labour and the labour process. Legal and illegal forms of exploitation are more porous and overlapping than is usually acknowledged in scholarship and policy. There is an urgent need to understand the nexus and interactions between forced labour and ‘regular’ exploitation within global value chains. Recent research on global value chains (GVC) and global commodity chains (GCCs) has begun to remedy the ‘labour deficit’ within those paradigms. Yet, we maintain that there is much to be done to understand the ‘dimensions’ of labour unfreedom and degradation within and along value chains.

Bringing together scholars of both the ‘normal’ labour market and of unfree labour (including forced labour and human trafficking), this workshop will aim to build a comprehensive understanding of recovery’s wide-ranging effects on low-waged and vulnerable workers. Key questions include:

  • How can the GVC/GCC and Labour Process Theory paradigms help us to understand and represent the links between unfree labour, legal exploitation and the degradation of labour within value chains?
  • How can we best understand the gender dimensions of labour unfreedom and degradation within and along supply chains?
  • Moving beyond orthodox indicators of labour market performance (such as unemployment and GDP), what evidence bases can be used to empirically analyze and capture the full set of labour market challenges?

Overall, the workshop aims to generate new thinking about the overlaps and boundaries between unfree labour and normalized exploitation within global value chains. We welcome papers from a variety of disciplines across the social sciences.

Thanks to generous funding from the UK Economic and Social Research Council, there will be no registration fee for the workshop and meals will be provided. Limited funds are available to support travel.

Convened by: University of Sheffield Management School’s Work, Organization & Employment Research Centre (WOERRC) and Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI).

Deadline for submissions: 30th March 2016

Please submit a 250 word abstract and presenter bio to: Dr Kirsty Newsome (k.j.newsome@sheffield.ac.uk) Dr Genevieve LeBaron (g.lebaron@sheffield.ac.uk)