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Leveraging the Vertical: The Contested Dynamics of Sustainability Standards and Labour in Global Production Networks

Maja Tampe

British Journal of Industrial Relations, 2018, vol. 56, issue 1, 43-74

Abstract: Sustainability standards for tropical agriculture promise better trade and fairer labour conditions for smallholders. Recent research on labour suggests that, besides such standards, configurations of buyer–supplier relationships crucially shape economic and labour conditions. However, a static configurational approach overlooks the role of supplier and labour agency over time. Using a matched case comparison of two certified rural enterprises in Ecuador, this article shows that suppliers can leverage standards to create value from vertical relationships with buyers. However, standards do not, by themselves, directly contribute to better conditions. They do so indirectly only if suppliers manage to become competitive in an elite market, augmenting rather than dampening unequal trade conditions. This study contributes to recent theory seeking to explain uneven labour outcomes with sustainability standards in global production networks.

Date: 2018
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