The Disaster Chain: Counter-Mapping Global Value Chains

Zumbansen, Peer | March 31, 2023

Abstract: Prevailing accounts by consultancies and logistics scholars present global value chains [GVCs] as an expression of contemporary international economic integration and connectivity. As such, they are considered crucial to the pursuit of economic growth and prosperity. At the same time, GVCs are deemed susceptible to “disruptions” through natural catastrophes, restrictive trade policies or pandemics. Left out of the standard narratives, even in light of the experience of the global Coronavirus pandemic, is the actual, as such disruptive impact of global value chain capitalism on human and natural lives. Dominant depictions of global value chain governance treat labor, environment and local communities only peripherally, thus leaving the political economy of vulnerability, exploitation and destruction that is shaped by the chain in the dark.

Complementing a growing, interdisciplinary literature on global value chains, this paper focuses on the challenges that lawyers face in developing an adequate understanding of GVCs and their effect on the ground. The paper contrasts the standard management and operations narratives of GVCs with insights from labor and human rights activists, disaster law scholars as well as ethnographers, sociologists and geographers with the goal of drawing a counter-map of global value chain governance. The methodology of such a map draws on emerging trends in critical cartography and focuses, from a legal perspective, on identifying spaces of critical intervention and political-legal activism and reform.