Research Groups

Research Groups
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Coordinators: Prof. Hila Shamir

This Collaborative Research Group proposes to focus on the role of law in the organization, operation and impact of Global Value Chains. The term ‘Global Value Chains’ seeks to capture the process of specialization and geographic fragmentation of supply and production, often exhibiting in the transfer of the labor-intensive parts of the production process to emerging economies. While the exact scope of GVCs is difficult to measure, GVC scholars have noted that “GVCs have become the world economy’s backbone and central nervous system”. Despite the distributive potential of GVCs to support development in emerging economics, GVC scholars have noted that such ‘economic upgrading’ is not inherent in GVCs and have pointed to the misdistribution of power and profit along some GVCs. Other scholars raised concerns about ‘social upgrading’ and distributive injustice along the value chain in relation to local communities and, particularly, workers and the environment. For example, a growing body of GVC and labor literature highlight the often-exploitative working conditions in which workers operate at the lower tiers of GVCs, and suggests that cost squeezes on the supply side and exploitation of cheap labor is endemic in the buyer-driven structures of GVCs.

GVC governance policy and literature tend to focus on two dimensions: how law constitutes and enables the ongoing evolution of GVCs, and how GVCs affect legal developments, legal percepts, and how these changes impact various stakeholders. Despite the proliferation of innovative attempts to regulate and govern, GVCs scholars have noticed that law is “significantly undertheorized in the burgeoning social science and policy literatures on GVCs.” While the fundamental logic of GVCs is economic, in some recent literature legal intuitionalists place law at the centre, focusing on the key elements, what Katharina Pistor calls “modules”, of private law that create the “legal code” of capitalism. These modules are combined and recombined in a highly modular form to fashion capitalism. It is the malleability of these legal components, the way in which they can be manipulated and combined by lawyers, lobbyists, accountants and strategists that endows them with their productive power. GVCs are therefore not merely an economic innovation detached from law, but actually an institution that is constituted and made possible by legal choices.

The proposed study group seeks to explore, examine and develop an analysis of the operation of “the law of GVCs”–understanding law as both providing an infrastructure that enables GVCs, as well as having potentially a role in transforming GVCs and limiting corporate power and the undesirable externalities of unchecked corporate action. As such, the group will examine private governance but also will offer a comparative exploration of public governance and the legal dimension from a GVC perspective. We seek to develop a multi-faceted study and research of the law of GVCs that will revolve around private vs public ordering and power, particularly thinking about the power of corporations and of nation states in a changing global national and transnational political, social, economic, and material order.

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