Cover page

Table of Contents

Title page

Copyright page



Introduction: The Politics of Global Supply Chains

The Neglect of Supply Chain Politics

Aims of the Book

The Book's Approach

The Politics of Global Supply Chains: An Overview

Dilemmas of Multi-Level Power and Governance

Chapter 1: Power and Governance in Garment Supply Chains

Sources and Consequences of Economic Power Within Global Supply Chains

The Challenge of Supply Chain Power to State Governance

Chapter 2: The Emergence of Non-State Governance: Anti-Sweatshop Campaigns

The Emergence of Campaigns

Brand-Based Campaigns

Solidarity Campaigns: The Case of Chentex

Conclusions from Campaigns

Chapter 3: The Private Sector Response: Codes of Conduct

Entrenching Learning and Organizational Change Within Supply Chains

Transparency, Participation and Code Effectiveness

Dynamic Analysis of Code-Driven Processes of Change

Concluding Comments

Chapter 4: Dispersed Power Within Coffee Supply Chains

Social Governance Challenges in the Coffee Sector

State Governance Capacity to Tackle These Challenges

Transnational Constraints on Nicaraguan State Governance

Consequences for the Capacity of State-Centred Supply Chain Governance

Chapter 5: The Transformative Challenge: Fair Trade as an ‘Alternative’ Institutional Model

Building a Fair Trade Market: Redefining Transnational Responsibilities

Building New Capabilities Within the System of Supply Chain Governance

Confronting Power Asymmetries Within the Fair Trade System

Scope and Scale of the Fair Trade System: Limits and Potential


Chapter 6: Starbucks CAFÉ Practices: The ‘Responsible’ Corporation Responds

Emergence of the Initiative

Reinforcing Recognition of Transnational Responsibilities: Corporate Responsibility in Global Supply Chains

Incentivizing Capacity Building in Institutions of Supply Chain Governance

Lack of Commitment to Public Accountability


Chapter 7: Interaction Between Initiatives: Diffusing Change Beyond ‘Niche’ Supply Chains

Transforming Decision Making Across National and Public–Private Divides


Chapter 8: Lessons and Synthesis: Power, Responsibility and Governance Beyond the State

New Forms of Political Power Within Global Supply Chains

New Claims of Transnational Responsibility

Building New Systems of Supply Chain Governance and Accountability

How Have Non-State Supply Chain Governance Schemes Performed?

Bringing the State Back In?

The Role of the State Within a Multi-Level System of Supply Chain Governance

Conclusion: Ongoing Political Contests in Global Supply Chains



Title page


Alianza Bolivariana Para Los Pueblos de Nuestra AmericaALBA
Alternative Trading OrganizationsATO
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial OrganizationsAFL-CIO
Asia Monitor Resource CentreAMRC
Asia Pacific Labour Update/Institute of Industry and Labour StudiesAPLU/IILS
Asian Development BankADB
Asociación de Cafés Especiales de NicaraguaACEN
Asociación de Trabajadores del CampoATC
Asociación Servicios de Promoción LaboralASEPROLA
Association of Southeast Asian NationsASEAN
Caribbean Basin InitiativeCBI
Center for Reflection, Education and ActionCREA
Central Sandinista de Trabajadores UnionCST Union
Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public EthicsCAPPE
Centre for Economic and International Studies (Formerly the Centre for International Studies on Economic Growth)CEIS
Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos HumanosCENIDH
Comisión Presidencial de CompetitividadPROCOMPE
Common Code for the Coffee CommunityCCCC
Confederación de Trabajadores Nicaragüenses (autónoma) UnionCTNa Union
Consejo Permanente de Trabajadores UnionCPT Union
Corporate Social ResponsibilityCSR
Corporatión de Zonas FrancasCZF
Department for International Development (UK)DFID
Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade AgreementCAFTA-DR
Export Development CanadaEDC
Export Finance & Insurance Corporation (Australia)EFIC
Export Processing ZoneEPZ
Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias SocialesFLACO
Fair Labor AssociationFLA
Fair Trade Labelling OrganisationFLO
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsFAO
Frente Sandinista de Liberación NacionalFSLN
Generalised System of PreferencesGSP
Institute of Behavioral ScienceIBS
International Centre for Trade and Sustainable DevelopmentICTSD
International Coffee OrganizationICO
International Fair Trade AssociationIFAT
International Labor Rights ForumILRF
International Labour OrganizationILO
International Monetary FundIMF
International Restructuring Education Network EuropeIRENE
International Rights AdvocatesIR Advocates
Korea Trade-Investment Promotion AgencyKOTRA
La Asociación Coordinadora Municipal de Proyectos de Ciudades Hermanas de TipitapaCOMPALCIHT
Maquila Solidarity NetworkMSN
Maria Elena CuadraMEC
Mesa Laboral de Sindicatos de la MaquilaMLSM
Ministerio Agropecuario y ForestalMAGFOR
Ministerio de Fomento, Industria y ComercioMIFIC
Ministerio del Trabajo de NicaraguaMITRAB
Mulitnational CorporationMNC
National Bureau of Economic ResearchNBER
National Coffee CouncilCONACAFE
National Labor CommitteeNLC
Occupational health and safetyOHS
Office of the United States Trade RepresentativeUSTR
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and DevelopmentOECD
Overseas Private Investment CorporationOPIC
Overseas Private Investment CorporationOPIC
Profesionales para la Auditoria Social EmpresarialPASE
Scientific Certification SystemsSCS
Socio-Economics and the Environment in DiscussionSEED
Sustainable Agriculture Initiative PlatformSAI Platform
(Taiwanese) Council of Labour AffairsCLA
Trading Company of ECOM Coffee GroupAtlantic
Trading Company of Mercon Coffee GroupCISA
Transnational CorporationsTNC
Unión de Cafetaleros de NicaraguaUCAFENIC
Unión de Cooperativas Agropecuarias Cafetaleros de DipiltoUCAFE Dipilto
Unión Nacional de Agricultores y GanaderosUNAG
United Nations Children's FundUNICEF
United Nations Conference on Trade and DevelopmentUNCTAD
United Nations Development ProgramUNDP
United Nations Economic and Social CouncilECOSOC
United Nations Industrial Development OrganizationUNIDO
United Nations Research Institute for Social DevelopmentUNRISD
United States Agency for International DevelopmentUSAID
United States Trade RepresentativeUSTR
US Labor Education in the Americas Project (formerly United States/Guatemala Labor Education Project (US/GLEP))US/LEAP
World Trade OrganizationWTO
Worldwide Responsible Accredited ProductionWRAP


Throughout the long process of research that has fed into this book, I have benefited from contributions and assistance from a large number of individuals and institutions. The people who have influenced or supported the research in various ways are far too numerous for me to even try to list individually. And although I can't resist mentioning a few by name, my comments below focus on identifying the key institutions in which I was based during various phases of the research and writing process, as well as the individuals and organizations who directly contributed to the research itself.

First of all, I want to acknowledge friends, colleagues and mentors from Oxford University, where the research began. Particular thanks for guidance, insights and support to Frances Stewart at the Department of International Development (Queen Elizabeth House), and Ngaire Woods and Walter Mattli from the Department of Politics and International Relations. Many thanks also to staff at the research institute Nitlapan at the Central American University in Managua, where I was based during the first phase of the field research, and who provided much support and advice. In particular I want to thank Arturo Grigsby for facilitating my stay there. I also received invaluable insights and encouragement from colleagues at both the Government Department and the Development Studies Institute (DESTIN) at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where I was based for two of the years I was working on this research – especially Mathias Koenig-Archibugi, David Held and other colleagues in the Global Politics Program, and Robert Wade at DESTIN. Thanks also to colleagues and friends at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University, where I worked for a short period while still ploughing my way through the research for this book. During the final stages of revising and updating the text, I have received a huge amount of support from friends and colleagues at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

Of course I also owe a huge debt to the hundreds of people who were generous enough to give their time to meet with me and participate in formal interviews, invite me to attend events and meetings they were involved with, and share further information and ideas with me on subsequent occasions over the phone and by email. Many people who assisted and contributed to the research have now moved on from the roles they were in when I met with them, while others have continued working in similar roles through the long period over which my work on this topic has extended. All of those I met with have influenced the ideas presented in the book in important ways. In particular, I want to single out for special thanks Nick Hoskyns, Santiago Rivera, Henry Hueck, Chris Bacon, and Hsin-Hsing Chen, all of whom met and spoke with me on numerous occasions, and offered invaluable and ongoing sources of information and insight.

For various forms of financial support throughout different stages of the research, I want to thank the Commonwealth Scholarship Foundation, the Carr and Stahl Funds from St Antony's College at Oxford University, and the Webb Medley travel fund from the Oxford University Department of Economics.

And most importantly, I want to thank all of the friends and family members who have been so unfailingly supportive throughout the seemingly interminable process of researching and writing this book. I won't single them out by name, but they know who they are.

Introduction: The Politics of Global Supply Chains

From corporate boardrooms to the butcher's paper and whiteboards of activist workshops, the phrase ‘supply chain politics’ has become increasingly commonplace. It is now routine practice for major global companies to hire specialist staff responsible for ‘supply chain compliance’, which involves managing human rights, labour standards and other aspects of social governance in farms and factories supplying a company's manufacturing or retail operations. Meanwhile, grassroots activists working with marginalized workers use diagrams of corporate ‘supply chains’ when planning how to most effectively mobilize against transnational structures of corporate power. And consultants within the rapidly expanding industry of ‘responsible supply chain management’ organize events to consult factory workers on their employers' operations, with titles such as ‘The Supply Chain Talks Back’ (CSRAsia 2005). The objectives and experiences of such actors are far removed from each other, yet all recognize the importance of supply chain politics for understanding and transforming patterns of contemporary globalization.

What, then, are these diverse groups referring to when they vigorously debate how global supply chains should be managed? Most now share a broad understanding of a supply chain as an increasingly common arrangement through which the steps involved in producing a given product and bringing it to market are divided up and coordinated beyond the boundaries of a single firm. The term ‘global supply chain’ highlights the associated trend towards the chopping up and spreading out of stages of production not only across different organizational units, but also across different geographical sites.1

What this means in practical terms is that transnational companies in many agricultural and industrial sectors no longer rely primarily on in-house facilities to organize production of the goods they sell. Rather, they source much of their product through chains of contractual, market and network relationships across a number of countries, linking a potentially diverse range of companies, farms and other organizations (Henderson 2005; Ponte and Gibbon 2005). The functional disaggregation of the production process enables ‘lead firms’ to take advantage of the distinctive competencies, efficiencies and flexibilities offered by other firms and geographical locations at different stages of the production process. As a result, firms and countries no longer trade simply in raw materials and final products. Rather, different firms and countries specialize not just in producing different products, but in different parts of different products, each focusing variously on design, assembly, marketing, and so on.

Production processes differ in how amenable they are to this kind of disaggregation and dispersion. As a result, supply chain organization varies significantly across sectors. Nevertheless, supply chains play an important role in the production of a wide range of goods, notably in manufacturing, agriculture and horticulture sectors. Such processes have become most visible in supply chains through which everyday household consumer goods such as clothing and sportswear, tea and coffee, and popular electronic consumer goods such as Apple iPhones and iPods are produced and traded. But global supply chains also play an important role in organizing the production of less visible and politicized goods such as transport equipment, electronic components and industrial machinery.

Increasing reliance on global production in such sectors has been associated in many cases with intensified regulatory challenges as production processes extend beyond the reach of any single national regulatory system. This problem of regulatory scale is compounded by the fact that global supply chains in many sectors rely heavily on production located in developing country jurisdictions, where national regulatory capacity is often encumbered by multiple institutional and financial constraints. As global supply chains have become increasingly visible and politicized, a major preoccupation within both public and scholarly debates has been how to deal with documented deficits in the effectiveness and accountability of national governance arrangements through which economic production has traditionally been regulated. Critical attention has focused in particular on governance deficits associated with morally troubling phenomena such as the proliferation of ‘sweatshop’ labour conditions in global supply chains producing clothing, toys, and other manufactured consumer goods, and conditions of poverty among farmers producing major consumer items such as tea, coffee and cocoa.

In response to such concerns, a range of non-state governance schemes have emerged – each aspiring in varying ways to tackle problems of poor living and working conditions of those working in global supply chains. Rather than leaving the task of regulating global supply chains to the discretion of individual national governments, emerging non-state governance schemes are in a sense ‘hardwired’ into the business and market-oriented institutions of global corporate supply chains themselves. Many companies have reformed their internal organization by creating new roles and organizational units focused on compliance with designated social standards. Contracts regulating the terms of business relationships between buyers and suppliers now commonly incorporate obligations relating to labour and social conditions of production. And many businesses now participate in a range of standard-setting, auditing and capacity-building schemes involving cooperation with governments and non-government organizations (NGOs) in both buyer and supplier countries. These kinds of practices reflect an important shift away from exclusive reliance on instruments of state policy and regulation as market governance tools, toward greater reliance on governance tools internal to ‘private’ supply chain institutions.

These shifts are exemplified clearly by developments within global supply chains in the coffee and garment sectors. Supply chains in both sectors have been prominently politicized in recent years by coalitions of non-state actors promoting agendas of labour rights and trade justice. Both sectors are labour-intensive and highly globalized – coffee is the second most traded good in the world, eclipsed only by petroleum.2 And both are built around structures of production and exchange in which the transnational scope of supply chains connects some of the world's poorest workers and producers with some of the world's most affluent and powerful consumer markets and corporate entities in the global north.

Supply chains in both these sectors have also been the subject of increasing attention from highly visible non-state actors. These actors have politicized key supply chain decision-making processes through their high-profile advocacy for core labour standards in the garment sector, and their focus on issues of ‘trade justice’ in the coffee sector (Gresser and Tickell 2002; Collins 2003; Varangis et al. 2003: 21). In turn, a range of non-state governance initiatives have emerged in response. In the garment sector these include brand-based and factory-based ‘anti-sweatshop’ campaigns and corporate codes of conduct, while in the coffee sector they include the Fairtrade system, Starbucks' ‘Café Practices’ coffee sourcing programme, and the Oxfam ‘Make Trade Fair’ coffee campaign. This book's empirical analysis of the politics of global supply chains focuses on detailed studies of these two sectors.

Working with these examples as the central points of reference, the book documents the emergence of a new supply chain politics based on the direct politicization of transnational business activity. As a result of shifts in both distributions of social power within the global economy, and in ideas about responsibility for the exercise of such power, there is growing concern about a perceived problem of governance deficits in the management of these transnational social relations, for which some population segments in the global north feel increasingly responsible.

As a result, social relations within supply chains are being politicized in a highly visible way. Global supply chains are now often characterized by increasing tensions and open contests between rival systems of power and governance. These involve battles for control over supply chain relationships, and conflicts over normative principles to determine who is responsible for the social conditions of production within supply chains, and on what terms.

The Neglect of Supply Chain Politics

Despite the growing visibility and influence of such transnational political contests, the concept of supply chain politics has received little sustained attention within the discipline of international relations, or political science more broadly. This is certainly not to suggest that the broad issues examined by this book will be unfamiliar to scholars and students of international affairs. Increasing social contestation and mobilization concerning labour and social conditions of global production is widely recognized among most scholars and students of international political economy, while issues of corporate social responsibility (CSR), trade justice and international labour and social regulation have shot up the agenda of mainstream global politics and international relations in recent years.

To date, however, rigorous study of global supply chains has been dominated by other disciplines. Scholars of development studies, economic geography, industrial organization and international business have all conducted detailed empirical studies of global supply chains (Neilson and Pritchard 2008). Economists, economic sociologists and business experts have proposed new techniques for coordinating production across borders, and analysed distributions of profit and risk among participating businesses and workers (Dicken 1998; Lane and Probert 2009). Development studies scholars have explored implications of supply chain reorganization for broader dimensions of worker and producer wellbeing (Kaplinsky 2000; Pearson and Seyfang 2001; Barrientos and Dolan 2006). And sociologists have documented social mobilization around supply chains via initiatives such as Fairtrade (Raynolds et al. 2007). However, most have neglected the more overtly political drivers and consequences of supply chain reorganization.

The one striking exception to this is a small but highly sophisticated body of research that examines supply chain politics from the perspective of regulatory theory. The bulk of this work has focused on assessing the effectiveness of emerging private systems of standard-setting, monitoring, compliance and enforcement (Coglianese and Lazer 2003; O'Rourke 2003, 2006; Brown and Woods 2007; Locke and Romis 2010), or analysing drivers of global regulatory change (Bartley 2003). Some authors have focused more specifically on analysing interactions between emerging private governance systems and established systems of state regulation and law (Polaski 2006; Trubek and Trubek 2007; Abbott and Snidal 2009). Beyond regulatory studies of these kinds, however, very little existing work has studied the global supply chain phenomenon from the perspective of political theory, or systematically linked these trends to wider theoretical debates. There has been a particularly notable dearth of studies that explore the implications of political struggles within global supply chains for our normative assumptions about the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of state and non-state actors in global politics.

As a result, there has been little exploration of the important theoretical and practical implications of supply chain politics for existing paradigmatic maps of global political power and public governance. The direct politicization of global supply chains raises difficult questions about how roles and responsibilities of state and non-state actors can be allocated and governance functions coordinated across existing political jurisdictions. Yet to date, these broader theoretical implications of supply chains have been seriously under-explored.

Aims of the Book

This book is centrally motivated by the view that such emerging supply chain politics have important implications for our understanding of contemporary global economic governance, and deserve greater attention from scholars of international political economy and global politics. The book's analysis of transnational economic and political power within global supply chains aims to provide the kind of detailed and sustained analysis of supply chain politics that has so far been lacking. The analysis focuses in particular on the struggles of civic and corporate actors to shape new transnational governance systems through which ‘private’ sources of supply chain power can be regulated.

In this way, the book aspires to contribute to our understanding of global supply chains as the site of an emerging global politics, in which concerns about power and responsibility are being politicized, new governance responses created, and new patterns of winners and losers produced. It explores how the emergence of new non-state governance systems is unsettling established sources of power and distributions of political responsibility in global politics, and reflects on consequences of these changes for the effectiveness of the supply chain governance system in protecting designated public values.

In evaluating the effectiveness of these shifting governance arrangements, the book's analysis takes into account the performance of governance initiatives as means of protecting social standards that are already formally codified in relevant legal or private regulations. However, because of the many ambiguities and gaps that are present within these codified standards, it is also important to consider the capacity of governance arrangements to protect and promote a broader set of basic social conditions, which are recognized as important public values across a range of philosophical and ideological positions. Such conditions include protection of key dimensions of individuals' material welfare, such as basic income, access to social services and infrastructure and decent conditions of work. They also include some measure of the ‘political agency’ or ‘empowerment’ of those being governed – in other words, the capacity of those subject to the control of public governance systems to influence the processes of social power and decision making through which core aspects of their wellbeing are determined.

Given well-recognized difficulties in documenting both intended and unintended ‘outcomes’ of complex governance processes, particularly within long time-frames and with opaque chains of causality,3 it is also important to analyse the extent to which important constitutive, regulatory and programmatic governance functions are (or are not) being performed. These include tasks such as: negotiating and formulating policies and rules consistent with the shared purposes and values of the collective; formalizing policy decisions and codifying rules; implementing policy decisions and facilitating compliance with rules by disseminating information and norms; monitoring and judging compliance with rules; and imposing sanctions in cases of non-compliance. Assessing the extent to which governance agents capably and diligently perform these functions helps to distinguish poor governance outcomes resulting from structural flaws in the scope or design of governance arrangements, from those that result from more contingent weaknesses in the implementation of governance processes.

In addition to evaluating these multiple dimensions of governance effectiveness, the book assesses the extent to which emerging governance arrangements operate through processes that are accountable to those individuals and groups whose wellbeing they decisively influence. Accountability is conceptualized here in a reasonably conventional way, as involving a moral or institutional relation in which entitlements are accorded to one agent (or group of agents) to direct, sanction or constrain the exercise of power by another. Accountability relationships can be institutionalized via a range of different mechanisms that enable external scrutiny, justification, sanctions and control (Mulgan 2000). As the book develops its detailed analysis of non-state supply chain governance in the garment and coffee sectors, the design and capacity of accountability mechanisms associated with these emerging systems of supply chain governance receive particular scrutiny.

The book's analysis is therefore developed at two intersecting levels. One level aims to draw out a macro-level narrative about the shifting geographical, institutional and normative building blocks of transnational supply chain governance. This is underpinned by a micro-level analysis of the drivers and consequences of these big-picture shifts at individual and organizational levels.

The Book's Approach

This combination of micro- and macro-level analysis presents distinctive methodological challenges. It demands a scope of investigation that reaches across the multiple geographical sites encompassed by global supply chains, together with sufficient depth of inquiry to facilitate detailed evaluation of drivers and consequences of governance change at the micro level. In practical terms, this means that the transnational scope of the study needs to be combined with highly contextualized analysis in particular locations. The book therefore adopts a multi-sited, micro-foundational approach to the study of transnational governance.

To facilitate the required analytical depth at the micro level, it was necessary to select a narrow geographical focus for elements of the empirical research. Given the book's particular interest in the impact of changing governance arrangements on marginalized workers and farmers involved in coffee and garment production, a single country was selected as the production site on which to focus empirical inquiry. Nicaragua was chosen, for various reasons. First, the coffee and garment industries play a central role in its economy. Nicaragua has a strategically prioritized and rapidly growing garment industry, which has been targeted by successive governments as a central element of the country's economic growth strategy. The coffee industry in Nicaragua is also well established and of great importance to the economy. Both of these export industries are of significant strategic importance to the Nicaraguan economy as a result of its high level of indebtedness and its chronic and sizable current account deficit.

The Nicaraguan economy is characterized by high levels of poverty and unemployment; indeed, Nicaragua has the highest levels of poverty of any country in Central America. Although overall poverty in the country has been declining slowly, close to half of the population of around 5.7 million still lives below the national poverty line (Flaming et al. 2005). Poverty is concentrated in rural areas, particularly in the eastern and northern part of the country. Inequality is also significant; distribution of income as well as assets such as land is highly skewed.

Given this prevailing environment, critics of Nicaragua's increasing integration with the global economy perceive it as a prime candidate for ‘exploitation’, while others regard it as precisely the type of country that can benefit from the jobs and opportunities offered by global linkages (Walker 1997). Such debates are closely tied to broader controversies about what some perceive as the structural subordination of countries like Nicaragua within the global political economy. Nicaragua's economy has been shaped by historically entrenched patterns of agricultural export dependency, contemporary processes of liberal globalization, as well as complex political relationships with the US and its post-Cold War allies on the one hand, and shifting alliances of ‘leftist’ regimes on the other. Moreover, Nicaragua's turbulent economic and political history is associated with a strong history of grassroots political mobilization, which has produced the highest levels of labour organization of all Central American garment export sectors, and a thriving cooperative movement in the coffee industry. These varied dimensions of Nicaragua's social, economic and political landscape make it an ideal location in which to examine the complex interactions between local and global politics playing out within contemporary global supply chains.

The book's micro-foundational methodological strategy – with detailed empirical investigation focused on production sites in Nicaragua – enables a much more ‘contextual’ and disaggregated account of the micro-level consequences of evolving global supply chain governance than would otherwise be possible. Detailed empirical analysis of this kind is common among scholars examining supply chain dynamics through a development studies lens. However, studies of private governance from the perspective of international relations and global governance debates have tended not to prioritize the collection of micro-level evidence of the differentiated impacts of global governance systems at the ‘local’ level. Injecting detailed micro-level evidence about the drivers and consequences of supply chain governance systems into broader global governance literatures provides a distinctive perspective on these debates.

Such micro-level analysis has drawn heavily on interviews and focus groups with 369 individuals (covering 134 organizations), which I conducted with a broad range of supply chain actors in the coffee and garment sectors during the period August 2003 to May 2005. In order to capture the effects of political changes within Nicaragua and the region since the initial period of data collection, as well as recent changes to supply chain governance schemes themselves, key aspects of the analysis have been updated subsequently (in 2008 and again in 2012) via desk-based research and telephone interviews.

Building on this micro-foundational approach to data collection and analysis, the case studies of supply chain politics in the coffee and garment industries were developed separately. Each case was analysed through what is sometimes called a ‘within-case’ method of qualitative analysis. This approach aims to ‘generate and analyse data on the causal mechanisms, or processes, events, actions, expectations and other intervening variables that link putative causes to observed effects’ (Bennett and George 1997: 5).4

Although each case was analysed using a common methodological approach, and with reference to a common set of questions, the goal was not to carry out a formal ‘cross-case’ comparison.5 Rather, analysis within each case aimed to document the emergence, operation and impacts of a range of individual non-state governance systems; to understand how state and non-state governance processes interact; and to identify how the impacts of these overlapping governance systems are in turn mediated by variable characteristics of the sectoral supply chains that they seek to govern.

Of course, such analysis cannot be directly generalized to other ‘cases’ – whether these be other countries, supply chains in other sectors, or other non-state governance initiatives. Nevertheless, the dynamics that the book documents in coffee and garment supply chains based in Nicaragua resonate in important respects with those in other geographical and sectoral contexts, suggesting that many aspects of the book's analysis are relevant to wider debates about the transformation of global supply chain governance. These broader implications are examined at greater length in the book's penultimate chapter.

The Politics of Global Supply Chains: An Overview

The central body of the book is organized around detailed case studies of supply chain politics in the global garment and coffee industries. Analysis of each sector begins with a chapter exploring the reshaping of transnational power to influence the living and working conditions of Nicaraguan workers and producers participating in these supply chains. This is followed for each sector by chapters examining the non-state governance systems that have emerged in response – seeking to re-define responsibilities and build new capacities across the transnational boundaries of global supply chains. Throughout this analysis, the implications of evolving patterns of state and non-state governance for governance effectiveness and accountability are identified.

What, then, are some of the answers offered by the book to its questions about how evolving patterns of supply chain organization are changing the ways power is constituted, exercised and governed in world politics? And what are the implications for shifting roles, responsibilities and capacities of state and non-state actors? In short, how are power and governance within global supply chains being transformed? The book's analysis focuses on three key dimensions of change: the political character of ‘private’ power; the extension of political responsibility to ‘private’ and transnational domains; and the political character of emerging non-state governance schemes. Each constitutes an important element of what I am referring to as global ‘supply chain politics’.

The Political Character of ‘Private’ Power

The political character of the ‘private’ power operating within global supply chains is increasingly apparent, as decisions taken by corporate managers influence worker and producer wellbeing in direct and sometimes highly visible ways. From this viewpoint, the increased focus on global supply chains as a target of social critique and mobilization is linked to rising recognition of the distinctive forms of social power and organization that exist within these supply chains, and the contested distributional consequences of such power.

Analysis of the sources and consequences of power within supply chains plays a central role in this book's investigation of supply chain politics. As with ‘accountability’, ‘power’ is understood in a relatively uncontroversial manner to refer to the capacity of a social actor to deploy resources to advance desired ends, in interaction with other actors (Thompson 1984; Morriss 1987; Giddens 1993: 116; Held 1995: 170). In what sense, though, can we understand forms of supply chain power that are usually regarded as ‘private’ – that is, being exercised by corporate actors through economic institutions and relationships – as being distinctively political in character?

The book's analysis takes such ‘private’ power to be political to the extent that it significantly influences social outcomes of publicly relevant kinds, in ways that recognized political authorities cannot reliably control. Conventional perceptions of economic power as non-political in character usually assume that ultimately, such power is constituted, constrained and steered by overarching sources of political authority located in the state. As we will see, however, simple assumptions about the effective subordination of economic power to state authority in global supply chains are becoming increasingly implausible.

Defining what would constitute ‘publicly relevant’ outcomes in this context requires specification of further normative criteria. For this purpose, the book embraces fairly well-established, broadly liberal criteria that are fundamentally concerned with the core autonomy of individuals. In practice, this designates as ‘political’ those forms of economic power that significantly affect the quality of basic living and working conditions of supply chain participants – the pursuit or protection of which is generally recognized (in a given context) as a matter of public interest and responsibility. This encompasses those dimensions of wellbeing that are required for the fulfilment of basic social ‘rights’ of some kind, as well as dimensions relevant to some broadly recognized notion of distributive fairness.

Sources of power grounded in relative access to ‘coercive’, ideological and institutional capabilities and resources, consistent with conventional understandings of the underpinnings of political power, certainly continue to play an important role in shaping global supply chain politics. But, importantly, various dimensions of market power and bargaining power interact with such conventional forms of political power. These substantially influence the relative capacity of supply chain participants to control and benefit from the ways economic resources and opportunities within supply chains are created and distributed.

Power of all these kinds can be exercised directly – through individual interactions and relationships – and also through more indirect, ‘structural’ channels. As we will see from the detailed empirical analyses of the dynamics of supply chain power in the following chapters, structural dynamics can sometimes constrain the exercise of power by individual agents, via the influence of past events and decisions, dependencies between linked institutions, and the diffusion of agency across complex institutional settings like markets. In other cases, structural dynamics can intensify or extend the power that particular supply chain actors are able to exercise. The overtly political character of these diverse forms of ‘private’ power within global supply chains constitutes an important dimension of global supply chain politics. And although the political character of such power has often been acknowledged (Cutler et al. 1999; Cutler 2003; Koenig-Archibugi 2004; Rudder 2008), its implications for broader theories of global governance and accountability have rarely received sustained theoretical attention.

Extending Political Responsibility to ‘Private’ and Transnational Domains

The politicization of global supply chains has also been driven by increased recognition of private forms of political power, and corresponding social demands for powerful businesses (alongside other influential transnational actors) to accept an appropriate degree of responsibility for the impact of their activities on populations in other countries.

To help focus attention on what is distinctive about emerging claims of responsibility, it can be helpful to compare these claims with established understandings of public responsibility associated with a simple account of what is referred to throughout the book as a ‘statist’ view of public governance. The key elements of a simple state-centred view rest on assumptions of bounded and centralized state responsibility and control.6 In other words, the view assumes that communities of political obligation are territorially bounded within state borders, and that responsibility for protecting and promoting public values is centralized in the state. This account of a statist view is crude and caricatured – a kind of ideal type. Nevertheless, it is analytically useful, focusing our attention on the core underlying assumptions that this book attempts to question and revise.

In an ‘age of governance’ (Rhodes 1996; Jordana and Levi-Faur 2004), it is widely recognized that state power is embedded in and dependent on relations with non-state societal actors. Moreover, it is generally acknowledged that powerful transnational actors and institutions routinely intrude on the capacity of actually existing states to control social outcomes within their territories. Yet despite widespread recognition of such empirical complexities, interdependencies between state and non-state actors are rarely interpreted as posing a serious challenge to entrenched normative assumptions concerning territorially bounded and institutionally centralized conceptions of public governance responsibility, according to which such complex societal processes ultimately remain under the umbrella of state authority (Trubek and Trubek 2007; Braithwaite 2008; Amengual 2010; Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen 2011; Marx 2011; Perez 2011; Potoski and Prakesh 2011; van Waarden 2011). In other words, although few contemporary theorists of global regulation would defend rigid statist assumptions in their analyses of state capacity, statist assumptions remain firmly entrenched in many contemporary analyses of state responsibility.

The emerging non-state governance schemes documented in this book challenge this pervasive statist view of public responsibility in two important, interconnected ways. First, advocates of such governance schemes assert that distinctively public obligations should, under some conditions, be assigned directly to non-state supply chain actors. An important correlate of a simple view of bounded and centralized state responsibility is the conviction that non-state actors should be indemnified in important ways (both morally and legally) from the burdens of public responsibility. A private normative status can indemnify non-state actors from a range of public obligations: transparency, accountability, commitment to defending the public interest (beyond compliance with the law), and so on (Orren 1976).7 Directly challenging this view, supply chain governance advocates now claim that important public responsibilities should be accepted by a range of private decision makers who can be identified as exercising public power. In this way, global supply chain politics are significantly challenging how the governance roles and responsibilities of state versus non-state actors are defined and legitimized.

Second, non-state governance schemes challenge entrenched statist assumptions about the geographical boundaries of political responsibility. The private forms of supply chain power that they seek to govern often extend beyond the boundaries of national political jurisdictions, demanding a correspondingly transnational governance response. This has implications both for debates about the transnational responsibilities of private actors within global supply chains, and for broader debates about the obligations of governments and populations in the global north to deal with problems of poverty and powerlessness among marginalized workers and producers located in other countries.

The moral impetus behind such shifting debates arises not only from concern for the widespread existence of poor living and working conditions within farms and factories in many parts of the world. These kinds of material inequalities – and the highly asymmetric power relations that underpin them – have long been features of world politics. In addition, dramatically expanded forms of social and economic interconnection have driven increased awareness and concern about conditions of poverty and powerlessness in which a much broader constituency in the global north is perceived to be directly implicated. The increasingly visible and direct connections between northern populations and the developing country workers and producers that supply chain connections embody have provided fertile ground for political mobilization of these moral concerns (Barry and Valentini 2009).8 As a result, contestation about the appropriate geographical scope of political responsibility has come to comprise another important element of global supply chain politics.

The Political Character of Emerging Non-State Governance Schemes


Although emerging governance systems of these kinds are non-state in form, their purposes and impacts are deeply political, reflecting their focus on distinctively ‘public’ values and goals. Invoking the concept of ‘publicness’ in this context does not suggest a requirement for general agreement that an institutional system is promoting public purposes; neither does it suggest the coherent pursuit of a single, unitary public purpose. On the contrary, a central task of public governance is almost always to coordinate and mediate among a range of competing actors and claims (Black 2002; Papadopoulos 2003). This definition does, however, require that the justificatory discourses invoked in defending the relevant system of institutional power be grounded in explicit claims (or at least, implicit logics) of ‘public purpose’. Such public purposes can be justified either with reference to solidarist notions of shared interests and purposes, or via individualist notions that seek to defend individual autonomy or rights in the context of competing interests.9 The emergence of governance arrangements that are distinctively public in this way, and yet enacted in important respects by non-state actors, is another central pillar of emerging supply chain politics on which the book focuses.