NB: This post is part of a symposium on law and global value chains co-convened with the Institute for Global Law and Policy’s Law and Global Production Working Group.
Global Value Chains (GVCs) form a backbone of our global economy that eludes easy characterization. In media or policy reports, corporate brochures or academic publications, the image of choice is generally logistics hubs or factory sites. Yet no single site can capture the inner dynamics of GVCs, which, by definition, emerge from the connection between seemingly unconnected places, norms, actors and social dynamics. The same is true for the common visualization of value chains in linear schematics or organizational charts. Despite their suggestive power, these do not offer a full picture.
L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux—especially for lawyers, GVCs offer little stable ground for departure and pose crucial problems of choosing the right lens. As highlighted in the ‘Research Manifesto on the Role of Law in GVCs’, current modes of production have come adrift of legal conceptualization, unmoored from the legal dichotomies and discourses that condition the mind of the modern lawyer. In dealing with a phenomenon that plays with the niches of modernity, legal scholarship constantly runs the risk of finding itself in the same loops, paradigms and path-dependencies that give the illusion of movement without forward progress.
To leave a mark, any inquiry into the role of law in GVCs therefore needs to start with the legal imaginary of global production. What exactly does law conceive of when dealing with GVCs? Are they chains of contracts that can be governed more or less efficiently or a drastic transformation of the legal face of world trade relations? It is this double nature of GVCs, as both an organizational arrangement between firms and as an evolutionary stage in the development of capitalism that is so challenging to account for, especially in law. From an angle of Law & Political Economy, GVCs form a paradigm case for a necessary and constant translation between micro- and macro-level analysis, between local and global, now and then, individual and systemic.