On Law and Value

On Law and Value

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.

Amy Cohen–

We are witnessing a new moment in economic development: what Richard Baldwin calls the global value chain (GVC) revolution. As our symposium suggests, critical legal realist scholars are organizing in response. Some have argued that by mapping the relations between law and value chains we may find strategies for resistance, solidarity, and distributive interventions. Others have ventured that “law cannot but function” to serve the interests of a global capitalist elite. This post does not aim to resolve this generative realist tension. Rather it shifts focus to propose that under GVC capitalism, status quo maintenance and resistance also happen through discourses of value—an observation that may offer insights into how actors themselves view the salience of law in specific local struggles.

To comprehend what I mean by “value,” think business school not neoclassical economics. Business strategists distinguish “supply chains” from “value chains.” In supply chains, firms compete on price and pursue low-cost imitations. Managing a supply chain is thus all about “taking out cost and making process efficient.” In value chains, by contrast, firms are supposed to transform undifferentiated commodities into distinctive products through creativity and innovation: “Value chain management is about how to create value; how to coordinate the continuous innovations of creative contributors and how to make that process efficient for the consumer and the contributor.” For firms to compete on value they therefore need consumers who desire products for reasons other than a low price, and they also need the means to capture this consumer surplus such as brand reputation and proprietary process technology.

In our lead post, Bair and Danielsen argue that mainstream GVC scholars mistakenly describe law as simply promoting efficient exchange and value additions as themselves determining the distribution of rents. But I wonder if law’s role in enabling capital accumulation is in fact today more easily demystified. As firms chase value, they purposefully create legal-institutional barriers to entry to capture value against competitors (such as IP). As our legal realist tools therefore perhaps become less revelatory, we may consider how actors directly invoke value to both defend and transgress a development common sense.

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Cracking the Code of Global Value Chains

Cracking the Code of Global Value Chains

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.

Klaas Eller–

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.

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Global Value Chains as a Legal Concept

Global Value Chains as a Legal Concept

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.

Jaakko Salminen & Mikko Rajavuori–

In the first blog post of this symposium Dan Danielsen and Jennifer Bair argue that law can open up a window into understanding global political economy, in particular today’s global value chain capitalism. In this post, we complement their analysis and argue that global value chain (GVC) theory, in turn, opens up an avenue for understanding recent legal developments in private governance, public law and private law doctrine./

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The Role of the State in Disrupting the Distribution of Power within GVCs

The Role of the State in Disrupting the Distribution of Power within GVCs

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.

Ioannis Kampourakis–

The research Manifesto on the role of law in global value chains highlights the centrality of legal regimes for the ‘creation, structure, geography, distributive effects and governance of Global Value Chains’. The recognition of law’s constitutive role in the chain means that law is not simply an institutional backdrop for the operations of the chain but rather endogenous to GVCs. Indeed, transnational corporations that coordinate GVCs are not mere ‘context-takers’ but rather play an important role in producing the rules that govern their own operations. This jurisgenerative capacity of private corporate actors weakens democratic control over the production process and creates the potential for dis-embedding the transnational economy from social values and relations. Yet, the law that is endogenous to GVCs is not impenetrable to attempts to introduce such values within it, as recent “corporate sustaintability laws” imposing transparency requirements have illustrated. The normative project of ‘politicizing’ the endogenous law of GVC capitalism by injecting public values within regimes of private governance has the capacity to limit corporate rationalities of profit-maximization and to generate progressive social reforms across the chain. However, such attempts can only incompletely realize the goal of subjecting GVCs to democratic accountability, while they might reinscribe a neo-colonial dynamic, in which it is up to consumers and investors in the Global North to police the practices of firms exploiting workers and extracting resources from the Global South. Insofar as national and international law remain powerful inscriptions of democratic legitimacy with the capacity to steer collective life beyond market rationalities, any normative undertakings that seek to disrupt the current distribution of power within and across GVCs must also be channeled through them.

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Labor Law and Economic Governance in the EU

This post comes out of the early career workshop ‘Law and Political Economy in Europe’which took place at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, at the University of Oxford, on the 7th of October 2019. For all the posts this series, click here.

Marco Rocca –

PoliticsineuropeAt the Oxford Workshop, I explored the relationship between the EU economic governance and labor law. In particular, I looked into legal tools of austerity politics and analyzed the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in cementing this agenda.

During the economic crisis, leadership at the European Central Bank, and the EU Commission resorted to new tools of economic governance across the EU. Their implementation shows how the law can be instrumentalized to actively reduce the ability of trade unions and labor regulations to bring about the decommodification of the factor of production that is labor. This of course builds upon power imbalances in a given situation, in this case, between ‘creditors’ and ‘debtors’, ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ of the European Union.

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Service Workers or Servile Workers? Migrant Reproductive Labor and Contemporary Global Racial Capitalism

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(via CNN)

Click here to read all posts in our Care Work series. 

Robyn Rodriguez—

Grassroots migrant worker activists, particularly those working as domestic workers or care workers, have characterized their labor experiences as “servitude,” “modern-day slavery,” and “bondage.” They use these terms to describe both their workplace conditions and the power dynamics that exist in their relationships with employers. A case study of the experiences of Filipino migrant workers, former U.S. colonial subjects, illustrates two key dynamics of contemporary global racial capitalism: first, that migrants’ reproductive labor entrenches social relations of servility—dually defined as “having or showing an excessive willingness to serve or please others” or “of or characteristic of a slave or slaves”; and second, that recent migration trends are intensifying the servile status of migrant workers from the third world. If we expand existing analyses of care and reproductive labor by migrants to account for service work more broadly, we are better able to grasp the enduring significance of relations of racialized servility in the 21st century. Continue reading

International Investment Arbitration in Critical Focus

David Schneiderman – 

How might we come to better understand the complex, multilevel, and interdependent world in which we live? This is a particular challenge for international and global legal scholars whose methods of analysis typically are confined to empirically observable legal phenomena in the form of international conventions, treaties, custom, and the like. In this post, I propose bringing international legal studies into conversation with a particular branch of international political economy (IPE), one that brings both an interdisciplinary and a critical edge to the global study of law.

The field of IPE in the English-speaking world has been described as being divided between two competing schools. A U.S. version emphasizes the testing of scientific models via empirical methods, focusing on state behavior as its unit of analysis. Modeled on ‘hard science,’ the U.S. version adopts a state-centric view. A more ambitious British version aims to be more qualitative and normative, emphasizing society, power, and history. It is this latter version that merits attention from legal scholars. It is a mode of analysis that is more interpretive than narrowly empirical, asking what values are promoted and who benefits from particular institutional arrangements. Susan Strange, one of the founders of the British school, has defined the study of IPE as concerning: ‘the social, political and economic arrangements affecting the global systems of production, exchange and distribution and the mix of values reflected therein. Those arrangements are not divinely ordained, nor are they the fortuitous outcome of blind chance. Rather they are the result of human decisions taken in the context of man-made institutions and sets of self-set rules and customs.’

This is a mode of analysis that will be familiar to critical scholars working in many disciplines, but an IPE approach has the advantage of thinking about contemporary global problems on multiple scales. Critical IPE is ontologically inclined, in other words, to theorize law as interacting with actors operating at various levels. It looks to the ‘complex whole,’ Robert Cox writes, rather than to the separate parts.’ Cox, in his own work, helpfully distinguishes between ‘problem solving’ theory and critical theory. The first has as its object the smooth operational working of international institutions. Such approaches serve ‘particular national, sectional or class interests.’ Problem solving is about managing the world, not changing it. Critical theory within IPE, by contrast, does not take institutions or relations of power for granted. It attends instead to how they arise and change. This is a style of understanding the world that is both multidisciplinary and normative.  It is, as Benjamin Cohen puts it, about ‘making the world a better place.’

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