Transition in Global Value Chains: Advancing Social Sustainability (SoNa-WSK)

Global value chains (GVCs) often begin in developing countries. In many of these, the working conditions are precarious at best and at times downright inhumane, stretching from issues of health and occupational safety to the use of child and forced labor. From a long-term perspective, this model of production is problematic not only with regards to the social, but also the economic dimension of sustainability. The implementation of greater social sustainability in GVCs and production networks can be a significant challenge for companies. Due to their transnational nature, GVCs cannot be fully regulated on a national or even supranational (i.e. EU) basis, since the laws of any given state or organization always touch on only a small portion of the entire chain. Moreover, the complexity of most GVCs leads to a lack of transparency regarding its members, so that final product manufacturers often do not know who participates in their value chain beyond the first or second tier, much less who upholds certain envi-ronmental or social standards. While a few approaches exist to create more socially sustainable GVCs, an extensive focus on social sustainability in global production chains is still rare.

As part of the Innovation and Technology Analysis (ITA) projects funded by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education, SoNa-WSK examines the development conditions that will impact the diffusion of socially sustainable GVCs in the next five years. Additionally, various transition scenarios will be created to show different courses of action and their possible outcomes. Using these insights, the project will analyze which changes are necessary to further advance the spread of more socially sustainable practices in global value chains.

In a first step, the Multi-Level Perspective approach from transitions theory will be used to identify the key factors that will impact the diffusion of socially sustainable GVCs in the next few years, as well as the role of those factors in leading to such a change.  The deduction of possible transitions pathways and corresponding courses of action will take place using a foresight approach.  Finally, complementary case studies on the smartphone and clothing sectors will be used to identify drivers and barriers to the diffusion of more socially sustainable GVCs. The case studies will include both desk research and expert interviews.


August 2015 - Juli 2017


  • German Federal Ministry of Research and Education BMBF