economic and social upgrading
in global production networks

Capturing the Gains Working Paper 2011/06

Economic and social upgrading in global value chains: Analysis of horticulture, apparel, tourism and mobile telephones.

Thomas Bernhardt, William Milberg


We adopt a ‘parsimonious’ approach to measuring economic and social upgrading over 1990-2009 in four global value chains – apparel, mobile phones, agrofoods and tourism – based entirely on data published by international institutions. Economic upgrading is defined as a combination of growth in export market shares and export unit values. Social upgrading is a combination of changes in employment and real wages. We find considerable variation across sectors in the relation between economic and social change. ‘Downgrading’ is not uncommon, especially in the social realm. Economic upgrading is often not associated with social upgrading, but outside of the tourism sector, social upgrading occurs almost always when economic upgrading is also observed. This paper provides a comprehensive report on the findings in the four sectors and detailed statistical appendixes.

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