CAPTURING
THE
GAINS

economic and social upgrading
in global production networks



Sector Overview: Mobile telecommunications

Mobile phone users are always on the look-out for a better package. But is the deal better for workers and producers in the South?

Kenya, mobile phone shop owner

The global market in mobile telephones generated total revenues of US $101 billion in 2008. The majority of mobile phones are now produced in China, India and other emerging economies. Subscription in low-income states is growing faster than in any part of the world creating new opportunities for pro-poor services such as mobile banking.

Access is revolutionising the lives of poor people. But how can we address serious concerns about pressures on producers and workers in the South?

Key research focus areas:
  • Coltan & sustainability. Examining coltan mining and its implications for regional development in Eastern and Central Africa. How does the coltan-mobiles value chain affect regional security? How can fairer trade be promoted for low-income producers and workers – who should be involved?
  • Worker welfare. Assessing how mobile telecommunications industries can uphold decent work standards. How are different categories of workers affected (e.g. assembly line versus knowledge intensive)? How are civil society organisations using ‘brand image’ to promote social upgrading for workers? What should be the response of companies and governments?
  • Specialisation & development strategies. Exploring how specialisation can open up development opportunities for suppliers in low-income countries. How does attention to customer billing, for example, enable ‘stage-skipping’ and entry of developing country firms into global production networks (GPN)s? What role should international and donor agencies play?
  • Rural development & pro-poor services. Considering how mobile telecommunications infrastructure has helped to close the rural-urban divide and bring new services such as mobile banking to the poor. What impact have mobile phones had on the quality of life as well as entrepreneurial potential in developing countries? What strategies can support better access by small producers and vulnerable workers linked to global production networks?
Research Contacts:

Gary Gereffi and Dev Nathan

Useful resources