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School of Business and Management

Dara Leyden

 Dara Leyden


Project title

The struggle for social upgrading: A study of electronics global value chains in Thailand.

Project description

Global Value Chains (GVCs) have grown rapidly since 1990, accounting for over half of world trade by 2008. They are defined as stages of production that span across borders, whereby ‘upgrading’ entails moving to higher-value stages in GVCs. Owing to significant participation by developing countries, GVC frameworks have grown to dominate development policymaking.  

In its 2020 World Development Report, Trading for Development in the Age of Global Value Chains, the World Bank specifies a new taxonomy in which development is conceptualised as a four-tier sequence of ‘upgrading’ within GVCs. It associates a series of developmental outcomes with national upgrading, including improved wages and working conditions, and recommends policies to achieve it. However, the report struggles to identify the mechanisms that deliver benefits to workers. In contrast, many studies have shown that economic upgrading does not always lead to ‘social upgrading’, defined as improvements in the rights and entitlements of workers - but the reasons are not well understood.

This project studies the underlying social processes that influence forms of upgrading (or downgrading) within GVCs, by analysing various struggles by workers in Thailand, which is judged by the World Bank to have recently upgraded to ‘Advanced Manufacturing and Services’. Thailand's new development model targets further upgrading within electronics GVCs in pursuit of inclusive development. However, media reports have identified cases of social downgrading, particularly amongst its female migrant workforce. In other cases, important gains have been won by new forms of labour-NGO coalitions. 

The study will assess if, and how, social upgrading has occurred by analysing the social struggles affecting different groups of workers. Thus, it will provide situated insights into the processes which determine developmental trajectories and, concurrently, shape GVC restructuring.


1st Supervisor: Dr Liam Campling
2nd Supervisor: Professor Adrian Smith


  • Leyden, D. & Selwyn, B. (2019) Globalisation’s corroding edifice. Le Monde Diplomatique, 24 October 2019.
  • Selwyn, B. & Leyden, D. (2020, forthcoming) Oligopoly-driven development: The World Bank’s Trading for development in the Age of Global Value Chains in perspective