Gender and Global Value Chains: Challenges of Economic and Social Upgrading in Agri-Food

35 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2014

Date Written: September 2014


Supermarkets and agri-food companies increasingly dominate the production and retailing of food across the global south and north. They operate through global value chains (GVC) within which trade is coordinated by consumer-focused lead firms. This is generating jobs and incomes for workers and smallholders, a significant proportion female. Women contribute to enhancing productivity and quality in GVCs, but outcomes for improving their well-being appear to be mixed. The paper develops a gendered global value chain analysis as a frame for analysing processes of economic and social upgrading and downgrading in GVCs. It draws on case studies from African traditional and high value agro-exports to highlight three scenarios where: i. economic and partial social upgrading have gone together (floriculture); ii. upgrading and downgrading outcomes are mixed (horticulture); and iii. economic and social downgrading have gone together (cocoa). It considers the intersection of GVCs and gender embeddedness in shaping gender dynamics, and the role of private, civil society and public governance in promoting more gender equitable economic and social upgrading.

Keywords: Gender, Global Value Chains, Agri-food, Upgrading

Suggested Citation

Barrientos, Stephanie, Gender and Global Value Chains: Challenges of Economic and Social Upgrading in Agri-Food (September 2014). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2014/96, Available at SSRN: or

Stephanie Barrientos (Contact Author)

The University of Manchester ( email )

Oxford Road
Manchester, N/A M13 9PL
United Kingdom

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