Does Economic Upgrading Lead to Social Upgrading in Contact Centers? Evidence from South Africa
Forthcoming, African Geographical Review. Online First, April 14, 2019
21 Pages Posted: 16 May 2019
Date Written: April 14, 2019
Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) has been identified by the South African government as a key driver of economic growth and employment generation. While BPO operations are inevitably tethered to some physical infrastructures, they can be relatively easily shifted around the world, threatening the jobs of current workers. This observation — combined with the industry’s immense focus on workplace control and high levels of attrition — means that the development potential of the BPO industry on workers in South Africa is a matter of critical concern. This article uses the global production network (GPN) framework to understand the developmental potentials of contact center jobs for workers in South Africa. It asks under what conditions economic upgrading leads to the social upgrading and downgrading of workers in the context of outsourced services activities. One of the central arguments is that economic upgrading among BPO firms can lead to both social upgrading and downgrading among contact center workers. We end with some policy recommendations for the South African government.
Keywords: Global Production Networks, Economic Upgrading, Social Upgrading and Downgrading, Contact Centers, South Africa
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