Global Development Institute Blog

Sustainability is everywhere – but what does it mean in the context of globalised production relations? A panel at the Development Studies Association (DSA) Conference, 6-8 September 2017, will aim to explore this very sustainability-value chain nexus. With a session titled “Production networks, value chains and shifting end markets: implications for sustainability”, we aim to discuss how sustainability and the globalised production context interlink. Abstracts for the panel organised by The University of Manchester researchers Aarti Krishnan, Judith Krauss, Stephanie Barrientos and Khalid Nadvi are due by 26th April, to be submitted through the DSA website.

Hundreds of years ago, the concept of sustainability emerged in the context of using and protecting forest resources. While the term has become increasingly popular, its meaning has also become ever more contested. For instance, while an oil company may use it to justify its extraction of fossil fuel from tar sands as meeting human needs for affordable energy, environmental activists may use the same term, though not the same notion, to contest the practice.

Given such a plethora of understandings, stakeholders in value chains and production networks spanning diverse contexts in Global North and South will have to reconcile and negotiate diverging meanings and understandings of ‘sustainability’. Tensions and trade-offs will emerge between and within private sector, civil society and public sector stakeholders. Sustainability dynamics are further complicated against the backdrop of rising South-South trade and the emergence of regional production networks and value chains. Crucially, the contested nature of sustainability not only encompasses the diversity of economic, environmental and social objectives, but also the question to whom benefits of ‘sustainability’ measures accrue.

We thus argue there is a need to re-think what sustainability means in the context of globalised production relations: does it reinforce existing asymmetries of power and agency? What are the key mechanisms that change the landscape of sustainability governance? How do different understandings of sustainability re-shape development outcomes in production networks?


The panel welcomes papers on issues including, but not limited to:
  • Tensions, trade-offs and synergies relating to stakeholders’ diverging understandings of economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability in value chains and production networks
  • The nexus of economic, social and environmental upgrading in value chains and production networks as key modes of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Alternative forms of sustainability governance: thinking beyond corporate social responsibility and voluntary sustainability standards
  • The relationship between sustainability and agency in production networks and value chains
  • The relevance of sustainability discourses to debates relating to labour, human and environmental rights in production contexts

Please submit your abstract by 26 April 2017.

A short abstract of 300 characters and a long abstract of 250 words are required. Please submit your proposal online by clicking on ‘propose a paper’ on our panel (P36) website. Further details on paper submission are available from the DSA website. We look forward to your contributions to the conversation!

For any queries, please e-mail Aarti Krishnan



Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.