, Volume 93, Number 2

Nicola Phillips
Inequality in all its forms is the defining global problem and increasingly the defining political problem of our age. A monumental body of scholarly research seeks to understand the drivers behind the vast and accelerating patterns of socioeconomic inequality in the global political economy. This article, an adapted version of the 2016 Martin Wight Memorial Lecture, contributes to this effort by focusing on a dimension of the picture which has received surprisingly little attention, namely, the implications for socio-economic inequality of the particular form of industrial organization that has come to underpin the contemporary global economy—one organized around global value chains and global production networks. It proposes an approach which sees inequality as arising at the intersections of three dimensions of asymmetry—asymmetries of market power, asymmetries of social power and asymmetries of political power—which underpin and crystallize around global value chains. It explores these dynamics in the particular arena of labour and labour exploitation in global value chains, as a means of shedding a valuable wide-angle beam on the big questions of power and inequality in the contemporary global political economy.

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