Digitalization and Labour in the global Economy

Project coordination: Sabrina Zajak, Nicole Helmerich (Université de Lausanne) und Gale Raj-Reichert (Queen Mary University of London)

Project description:
In the present changing global economy, modes of business, work and working conditions are being increasingly shaped by advances in communication, data, and knowledge sharing through information technology. Multinational firms are able to outsource more and more of their production of goods and services with the help of sophisticated software that make it easier to track the inputs and outputs in the management of vast global value chains. In addition, workers, trade unions and civil society organizations have created communication platforms to share information over working conditions and mobilize collectively. We are interested in understanding how these changes affect and influence modes of regulation and governance, as well as methods of resistance and activism within different industries.
States, firms, trade unions, workers or civil society organizations can make use of digitalization to affect global production of goods and services, transnational governance, and regulation of work in multiple and ambiguous ways. For example, demands (through regulation and campaigns) to increase transparency in global value chains are leading to the creation of on-line tracking tools of materials. Firms are increasingly tracking working conditions and productivity in real-time across multiple locations and scales. Programmers gain increasing relevance by designing platforms for information exchange and by using algorithms to collect and analyse data. Trade unions and other civil society organizations are also using new communication technologies and social media in creative and strategic ways to improve working conditions. Yet, advances in information technology also pose threats as it opens avenues for new techniques of policing and controlling of workers, trade unions, and activists by the state and business alike. Such prospects and challenges remain underexplored and are not yet fully considered in our current theoretical frameworks and ideas of transnational labour governance, global value chains and regulation of work.

The projects’ objectives are threefold:

  • Bring together current state of the art research and build a network among scientists interested in this topic. So far, we organized two conferences: One Mini conference at the SASE Annual Meeting in Lyon 2017 and a workshop at the University of Lausanne, Institute of Political, Historical and International Studies.
  • Publish a Special Issue. The Special Issue will be published 2019 with Competition and Change.
  • Work together on new a project proposal. A proposal was currently submitted on digital empowerment and global value chains, submitted to the Hans-Böcker Foundation.