Since the mid-1990s, global commodity chain (GCC) analysis has contributed much to our understanding of processes of globalization and development. It has however, broadly failed to integrate class relations generally and labour in particular into its approach. This article suggests that we can understand this failure by revisiting and critically interrogating GCC's intellectual foundations—in World Systems Theory and Schumpeterian conceptions of capitalist innovation. It also argues that if carefully reformed, these foundations can provide a useful framework from which to conduct research into processes of contemporary development. A central argument of this paper is that evolving capital–labour relations co-determine processes of capitalist expansion and development, and that a commitment to understanding and investigating these relations should be placed more firmly at the centre of GCC analysis.