This paper aims at developing an explicit ‘vertical’ dimension to chronic poverty research that focuses on ‘adverse incorporation and social exclusion’ (AISE). So far, AISE research has been quite successful in unpacking the local, regional and national contexts within which some of the structural and causal elements of chronic poverty play out. Yet, it has been much less concerned with the dimensions of context that go beyond the nation state, with the exception of generic links to the dynamics of contemporary capitalism(s). At the same time, an effort is made here to sensitise literatures that are almost exclusively concerned with ‘vertical’ elements of marginalisation (such as global value chain analysis) to the need for more systematic attention to the impact of chain functioning and/or restructuring on marginal groups and/or communities along the various stages of commodity trade. The four case studies presented in this paper (on wine, cut flowers, sustainable coffee and fish) teach us that integration of people or areas into global value chains and trading relationships will exacerbate chronic poverty if the ‘normal functioning’ of these chains is left unchecked. This is especially the case for value chains that are driven by retailers and branded manufacturers. Where value chains are less clearly driven from Northern-based actors, integration in even ‘normal’ strands of value chains can have substantial and positive impacts on poverty, and where appropriate, chronic poverty. In other words, the conditions of inclusion in and/or exclusion from value chains and trade more generally are more important than inclusion and exclusion per se.