Economic and social upgrading in global logistics

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Contemporary economic globalization as a highly dynamic process has seen substantial changes in its organization, governance, geographies and impacts. These global shifts can be characterized by – among other aspects – increased functional and geographical fragmentation of production processes, various waves of outsourcing and off-shoring, changing geographies of production and consumption and associated labour market dynamics. At the same time, nation states and regional economic blocs aim at increasing macro-regional and global integration through bilateral and multilateral trade and investment negotiations, predicated on transformations in transportation and logistics technologies that enable the functioning of complex global production networks (GPNs) and link regional, national and supra-national economies. This paper aims to assess the consequences of what has been termed a ‘logistics revolution’ for economic and social upgrading in global logistics and client sectors. It starts by charting the existing research base and exploring the structure and dynamics of the global logistics industry, before addressing the potential of and obstacles to economic and social upgrading. The analysis highlights the often-neglected importance of logistics as a global industry: a major employer and value generator in its own right, with its own evolving GPNs. It demonstrates the increasingly diverse structure of logistics operations and labour markets, creating opportunities for upgrading through innovation and new technologies, but at the same time it shows the continued prevalence of ‘low-road’ logistics labour markets and workers often struggling to secure labour rights, decent wages and improved working conditions. These issues are illustrated and discussed for both the global logistics industry itself and the logistics activities in client sectors such as horticulture, apparel and mobile communications. The paper concludes with reflections on the contingent and variegated outcomes of logistics development and avenues for future research.