Global Production Networks and Activism: Can Activists Change Mining Practices by Targeting Brands?

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This article mobilizes a global production networks (GPN) approach to study a campaign seeking to impact mining practices by targeting a key consumer market: gold jewelry. In doing so, I make two contributions. The first is empirical: documenting this exploratory campaign and mapping activist strategies and outcomes against the gold production network. The second is theoretical: evaluating whether the GPN toolkit can help explain how the nature of a commodity and its markets impact activist strategies and outcomes. Recasting industries as sites of social struggle, a GPN approach offers a more nuanced understanding of the power permeating markets than more conventional supply chain analyses. The results clarify the challenges activists face when politicizing industries by targeting brands, particularly in the extractives sector. But the findings also illuminate opportunities, including the more subtle pathways of activist influence as they: (1) gather and disseminate information, (2) place social and environmental issues on the industry agenda, (3) spur industry to create institutions around these issues, (4) insert themselves and their agenda into the production network, and (5) form alliances with industry actors pushing for change.