Global sourcing has been driven in part by a search for low-cost and fast delivery, associated with a ‘low road’ outcome for workers. However, the drive for quality and innovation, especially in niche value chains, has also supported a ‘high road’ outcome for some in terms of improved conditions and rights. Yet economic and social upgrading in global retail value chains is far from automatic, as the previous chapter examined. It involves a journey of contestation, intervention and collaboration (Gereffi and Lee 2016). Governance matters if this journey is to promote more sustained gender-equitable benefits for workers. However, the dynamics are changing in a global value chain context, where private, social and public governance all play a role.
Global governance relates to the way international relations are managed, involving nation states and regional and international organizations. With greater global integration, global governance has evolved from a focus on inter-state activities to encompass the many ways that public and private actors and institutions manage their common affairs (Held et al. 1999; O'Brien et al. 2000). In the context of global value chains, the initial focus was mainly on private governance. It is now recognized that value chain governance involves a diverse range of company, civil society and state actors who are able to influence the norms and rules framing the operation of value chains across global, national and local scales (Ponte and Sturgeon 2014).
Three dimensions of private, social and public governance are identified as playing roles in global value chains (Mayer and Posthuma 2012). Private governance has received the greatest attention in the GVC literature. This involves the power of lead firms to coordinate and distribute resources along their value chains. This mainly relates to product, environmental and labour standards applied by lead firms and private sector bodies (Gereffi et al. 2005; Gibbon and Ponte 2005; Nadvi 2008). Social governance relates to the ability of CSOs, including NGOs, trade unions, charities and community groups, to influence social norms, policies, institutions and markets at national or international levels through advocacy and campaigns (Mayer and Posthuma 2012).