The role of intermediaries in governance of global production networks: restructuring work relations in Pakistan’s apparel industry

20 Nov 2017

This article locates the reorganization of work relations in the apparel sector in Pakistan, after the end of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA) quota regime, within the context of a global production network (GPN). We examine the role of a network of corporate, state, multilateral and civil society actors who serve as intermediaries in GPN governance. These intermediaries transmit and translate competitive pressures and invoke varied, sometimes contradictory, imaginaries in their efforts to realign and stabilize the GPN. We analyse the post-MFA restructuring of Pakistan’s apparel sector, which dramatically increased price competition and precipitated a contested adjustment process among Pakistani and global actors with divergent priorities and resources. These intermediaries converged on a ‘solution’ that combined and enacted imaginaries of modernization, competitiveness, professional management and female empowerment, while also emphasizing low costs and female docility. We highlight the intersection of economic, political and cultural dynamics of GPNs, and reveal the gendered dimensions of GPN restructuring. We theorize the role of these actors as a transnational managerial elite in GPN governance, who led a restructuring process that preserved the hegemonic stability of the GPN and protected the interests of western branded apparel companies and consumers, but did not necessarily serve the interests of workers.