The Political Economy of Supply Chains Part Three of the Political Economy of Development Series

Lecture With: Professor Ben Mckean

Democratizing Global Supply Chains

Dramatic deaths in the factories that assemble iPhones in China and apparel in Bangladesh have drawn attention to the global supply chains that link manufacturers to multinational brands and consumers. Despite this popular attention, supply chains remain incompletely theorized as forms of governance and modes of power. Focusing on the impressive mobility of multinational corporations and the extensive dispersal of their supply chains across the globe often leads analysts to assume that supply chains exemplify the logic of neoliberalism. However, examining the actual functioning of supply chains complicates this view. Reflecting on the way that supply chains rely on practices that run counter to neoliberal self-understandings, leads to an account of global supply chains as a political form that foregrounds their relationship to the freedom of workers and consumers.

Workshop With: Professors Ben Mckean, Bassam Haddad, and Matthew Scherer.

Join us for a workshop that follows Professor Mckean's lecture.

Recommended Readings:


  1. David Ciepely, “Beyond Public and Private: Toward a Political Theory of the Corporation” American Political Science Review Vol. 107, No. 1 (February 2013): 139-158
  2. Tim Bartley, et al. “Apparel and Footwear: Standards for Sweatshops” in Looking Behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer, 146-178
  3. Jason Dedrick, Kenneth L. Kraemer and Greg Linden “Who Profits from Innovation in Global Value Chains? A Study of the iPod and Notebook PCs” Industrial and Corporate Change Volume 19, Number 1 (2010), pages 81-116
  4. Branden Eastwood “The threads that tie your clothes to the world” Seattle Times September 21, 2013
  5. Hayley Tsukayama, “Conditions for people who make your gadgets are improving — barely” Washington Post February 19, 2015
  6. Iris Marion Young, “Responsibility and Global Labor Justice,” Journal of Political Philosophy 12 (2004): 365-88.


  1. Macdonald, Terry, and Kate Macdonald. "Non-electoral accountability in global politics: strengthening democratic control within the global garment industry." European Journal of International Law 17, no. 1 (2006): 89-119
  2. Margaret M. Willis and Juliet B. Schor, “Does Changing a Light Bulb Lead to Changing the World? Political Action and the Conscious Consumer” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 644 No. 1 (November 2012): 160-190.
  3. Chris Brooks, “Volkswagen in Tennessee: Productivity’s Price” Labor Notes No. 432 (March 12, 2015)
  4. Matt Zwolinski, “Sweatshops, Choice, and Exploitation” Business Ethics Quarterly 17/4, pages 689-727 AND in reply Michael Kates, "The Ethics of Sweatshops and the Limits of Choice" Business Ethics Quarterly 25 (02):191-212 (2015)
  5. Richard M. Locke, "Can Global Brands Create Just Supply Chains? A forum on corporate responsibility for factory workers" Boston Review
  6. Deborah Cowen, The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), chapter 1

About this Project:

The Political Economy of Development Series is sponsored by George Mason University's Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics ( and The Political Economy Project . The series aims to place students in conversation with scholars at the cutting edge of research on questions of profound contemporary significance.