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Workers and Social Upgrading in "Fast Fashion"

The Case of the Apparel Industry in Morocco and Romania

Leonhard Plank / Arianna Rossi / Cornelia Staritz

Wien, August 2012

Over the past three decades the global economy has witnessed the rise of organizationally fragmented and geographically dispersed global production networks (GPNs). An increasing amount of literature drawing on chain and network conceptualizations has accumulated on how these changes affect countries, regions and firms. Comparatively little has, however, been said about the effects on workers and their roles in GPNs. Although the expansion of global production arrangements has been an important source of employment generation in many developing and transition countries, this quantitative assessment reveals little about the qualitative aspects of work nor about the sustainability of these jobs. This paper assesses how integration into GPNs in the increasingly important fast fashion apparel segment, that is based on increased variety and fashionability and on permanently shrinking product life cycles, is impacting on workers and social upgrading. It particularly assesses whether the sourcing practices related to fast fashion, such as short lead times, high flexibility, speed of production, low costs and high quality, create additional hurdles for workers to achieve social upgrading. The focus is on the apparel industry in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Euro-Mediterranean Rim ("Greater Europe") with case studies on Morocco and Romania due to their importance as regional and fast fashion suppliers to Western European buyers.

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