Global Trade: Past Activities

Global trade

Marilyn Carr, then Senior Economic Advisor for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), began WIEGO’s Global Trade Programme in 1998. A development economist, Marilyn was formerly a Senior Economist with the Intermediate Technology Development Group in the UK. The current Director of the Programme, Elaine Jones, who took over as Director of the WIEGO Global Trade Programme in 2005 was formerly Head of Ethical Trade with The Body Shop International.

Seminal Research in the Garment Sector

To address the absence of workers in value chain research, WIEGO commissioned Hubert Schmitz and Dorothy McCormick, both of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Sussex, UK, to prepare a methodology manual on how to trace global value chains in the garment sector down to the homeworkers. After consulting with many grassroots organizations that work with homeworkers, the authors produced Manual for Value Chain Research on Homeworkers in the Garment Industry in 2001.

The manual was subsequently used by researchers in several countries: in India by SEWA, supported by WIEGO (2001); in Nicaragua by the International Labour Organization (ILO) (2004); in Tanzania on footwear value chains by IDS (2004); in Brazil analyzing the footwear cluster by Nova Serrana (2005) and with the Institute Euvoldo Lodi (2006); and in Turkey by the State Planning Organization in Ankara (2008).

Sector-Specific Global Value Chain Analyses

WIEGO commissioned comparative studies in different countries of informal workers in selected global value chains. These studies were designed to analyze global value chains from the perspective of workers/producers at the lowest ends of these chains (many of whom are women). Specifically, the studies investigated how informal workers and producers are integrated into global value chains, with what consequences for them, and how they might be integrated on more favourable terms. Multi-country studies of informal workers in global value chains in two sectors were undertaken: garments and non-timber forest products.

WIEGO’s core activity on garment workers was a comparative set of studies in eight countries, which began with a background issues paper and research design workshop at the North-South Institute in Canada in 2002. At an April 2004 workshop at IDS in the UK, researchers discussed the empirical findings and policy lessons arising from the research; this was later summarized into a synthesis overview including an update of the impact in each study country of the phasing out of the Multi-Fibre Agreement. Read about garment workers and this global value chain analysis of the garment sector.

Value Chain Analysis to Study the Social Protection of Informal Workers

An outcome of early research was the establishment of a research collaboration with IDS, Sussex, in particular with its Globalization Team, which included the work on the Manual for Value Chain Research on Homeworkers in the Garment Industry and subsequent application of the manual to analyze the social protection of workers in both the garment and horticulture sectors.

In 2002, the Global Trade Programme worked with WIEGO’s Social Protection Programme, the ILO and the World Bank, in an innovative research project that used value chain analysis to look at whether, how, and from whom workers in different rungs of the value chain receive social protection. Stephanie Barrientos (formerly of IDS, Sussex now University of Manchester) and Armando Barrientos (with the University of Manchester) prepared a case study on workers in the horticulture sector in Chile and South Africa; Donna Doane (independent consultant), Rosalinda Ofreneo (University of the Philippines and Patamba), and Daonoi Srikajon (HomeNet Thailand) carried out the value chain analysis of workers in the garment sector in the Philippines and Thailand. The case studies were used to ground a technical dialogue between the ILO, WIEGO, and the World Bank on social protection in everyday reality, and were then featured in a joint publication on social protection: Chains of Production, Ladders of Protection, edited by Francie Lund and Jillian Nicholson.

Women Organizing for Fair Trade

Between 2009-2011, WIEGO examined the experiences of women producers in collective enterprises in seven countries. The study highlighted the economic and social benefits of engaging in groups with links to Fair Trade. Trading Our Way Up: Women Organizing for Fair Trade captures details of the research. In April 2012 the Oxfam Women’s Collective Action webinar series featured Elaine Jones and Carol Wills to present findings from the project. See the archived webinar.

Early Assistance to SEWA’s Trade Facilitation Centre  

WIEGO played a technical advisory role in the development of SEWA’s Trade Facilitation Centre (TFC) set up to link rural producers in SEWA’s membership to global markets. Marilyn Carr (then Director of the Global Trade program) wrote the original funding proposal for the International Finance Corporation (IFC); two consultants identified by WIEGO (Jacqui MacDonald and Mo Tomaney) provided design and marketing services.

Documentation of Best Practices  

Marilyn Carr edited a book of case studies on best practices in linking women producers and workers with global markets called Chains of Fortune: Best Practices in Linking Local Women Producers and Workers with Global Markets, commissioned and published by the Commonwealth Secretariat. This edited volume brings together six case studies that describe how women workers and producers have been successfully integrated into global markets.

These include:

  • a cocoa cooperative of then 45,000 producers in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo, who co-own Divine Chocolate in the UK; Kuapa Kokoo, now 80,000 farmers strong, is a partner in the WIEGO-led project Business and Leadership Skills for Women Fair Trade Producers
  • family-based cooperatives in Samoa which produce organic virgin coconut oil for export
  • small enterprises in Mozambique which are helping to regenerate the cashew processing and export industry
  • thousands of wage workers in global value chains, including deciduous fruits from South Africa, ready-made garments from Bangladesh, and call centers in India

Each case study was written by a team of international and national researchers and aims to present decision makers with concrete examples of how to spread the gains of globalization to poor working women through shifting the balance of access, power, and returns within global value chains.

This book was launched at the September 2004 meeting of Finance Ministers from Commonwealth countries (along with the other book prepared by WIEGO for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Mainstreaming Informal Employment and Gender in Poverty Reduction). Both books were also featured in a book launch organized by the Commonwealth Secretariat at the March 2005 meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN. For ordering information, visit

Connection to the Co-operative Movement

In 2012, the Global Trade Programme took part in the International Co-operative Association's Expo 2012 to help build awareness about informal workers’ organizations in the global co-operative movement.

Ethical Trade and Horticulture in Peru

WIEGO was involved in an ETI food and farming project with a specific focus on the horticultural sector in Peru. In March 2013, Programme Director Elaine Jones participated in an ETI Food and Farming delegation to visit Peruvian farms, interview workers, and take part in an event hosted by ILO (with participation by Carmen Roca, WIEGO's Latin America Regional Advisor, and Peru partner PLADES). Through its involvement in work with the Peruvian Horticulture supply chain, WIEGO, together with the IUF, has played a key role in arguing for a programme to improve working conditions for thousands of workers in the industry, most of whom are informal workers in formal firms who work on farms and in packhouses. This initiative was coordinated with WIEGO’s ongoing Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) project in Peru.