Governance of Eswatini apparel regional value chains and the implications of Covid-19

Giovanni Pasquali, Shane Godfrey

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There is a growing literature on the impact of Covid-19 on commercial and labour conditions at suppliers in apparel global value chains (GVCs). Yet much less is known about the implications for suppliers operating in regional value chains (RVCs) in the global South. In this article, we focus on Eswatini, which has grown to become the largest African manufacturer and exporter of apparel to the region. We draw on a combination of firm-level export data and interviews with stakeholders before and after the Covid-19 lockdown to shed light on the influence of private and public governance on suppliers' economic and social upgrading and downgrading. We point to the coexistence of two separate private governance structures: the first characterised by direct contracts between South African retailers and large manufacturers ( direct suppliers); the second operating through indirect purchasing via intermediaries from relatively smaller producers ( indirect suppliers). While direct suppliers enjoyed higher levels of economic and social upgrading than indirect suppliers before Covid-19, the pandemic reinforced this division, with severe price cuts for indirect suppliers. Furthermore, while retailers provided some direct suppliers with support throughout the crisis, this was not the case for indirect suppliers, who remain comparatively more vulnerable. In terms of public governance, the negative consequences of the lockdown on firms' income and workers' livelihoods have been compounded by the state's ineffective response. Our paper contributes to the research on RVCs in the global South, enhancing our understanding of how different governance structures and external shocks affect firms' and workers' upgrading and downgrading prospects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-502
Number of pages30
JournalEuropean Journal of Development Research
Issue number1
Early online date10 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2021


  • Apparel
  • Covid-19
  • Customs data
  • Eswatini
  • Governance
  • Regional value chains
  • South Africa
  • Upgrading

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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