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Jul 07 - 08 2022


09:00 - 18:00

Law and the Infrastructure of Global Commerce

An international conference that will explore the entanglements between law and different infrastructures that underlie global commerce and value chains. 

Theme: Infrastructures of Global Value Chains (GVCs)

Global value chains are animated by management strategies that make use of the unevenness and fragmentation of the global regulatory space. Such offshoring and outsourcing are however conditioned upon the existence or establishment of certain infrastructures that make just-in-time circulation of raw materials, goods, labor, information and capital ‘frictionless’ and cost-efficient. These infrastructures that currently enable the largest part of production and extraction of resources globally, range from logistic devices (like containers, ports, and cargo ships) through epistemic and bureaucratic practices (like auditing and supply chain IT) to large-scale geopolitical strategies (like the Chinese Belt and Road initiative) and form a backbone of contemporary capitalism. The centrality of infrastructure is best illustrated when it stutters, as during workers’ strikes and anti-oil blockades, or in the various instances of value chain disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the emblematic case of the blockage of the Suez Canal by the grounded container ship Ever Given in 2021.

Against the conventional assumption of infrastructure and logistics being mundane and passive facilitators of exchange, there is growing awareness that infrastructure is ‘where the action is’ – it actively shapes global trade, both its normative underpinnings and material outcomes. Socio-legal scholarship adopting perspectives of ‘Legal Materiality’ and Science-and-Technology-Studies (STS) as well as ethnographic accounts of logistics have recently provided illustrations of how infrastructure brings about a certain reality and normative idea of global commerce. It reshuffles the global economic order, carries an imprint of an ideology of free trade and creates new types of vulnerabilities when it molds territories and lives around it. As such, infrastructures are distributive arrangements with effects on racial, gender, and overall core-periphery injustice that further sustain and reinforces global structures of (colonial) economic and political domination and subordination.