Short description

Research project „Digitalisation of value chains in the retail sector“

Funding: Hans-Böckler-Foundation 05/2023 – 14/2025

Project Manager: Prof Dr Martina Sproll, HWR Berlin (Berlin School of Economics and Law)

Team: Dr Michael Fütterer, Carmen Mayer, Dr Tatiana López-Julies


Digital restructuring processes are changing the shape of global value chains. The project examines their impact on production and labour processes, working conditions and the reconfiguration of inequalities in retail value chains, as well as the role of social dialogue at the workplace level. 


Growing online trade, digital supply-chain-management systems and new production technologies are changing the shape and governance of global retail value chains. This has implications for the relationships between companies at different stages of the value chains as well as their spatial configuration. As digital technologies contribute to a new form of integration of value chains it is necessary both for researchers and practitioners to adopt a perspective on the entire value chain. Changes on all stages of the value chain (production, logistics and retail) must be examined to understand the impact of digital technologies on labour and production processes and the related inequality relations. This challenges existing forms of employees’ representation such as trade unions and works councils. This points to the necessity of shaping the introduction of digital technologies socially and developing a corresponding social dialogue. 

Research Questions: 

1. What impact do digital technologies have on the form and governance of value chains and how do they change power relations between companies and regions as well as between the different stakeholders and social partners? 

2. What impact do they have on labour and organisational processes at the different stages of value creation? 

3. What is the role of employees representations and social dialogue in that change process in the retail sector and in Germany in particular? 

In order to answer the research questions, debates and concepts developed in the fields of labour sociology and economic geography on the change of work and production through digital restructuring will be taken up. These will be linked with theoretical multi-level approaches to global value chains as well as with approaches to the analysis of intersectional inequalities. 

Research design: 

Following a multi-level approach, labour and production processes at all levels of the value chain (production, logistics, retail) will be examined. Three case companies 

were selected for the study: Inditex/Zara, H&M and IKEA, which are considered trendsetters in the introduction of (different) digital strategies. Using a qualitative comparative case study design research results are reflected and further developed in an application-oriented manner. Methodologically, expert interviews with company representatives, employees, employee representatives, observations in retail stores, logistics centres and factories and document analysis will be applied