Interrogating The Regional E-Waste Recycling Production Network In Malaysia And Singapore - 'Waste', Value And Informal Labour

Department of Human Resource Management in conjunction with Marie Curie Changing Employment Research Seminar Series.

Wednesday 5 Feb 2014, 3.30-5.00pm in Room GH813, University of Strathclyde

Aidan Wong, Queen Mary University of London

This presentation examines the regional electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) recycling network in Malaysia and Singapore, with a secondary focus on the articulations of informal labour within the network. In this presentation, I employ elements of Global Value Chains (GVC) and Global Production Networks (GPN) approaches as tools to examine contemporary processes of global production, thus treading a more conciliatory approach between these two approaches. First, I argue that there is a need to theorise production networks beyond the point of consumption; i.e. to focus additionally on the activities and processes that occur after a commodity is consumed and subsequently discarded. These discarded materials are not ‘value-less’ waste, but instead embody value, and have the potential to be re-inserted as ‘raw materials’ into production networks through the processes of recycling and reuse. Second, adapting Marx’s (1956) circuit of capital, I elucidate an e-waste circuit of capital that places emphasis on the central role of the labour process in the creation of surplus value. Critical in the e-waste circuit of capital are karung guni (a local term for the rag-and-bone man), and this opens up two avenues for further investigation. On the one hand, there is the question of how karung guni—who are self-employed—challenge understandings of the separation of capital and labour. On the other, karung guni represent a group that has been erstwhile overlooked in production networks — the informal economy. Hence, I examine informal labour by focusing on karung guni — analysing their critical role in value creation in the regional e-waste recycling production network through the lens of petty commodity production. This presentation therefore seeks to argue for the need in GVC/GPN literature to recognise activities beyond the point of consumption (that have been the focus of present GVC/GPN literature), and second, a more nuanced consideration of the role of informal labour in the framework.

Aidan Wong is a PhD Student at the School of Geography and the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London, under the supervision of Professor Adrian Smith and Dr Liam Campling. His research interests are broadly concerned with Economic Geographic issues, in particular issues involving labour, specifically informal labour, theorizations related to value, and the application of approaches in the political economy tradition, with emphasis on the Global Value Chains and Global Production Networks frameworks. Linked with this is an interest in development issues and poverty, which are influenced by literature on petty commodity producers. 

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