Open Conference Systems, 16th SGBED & XII ESPM International Conference in Management

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Digitalization and Upgrading of Emergent Country Firms in Global Value Chains
EDUARDO ARMANDO, Emanuela Todeva, Cristina Espeinheira Costa Pereira

Last modified: 2019-03-27


The seminal work on Global Value Chains (GVCs) by Gereffi (1994, 1999), Humphrey and Schmitz (2000, 2002), Sturgeon (2002), Gereffi, Humphrey, and Sturgeon (2005), and Kaplinsky and Morris (2001) posits, among other strengths, the idea that there are opportunities for suppliers in GVCs, with implications for industry structure (Strange & Humphrey, 2018). Events such as digitalization, can lead to industry structure change. Much has been published about the presence of firms from developing countries in GVCs and the contribution this article expects to make to the literature relates to whether, and how, adding digitalization will produce different results in relation to upgrading possibilities. The key contribution this paper expects to make is to clarify if and how an event such as digitalization is capable of changing industry structure, to a point where upgrading can be more or less difficult. Thus, the main question this article aims to answer is: Does digitalization facilitate or make more difficult the upgrading of emergent country firms in GVCs within a technology dominated industry, such as medical devices? This article proposes a framework to collect evidence of how digitalization may or may not facilitate the upgrading of emergent country firms in GVCs. In addition, it applies the framework in order to draw some initial conclusions about the phenomenon. The firms studied are located in clusters. The focus is on technology dominated industries, while the framework application concerns the medical devices industry. The method employed is the case study which examines firms located in two medical device clusters: one in an emergent country, Brazil, and the other in a developed country, England. The study is qualitative and information and data were collected from primary and secondary sources. The results contribute to advancing the literature on the participation of emergent country firms in GVCs.


global value chains, digitalization, upgrading, global learning, qualitative comparison, resource dependency.


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