The research on global value chains can be divided into two very broad categories: research on governance and upgrading and sector case studies. As the tools for practitioners become better developed and, hopefully, become the basis for entrepreneur, worker and policy-maker trainings, a third strand of research will emerge: GVC benchmarking and policy tool effectiveness.
Governance is a central concept to value chain analysis. Governance can be defined as non-market coordination of economic activity. The starting point for interest in global value chains is the fact that some firms directly or indirectly influence the organization of global production, logistics and marketing systems. Through the governance structures they create, they take decisions that have important consequences for the access of developing country firms to international markets and the range of activities these firms can undertake.
Upgrading is also a key concept for value chain analysis. Upgrading refers to the acquisition of technological capabilities and market linkages that enable firms to improve their competitiveness and move into higher-value activities. Analyses of upgrading from a value chain perspective pay particular attention to the ways in which value chain linkages facilitate or obstruct upgrading.
Value chain studies now cover a broad range of sectors and countries. These sectoral studies are one of the most distinctive characteristics of global value chain work. The research is rooted in empirical analysis of inter-firm relationships in the global economy, examining governance structures and upgrading trajectories. Sectors studied by global value chain researchers include agricultural commodities, apparel, automobiles, electronics, footwear, furniture, horticulture, and surgical instruments.