Geographies of Subcontracting

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Abstract

At its simplest, ‘subcontracting’ occurs when a company outsources some of its operations and functions to others. These contracts include production, service support, and in some cases, research and design. Yet, the nature of subcontracting as a mode of economic production varies dramatically across different industries, spatial scales, places, and impacts. In view of the immense scope of this topic, in this article, I hope to highlight and illuminate a few significant strands and key contentions of the subcontracting literature. First, I will illustrate the varieties and increasing complexity of subcontracting since its early roots in the pre-industrialization era. Second, I will attempt to explain why firms choose to subcontract. Third, I will also mention briefly other cognate concepts (e.g. ‘trust’ and ‘agglomeration’) which play a role in explaining the nature of subcontracting relationships. Where possible, I will also discuss the extent to which subcontracting relationships are inequitable. Finally, I will use the case study of contract farming in the livestock industry to illustrate the various contentions surrounding subcontracting as a form of economic production and organization.

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