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Why modern slavery thrives in multinational corporations’ global value chains

Christina Stringer (The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Snejina Michailova (The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)

Multinational Business Review

ISSN: 1525-383X

Article publication date: 11 September 2018

Issue publication date: 12 October 2018




Modern slavery, one of the most abhorrent crimes against humanity, is a profitable international business (IB). It often operates in a hidden form in the global value chains (GVCs) governed by multinational corporations (MNCs). The purpose of this paper is to examine why slavery exists in GVCs and what this means for MNCs.


The paper borrows insights from the GVC literature to conceptually link MNCs and modern slavery. Different from the IB literature that predominantly focusses on the MNC as a single firm, the paper emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the MNC value chains and their complexity and fragmentation.


Three factors which help explain modern slavery in GVCs are examined: the complexity of GVCs and the challenges this poses to their governance, the business case for slavery and the conditions that enable modern slavery. These factors, taken together, provide an explanation why modern slavery can creep into, persist and thrive in MNCs’ GVCs.

Research limitations/implications

The argument is put forward for the need for IB scholars to borrow from the GVC literature to help understand why slavery can exist in the GVCs of MNCs. This opens the opportunity for examining the MNC in ways not considered by IB scholars so far.


The paper addresses an issue long ignored in IB research and issues a call for IB scholars to study MNCs in a new way, namely, linking MNCs’ activities with modern slavery.



Stringer, C. and Michailova, S. (2018), "Why modern slavery thrives in multinational corporations’ global value chains", Multinational Business Review, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 194-206.



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