«I ask you to redirect your thinking away from claims of “value added” at various nodes of a global production network. Contrary to that view, ...»
At an abstract level of analysis, the only source of the surplus is the underpayment of waged labor, which appears on the books as split between the costs of labor (“variable capital”) and “surplus value.” The tendency of Marx(ism) is to treat the incorporation of unpaid costs, such as seized land, resources, and slaves, as foundational components of “primitive accumulation,” so Marx and Marxists are in accord with their enemies, mainstream economists, in assuming that unpaid costs are not sufficiently important to be included in their model of how the system works. Instead, both abstract models assume that the costs of reproduction of labor within households Donald A. Clelland 81 are fully recompensed by the wages paid by capitalists. It is as if a sign was posted above the door of every household stating, “You are now entering the realm of the production of labor power, the source of all value. No Marxists are admitted beyond this point.” Semiproletarian households, not wage-earning males, are the foundational units of the capitalist world-system. Capitalists prefer such households exactly because they do not require complete payment for their reproduction. Members of households, typically women and children, provide unpaid labor and alternative income sources that support the (re)production of waged labor (Werlhof 1983, 1984).
Unpaid Household Labor For these reasons, researchers need to extend their typical commodity chain mapping to integrate the hidden household chains that encompass the reproduction of labor, two-thirds of which is in the hands of housewives.
Capitalism as a system is intrinsically based on the extraction of surplus from unpaid labor from worker households. The starting point of a commodity chain is the extraction of surplus from unpaid household work, and that unpaid labor contributes to the “expanded value” of a commodity at every production step in the chain. The household reproduces and partially provisions itself, and thus generates waged labor for the capitalist below its paid costs. In other words, the household provides vast benefits for each employer within a commodity chain. Thus all the capitalists that exist within the full span of a commodity chain extract from thousands of households 82 Unpaid Labor in Global Commodity Chains the production of this unpaid value, but they conceal its embodiment in the finished product.
Unpaid household labor takes four forms. First, capitalists do not pay for women’s biological reproduction and raising of the future generation of workers. Second, households engage in an array of forms of unpaid labor through which they scramble to provision themselves. A housewife spends much of her work life indirectly providing free, unpaid labor power to capitalists who do not pay the full cost of survival needs for labor power. Thus household collection of unpaid resources (e.g., water, fuelwood, ecological gathering) represents extraction of unpaid costs because this unpaid household work subsidizes the below-subsistence wages of household members. The third form of unpaid household labor occurs when housewives and girls provide unremunerated work to support male commodity production (e.g., agriculture or home-based subcontracting) that is household based. Fourth, housewives provide unpaid labor to locate and use capitalist commodities.
According to three decades of accumulated research, household members allocate far more time to these types of unpaid household work than to paid work, and females account for a majority of this unpaid work.8 Because females inequitably bear the brunt of these dark-value transfers to millions of commodity chains, women’s unpaid work is more crucial to capitalism than waged labor (Mies, Bennholdt-Thomsen, and Werlhof 1988).
Peripheral households provide direct subsidies to capitalist commodity chains through allocation of unpaid labor and resources to sustain underpaid waged workers. In addition, peripheral households provide indirect subsidies to capitalist commodity chains when they absorb the costs of reproducing, maintaining, educating, and socializing the labor force from which capitalists benefit (Chapter 3).
From the standpoint of capital, the household produces a commodity to be sold, labor power. This is most directly evidenced in transnational labor commodity chains that are partially structured by states, as in the Philippines. Various forms of labor are educated, trained, recruited, transported, and sold as commodified labor. These exported workers include male ship and construction workers and female domestic servants, nurses, and sex workers.9 At many points in these labor commodity chains, a surplus is extracted as the commodity moves up the chain. Thus the commodified labor that was created through the dark energy of the household is transformed into the visible value of the labor-market price. This price is a bargain for the receiving country. The dark value from distant households keeps the price low because the cost of production is borne elsewhere, as in the case of transnational migrant laborers (Chapter 10).
Donald A. Clelland 83 The Indirect Contributions of Informal-Sector Households In addition to dark value extracted from the various forms of unpaid labor, capitalists drain hidden surpluses from semiproletarianized households that earn much of their livelihood from informal-sector activities. Indeed, commodity chains incorporate horizontal chains of simple commodity production and the informal sector in which nonwaged producers provide cheap labor to generate goods and services that provision underpaid waged laborers in semiproletarian households. In this way, cheap waged labor extracted by capitalists is dependent for its reproduction on even cheaper labor in the informal sector. In other words, these workers provide dark value to lowpaid waged workers who, in turn, provide dark value to global commodity chains. For that reason, the overlapping simple commodity production and informal sectors are not outside capitalism (Portes 1983) but are intrinsic components of global commodity chains. Indeed, these sectors are “invisible” only because capitalists and consumers seek to deny that they are the beneficiaries of the surpluses extracted from the vast majority of the world’s workers who are concentrated in the informal sector and the peasantry, where they cannot obtain adequate livelihoods (United Nations 2003).
A long dark-value chain of food producers and informal-sector activities is needed to generate the productive capacity and the survival maintenance of every waged laborer. By supplying low-cost survival needs to the waged worker, poorly remunerated informal laborers subsidize low capitalist wages. The daily life of the undercompensated peripheral wage earner entails the unequal exchange of one work hour for greater labor time from even cheaper nonwaged producers. For example, a waged laborer drains dark value from a lower-paid child caregiver who makes it possible for her to work outside her household. This flow of dark value cheapens the reproduction costs of peripheral labor and, thus, the wage level that capitalists pay. In addition to these kinds of indirect subsidies to capitalist production, there are several more direct informal mechanisms through which dark value is expropriated. Through contract farming and labor subcontracting, capitalists externalize costs of production to peripheral households whose bare subsistence level lowers prices for exports. Capitalists also drain dark value from export-commodity producers when they generate debt bondage through exploitative informal credit or financing mechanisms (Chapter 9).
Extraction of Dark Value by Co nsumers Because this dark-value form of surplus drain is more extreme today than it ever has been in the history of the modern world-system, it is crucial 84 Unpaid Labor in Global Commodity Chains
S o urc es and e xpl anato ry no te s: Estimates for Columns 1 through 3 were derived from Talbot (1997, 2004), Sarris and Hallam (2006: 356–75), and McArthur (2011) and standardized into 2011 dollars. For Column 2, the Brazilian farmworker wage rate is estimated at $1.33 per hour (McArthur 2011), the U.S. farmworker wage rate at $10.90 per hour (U.S. Department of Agriculture website). For columns 2 through 4, labor inputs are assumed to be one-third of the total expense for other production costs (OPC). For Column 2, the cost for the labor inputs to OPC for the primary producer is estimated at $6 per hour (the average wage of Brazilian manufacturing workers), at $10 per hour for transporters, and at $30 per hour for core workers (“Industry Report” 2006; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009). Column 3 represents the estimated value of unpaid labor in cheap wage rates, that is, the difference between the wages that would be paid a U.S. farmworker for the work time and the actual Brazilian wage. Column 4 represents the unpaid household reproductive and provisioning labor to support wage earners and the unpaid household farm laborers. A conservative estimate of one unpaid farmworker was assumed. I conservatively estimated that household reproductive and provisioning work was equivalent in time to the paid labor in Column 2.
86 Unpaid Labor in Global Commodity Chains The real point of this table is to answer the question: who obtains most of the dark value that results from the production and sale of this commodity?11 Column 3 estimates the unpaid labor in cheap wage rates. For coffee workers, this estimate is the difference between the wages that would be paid to a U.S. farmworker for the work time ($10.90 per hour) and the actual Brazilian wage ($1.33 per hour).12 In similar manner, I have estimated the dark-value contributions of other workers, including those involved in producing supplies and equipment, termed “other production costs” in the table. Even though these estimates are conservative, the results are astounding. The dark value embedded in a pound of coffee exceeds the price. If the coffee were produced in the core, the price would more than double.
Dark-value analysis allows one to see that the system is structured to provide significant benefit not only to capitalists but also to core consumers.
In this case, the dark value added from cheap labor in the various nodes of the chain is seven times greater than the profit extracted along the chain. This table reflects my previous theoretical discussion of the two options that capitalists enjoy with respect to dark value. By increasing prices, they can widen profits, or they can pay higher wages to core laborers and managers or finance advertising (accounted as “costs”). But it is hard to imagine that capitalists would use more than about 15 percent of the dark value in Column 3 in this way. The second option is for them to pass on price savings to consumers, in this case a benefit of $8.47. As Column 4 shows, the dark value is even greater because we also need to take into account the unpaid household reproductive and provisioning labor to support wage earners and the unpaid household farm laborers. As much as $15 worth of that unpaid labor is embodied in every pound of coffee consumed in the core. As Column 5 indicates, the full dark value added is more than three times the actual price paid.