Today’s organization of production and services along global value chains (GVCs) uses contracts as central building blocks, yet is largely disconnected from contract law’s dominant epistemology and social imaginary. This article charts when, how and why GVCs have appeared on the radar of contract scholars and unravels the related methodological and disciplinary challenges. Rather than treating GVCs as a ‘legal concept’ in a strict sense that might command the application of particular rules, I propose to understand them as a ‘legal heuristic’: GVCs require contract law to revisit its constitutive role for matters of distribution, participation and equality under globalization. Towards this, GVCs need to be understood as organizational arrangement and simultaneously as a stage in the evolution of a global political economy. Beyond the classical confines of ‘contract governance’, this brings into the picture the wide array of formal and informal technologies of ‘contract governmentality’. Together with the material, technological or informational infrastructure, these are referred to as ‘code’ of GVCs, suggested here as focus of future contract law research on GVCs.
This journal deals with contract law and serves as a pan-European platform for discussion and analysis. Since the early 2000s when this journal was created, European Contract Law has come to encompass an increasingly comprehensive body of law. The importance and breadth of the field and the methods and questions involved are such that ERCL has established itself as the specialised European journal in this area.