Chapter 7 Learning on your own: bricolage and the quest for relevance in the squeezed Bangladeshi garment supply chain
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This chapter explores knowledge-acquisition strategies adopted by Bangladeshi garment suppliers, in pursuit of economic upgrading. The context is characterised by ‘tacit promissory’ contracting relationships, whereby suppliers make recurrent discrete transactions with the same buyers over a long period of time, without the existence of any original and legally binding written agreement. We explore whether and to which extent suppliers in such contexts can access the knowledge resources of their powerful trading partners. Furthermore, we examine the strategies these supplier firms may pursue, at a functional level, to compensate for their lack of knowledge in order to effectively progress towards upgrading. We draw on a qualitative case analysis of two small and two large Bangladeshi garment manufacturing firms. The findings show that these suppliers source knowledge externally to the extent to which these are available and affordable to them, in order to compensate for the lack of access to buyers’ tacit knowledge resources. The small firms in our study are only able to seek locally available knowledge sources, and thus are constrained to technocratic or output-oriented dimensions of process upgrading. Large firms, however, are able to afford sourcing tacit and codified components of knowledge from overseas and thus arrive at higher order functional capabilities including designing and branding.

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