How to track corporations across space and time
Globalization processes lead to supply chains that sprawl across space and time. Where and how products are produced and consumed shape the environmental and social conditions of regions, far and wide. Distance, fluidity, and complexity in supply chains mask their uneven impacts. Researchers have prioritized the study of ‘sectors’ (e.g. automobile manufacturing, garment production) over specific corporations (e.g. Toyota, Nike), even though these corporations `move and shape` the global economy. Research by NGOs reveals the importance of focusing on individual corporations to highlight unsustainable production practices and to foster transparency and accountability. This paper introduces a methodological framework, “TRAcking Corporations Across Space and Time” (TRACAST), to tell the ‘story’ behind a product by systematically linking companies across a supply chain and identifying environmental and social hotspots and key nodes of governance. TRACAST combines in-situ (e.g. interviews, surveys, fieldwork) and ex-situ (e.g. document analysis, mining of trade data) approaches. To illustrate its utility, we link Walmart, Lowe’s, and The Home Depot in the United States to Russian logging companies via Chinese flooring manufacturers. TRACAST enables scholars studying the global flows of goods to engage deeply with questions related to specific corporations and how they affect people and the planet.