Working like Machines: Technological Upgrading and Labour in the Dutch Agri-food Chain

Karin Astrid Siegmann*, Petar Ivošević, Oane Visser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article engages with the role of technological upgrading for work in agriculture, a sector commonly disregarded in debates about the future of work. Foregrounding migrant work in Dutch horticulture, it explores how technological innovation is connected to the scope and security of employment. Besides, it proposes a heuristic that connects workers’ experience to sectoral dynamics and the wider agri-food chain. Our analysis reads data from a small-scale qualitative study with different actors in the Dutch agri-food sector through the lens of the global value chain literature. Nuancing pessimistic predictions of widespread technological unemployment, we find product upgrading into high value-added products, and process upgrading, such as through climate control in greenhouses, to offer the potential for more and secure employment. However, higher work intensity and the dismantling of entitlements for rest and reproduction to ‘make people work like machines’ represent the underbelly of these dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 May 2024

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© The Author(s) 2024.


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