ESR 08:
Justices and Injustices in the Soy Value Chain

Home Institution: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), Spain
Principal Supervisor: Dr. Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Edward Challies
Application date: 16/10/2017-24/11/2017
Starting date: 01/07/2018
Duration: 3 years


Soybean expansion has been a major driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss in South America and, increasingly, in other parts of the world. As a commodity, soybean epitomizes the challenge of governing telecoupled food and land systems, with the soybean trade between South America and Europe as the clearest example for decades. Over time, new economic policies, dietary shifts, and the multiple industrial uses of soybean protein have resulted both in increased soybean demands and new interconnections becoming significant in environmental governance at the global level. Soybeans now surpass crude oil and iron ore as Latin America’s largest export to China. Additionally, spill-over systems also configure governance challenges. For instance, rising demands for pork meat among Chinese consumers increases pork production in Europe. Increasing European demand for pork feed, in turn, causes land-use changes in soybean production frontiers in Latin America. Soybean cultivation, transportation and commercialization often trigger conflicts, with collective claims for environmental justice denouncing impacts on access to resources, and exposure to environmental and health risks. Yet the implications of these soybean flows in terms of environmental justice have not received the same amount of attention than issues around subsoil resource extraction.

Against this background, this ESR position will:

  • Apply an environmental and social justice framework to examine the soybean value chain (EU-Latin America; Latin America-China)
  • Identify how soy chain actors perceive the (in)justices of soy cultivation, trade and consumption, and which actions they propose to address identified injustices (EU-Argentina; Argentina-China).
  • Reflect on how such injustices have affected market practices, social movements and landscapes in producing and end-consumer countries, and identify points of leverage to improve the sustainability of the value chain.

In doing so, the ESR position will document and understand the flow of actors, biomass and financial flows of soybean trade between South America-China and South America and the EU between 1995-2015. The research will shed light on stakeholders’ perspectives on the (in)justices in the soy value chain between these tree regions, and will identify leverage points to foster more just soy value chains.

The ESR will be jointly supervised by Dr Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos (Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, UAB) and Prof. Edward Challies (Institute for Environmental and Sustainability Communication at Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, LUL). Two secondments will take place:

  • at LUL, to supplement the design of the theoretical framework, particularly in regards to governance of social and environmental sustainability in global value chains, as well as participatory and collaborative environmental governance, and
  • at Fairtrade International, to identify key EU actors and development of material for interview protocol.


The UAB is one of the largest and highest ranked public universities in Spain. ICTA, in turn, is an internationally renowned institute with a solid record in coordinating and managing large European, international and Spanish research projects focused on the study of pressing environmental problems, of both global and local concern. The institute hosts a team of more than 60 internationally highly regarded specialists in natural and social sciences and engineering, of which 25 are full-time senior researchers, including four ERC grantees and other selective fellowship programmes. ICTA has also been accredited as a ‘María de Maeztu Unit of Excellence in 2015’, which is the highest institutional recognition of scientific research granted by the Spanish government.

We seek

An individual with an above-average MSc (or equivalent degree) in Environmental Science, Geography, Ecology, Conservation Science, or related fields. We expect a strong interest in environmental justice, food systems governance, and sustainability problems. Required skills include a sound background in land-use science, political ecology of foods systems, and advanced knowledge in geographic information systems, and experience with social science qualitative research methods. Spanish and English language proficiency and experience working/researching in China and/or rural contexts of Latin America are desirable.

ESRs hosted at UAB must register to the University’s PhD Programme in Environmental Science and Technology and follow the programme’s rules. This means for example that ESRs research progress will be annually assessed by their supervisors -through a written report- and by an independent committee of three UAB members, who consider the supervisors’ report and a presentation by the student. ESRs are allowed to continue in the programme if such annual assessments are positive and for a maximum of five years if their dedication to the PhD is full-time over the study period.


Dr Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos

+34 93 5868643

Do you consider applying?

In any case please check the eligibility criteria in the first place.

To submit your application, please fill in the requested data in the online application form, upload your application file and submit your application.

Download and carefully read the Guide for Applicants and the ITN Programme’s information note for all specific information on the application and selection procedure.