Toward a just circular economy: conceptualizing environmental labor and gender justice in circularity studies

Barca, S.; Martínez Álvarez, B. (2024): "Toward a just circular economy: conceptualizing environmental labor and gender justice in circularity studies", en Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 20:1.

Over the past decade, the concept of circular economy (CE) has gained political traction as a potential solution to economy-environment tradeoffs. However, critical social scientists have raised concerns that CE may not address the root causes or consequences of environmental degradation, thus remaining ineffective. Concurring with this critique, this article highlights three constituent elements of the linear economy that remain unaddressed in CE frameworks: environmental, labor, and gender inequalities. Building upon scholarship from environmental justice, environmental labor studies, and feminist ecological economics, we elaborate a conceptual framework to interrogate the existing literature. Our analysis shows that current CE models 1) are mainly concerned with return on capital investment and sustained growth of gross domestic product (GDP) rather than with redressing the North/South inequalities embedded in the linear economy model; 2) present a limited perspective on labor, with a primary focus on the number of jobs to be created, rather than their quality, or workers’ leadership; and 3) overlook gender inequalities and the sexual division of labor, thus reproducing the devaluation of care that lays at the roots of socioecological crises. We conclude by suggesting avenues for elaborating a “just circular economy” framework.