The manufacturing industry is driven by demand. The demand for cheap products is higher than ever and China’s supply of low cost labour and raw materials mean it can capitalise on the growing potential of the budget market. Because the emphasis is moving more towards value for money, a product’s origin becomes less important to us, and we’ve gotten to the point now where many of us barely know anything about where our belongings came from. Despite this, China maintains its reputation as a global power in mass-production.
A survey was set up to ask students about the origins of products in their homes. It was immediately clear that it was a matter of guesswork. Electrical products and plastic items were generally thought to be made in the East, while furniture and musical instruments were assumed to have been made somewhere in Europe. The brand name on the item was also a factor – brands like Sony and Fender have strong connections with the countries they were founded, but they both own manufacturing plants in China. This leads to confusion about where the item actually came from.
The majority of items in a room had been bought from chain retailers. These shops promote their products’ value for money, which is the often the main focus of the student shopper. Deluxe items often use the country of origin as a selling point, usually to help promote a product’s quality, which is often considered not as important. Because cheaper products are of generally lower quality, a cheap product’s country of origin isn’t used as a selling point, so the consumer never finds out where the product was made.
It’s becoming cheaper to make things, especially in Eastern countries where cheaper labour and resources are available. Because of this, many countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan and China gain a reputation for producing cheap, low quality items. There are questions about the ethics of some factories in the East, but the whole industry is built on consumer demand for cheap products and China is at the centre of this movement. The Made in China label appears on a huge range of items but in the survey, China wasn’t always guessed as the country of origin.
China was mostly guessed for electrical products, clothing and plastics. It is the world’s largest consumer of copper, which is used extensively in the production of electrical appliances, and cotton which is used in the textile industry. Another issue is that fact that many products a labelled as being made in China, but were actually only assembled there. This leads to further confusion. Basically, a lot of us don’t know where our belongings were made, but it doesn’t matter to us because stuff is so cheap, and China is happy to sell it to us.