When buying products, especially online, a large percentage of the British public are concerned about the ethics and morality of the product if it is manufactured in a foreign country.
Foreign imports are a regular sight, be it in a popular brand store like Topshop, or whether it is online. But does the public actually consider where the product was made? Considering Topshop, the company does not state on website the origin of the product, but says is displays it on ‘most’ items of clothing aside some for which it is not ‘relevant’. Asos is another brand, which does sell items imported from China, but does so under strict guidelines that include;
- Compliance with local laws
- Employment is freely chosen
- Freedom of Association and the right to collective bargaining are respected
- Working conditions are safe and hygienic
- Child labour shall not be used
- Living wages are paid
- Working hours are not excessive
- No discrimination is practised
- Regular employment is provided
- No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed
- Environmental protection
- Communication and supervision
But does this all matter? In a students case, the answer of course is no. Value for money rises above all other criteria, as agreed with by an anonymous interviewee who said, “I work and work and work, but all money goes to numerous sources, such as bills and rent. That leaves little enough money for fashion without having to fork out over the odds for British home made products.” This is a resounding factor in the relevance of where our products come from. The following question was proposed on my personnel blog;
The results, although only a small scale, show a large swing towards the opinion that the public would like to see where products originate from because they feel anxious about certain destinations. The rest of the results are fairly spread. Two students further commented on the matter;
- · Mike Skillings says:
Don’t care where they are made. As long as the product is made well and employees treated fairly it shouldn’t matter which country they are being produced in
- · Rory Findlater (@RoryFindlater) says:
I completely agree with Mike – the quality of the product and the employees’ conditions are a lot more important. Maybe websites should focus on emphasising these instead?
The question just asks more questions rather than provide a clear view. Questions like, if products are still made in the same way – and look the same, taste the same and smell the same as a result – does it matter? Would a mere change in ownership mean you’d stop buying a product you love? Would you want to undertake the jobs the likes of the Chinese workers are doing – repetitive labour, underpaid, cramped conditions? (There a few who set a higher example than this.)
One certain issue that is becoming very pressing is the economic situation. For every £999 Britain spends in imports from China, China spends £1 in imports from Britain. This is one of the many reasons China is becoming such a world power, as her level of self production becoming increasingly high. As a developing country, they have cheap labour as a major resource. Developing countries typically export a large quantity of relatively low value mass-produced goods. As a developed nation, the UK has a skilled and a rather more expensive labour force as its major resource. We export less in volume, but we export higher value, and generally higher technology goods, such as satellites or even folding bikes!
To help boost Britain’s economy, a campaign has been set up by Stoves to increase the sale of home made goods, and is backed by UK manufacturers and MPs. The ‘Made In Britain’ Logo has been designed, and to qualify, companies must say ‘the majority’ of their production or manufacturing takes place in the UK with companies certifying their own eligibility. So far over 100 manufacturers have applied for the logo, including Samuel Heath (Bathrooms), Roman Showers, The Pure H2O company, Ultima Furniture, Chalon (Kitchens), Big Bale Transtacker, Taylor Bins, Anglia Kitchens and Bathrooms LTD, Perrin and Rowe (Taps), Bartuf (Retail display manufacturers) and Primisil Silicones LTD. The logo can be seen below.
According to the research carried out by Stoves’, over one third of British consumers say they would buy British more often if it were easier to identify British products. It’s a noble sentiment, but would it still hold once consumers saw the price tag of a 100% British manufactured product? Some foods and drinks already carry Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) labels that let consumers know that foods are made according to tradition and in the designated area. Surprisingly, the UK only has 16 registered PDOs, compared with France’s 82 and Italy’s 143.
Only time will tell whether the Made In Britain campaign has any affect. It is battling against a public stuck in a struggling economy, and a mentality to get the best value for money possible. Although issues still surround the foreign factories that produce our imports, many are beginning to improve their working conditions, such as the EUPA factory, and this will ease the publics mind. On the other hand there are many who will stand to the end to help the small time, home made companies battle on and convince the British public that buying their goods is more beneficial than imports. With China’s increasing rise in power, everything we own may soon come from China. And, as a student, that may not be all bad.