Country of Origin

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.

 

Home Made Produce or Value for money imports?

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

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.

Products made in China? Or not.

Products made in China? Or not.

For some time now, products have been produced in China for a fraction of what the west could produce them for. Taking this in to consideration, how are the workers affected by this and do the public of the UK even care? Personally, I know where most of my clothes come from, but sometimes it is harder to pinpoint this accurately. A few of my own clothes have been designed in the West, but physically made in the East. The reason for this? Cost?

The cost of clothing, electrical products and other ‘necessities’ are super cheap to produce in the East, due to workers staying in the factories, working stupidly long hours and the actual costs of living in China and similar countries. The book, Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang highlights the stories of many Chinese girls, often young, coming into the cities to work and earn a way of life. They are interviewed, but rarely get to see inside the factory or their living quarters before hand. Living quarters are usually horrendous, compared to Western standards, and as many as 12 girls can share a ‘dorm’. Is this acceptable?

Quite frankly it’s not acceptable, but the West still exploit this scenario and China allows its workers to live this way, often on very poor wages. Make no mistake, the cost of living is very cheap in China, but when the West come calling, the workers suffer. In contrast to that statement, the factory owners will see this as a great opportunity to get business from the West, possibly open up a new factory etc, thus lining their pockets, and making the divide between the rich and poor greater.

As a friend of mine once said:

‘We’re born, we try, succeed, then die.’

This is certainly true of the Chinese factory workers way of life. Sometimes though, workers don’t succeed. What happens to them? They can disappear in the streets of hundreds of thousands, and never be seen again, or they can move on to another factory if they find their original employers ‘not suitable’. This means starting all over again, and with little qualifications, this can be difficult.

This brings me to the West. Are we over qualified and over expectant on pay, to produce such items? The answer is no. It all comes down to money, and if a company in the West can ‘acquire’ a factory to work for them, produce more units per hour and pay workers a tenth of what the West equivalent would be, then why should they have it in the West? Would you be happy paying more for the same product if it was produced in the West?

I adventured into Dundee with my assignment group and decided to ask the general public some questions about China and production of goods over there. The three questions were:

Do you have any idea where the majority of your products are produced?

-Are you willing to pay a bit more money for clothes if you knew they were made in better conditions?
Do you own any Apple products and/or know where they were manufactured?

Elizabeth and I decided to team up and ask some questions to passers by in the Overgate shopping centre. We first approached a 17 year old female. We first asked if she owned any Apple products, and er response to this was that she owned an iPhone. Even though owning an iPhone, and with all the recent news concerning Apple production in China, the girl didn’t have a clue where any of the parts were produced. I think it’s this kind of ignorance by the young in society today, that really pisses me off.

In comparison to this, we spoke to an elderly lady who seemed to be fairly switched on about a few things. She came to the conclusion that a lot of goods were built in China, then sold for profit to customers in the West. The lady didn’t own any Apple products, and I’m pretty sure she thought we may have been speaking about the fruit…I digress. When asked if she would pay more for a product if it was produced more fairly and with the workers having better living conditions, she answered ‘yes’. She stated that, most people, young and old, need access to a computer at some point in their lives and if the cost were to go up, she would still pay.

After speaking to the public, we decided to ask some shop workers if they knew where their products were from. We ventured into StormFront (Licensed Apple Retailer) and also paid a visit to the SuperDry Clothing store.

Upon venturing into the Apple shop we were greeted by a young man of 22. We cut to the chase as we didn’t want to take up too much of his time. For the first question he stated that it wasn’t a well known fact, or a fact that Apple were happy to divulge, that their products were made in China, and more than likely in poor conditions. When asked if he would still buy the same product, but at a higher cost due to fairer working conditions. He stated that his love for the products came first, but would like to see factory workers being treated fairer. He also owns pretty mcuh every Apple peripheral known to man, so it’s safe to say we have found someone who actually knows what is going when coming to electrical goods.


On our way back to our afternoon class, we decided to pop in to the SuperDry store and have a look at some of the labels. We noticed that some of the more expensive options in the store were made in China, whereas some of the middle of the range items were made in Turkey and India. So it was clear to see that exploitation goes on throughout the whole world, and not just China. Before we left, we asked a 23 year old female member of staff if she knew where SuperDry’s products were made. She stated that she wasn’t sure if she could answer that due to store policy. We then stated that the labels on the clothes say where they are made. I’m not sure if she was all there in the head. She also stated that she would buy the same clothing if it cost more, due to her love for the brand.

In conclusion to what we have found, I think the general public don’t really care about where things are made, as long as the can keep up with their neighbour, so to speak. It’s a sad state of affairs that I find society to be like this. If only more people would take a small amount of time to read a book about exploitation, not just in China, but all around the world, then we could maybe combat the injustice that goes on.

Pritzker Prize for Wang Shu

For the first time the Pritzker Prize has been awarded to a Chinese Archeitect, 48 year old Wang Shu, for his New Academy of Art in Hangzhou. The Pritzker Prize is the most prestigious award in the field of architeture. The selection of Mr. Wang, is an acknowledgment of “the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals,” said Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize and announced the winner on Monday.

In designing the Xingshan Campus of the China Academy of Art in his native Hangzhou, Wang Shu used recycled materials, covering the campus buildings with more than two million tiles from demolished traditional houses.

“Everywhere you can see, they don’t care about the materials,” Mr. Wang said in an interview. “They just want new buildings, they just want new things. I think the material is not just about materials. Inside it has the people’s experience, memory — many things inside. So I think it’s for an architect to do something about it.”