Doing Sociology #5 –Are Your Clothes part of the Global Commodity Chain?
You probably own and consume a large number of products that originated in faraway countries, including your car, clothing or shores. These items have traveled widely during the process from production to consumption. Food, pharmaceuticals, and electronics are other examples of globally made products. Social scientists class such international movements of goods “global commodity chains.”
Global commodity chains are networks of corporations, product designers and engineers, manufacturing firms, distribution channels (such as ocean freightliners, railroads, and trucking firms), and consumer outlets (such as Walmart). Global commodity chains start with a product design and brand name and end with the consumer making a purchase. But between start and finish is often a complex global process involving many different people, in many different nations, all contributing to the final product.
The manufacturing of goods, from garments to electronics to automobiles, used to happen primarily in the United States and other Western nations; today’s manufacturing centers are located primarily in poorer nations, such as the Philippines, China, Indonesia, and many Latin American countries. American corporations such as Nike, the Gap, and Levi-Strauss have closed all their U.S. manufacturing plants and hired contractors and subcontractors from East Asia and Latin America to make their products at substantially lower prices. Now these companies focus large amounts of financial resources on “branding” their products. Branding is the process, usually accomplished through advertising, by which companies gain consumers’ attention and loyalty. Much of the money you pay for some products goes toward financing these branding campaigns, while a much smaller sum pays the workers who actually make the products.
ASSIGNMENT: There are three separate parts to this assignment.
Part 1.The Global Closet – Pick out 5-10 items of clothing from your closet. Check the labels. Where were your clothes made? Make a list of the nations represented in your closet. How many nations are in East Asia or Latin America or other parts of the globe? Is there a difference between whether an item is made and where it is assembled? Does the label indicate where the fabric originated?
Part 2.Once “Made in the U.S.A” – Ask your parents, grandparents or other older family members if you can look at the labels of their older clothes. Or go to a thrift store and look for older or vintage clothes there. Again pick out 5-10 items of clothing. How many of those items were made in the United States? How many were made elsewhere? What does this tell you about the globalization of the garment industry over the past several decades?
Part 3.Are Your Favorite Brands “Sweat Free”? – Choose one or more of your favorite brands of clothing, shoes, or other fashion accessories. What is your brand’s stand on sweatshop labor? Do workers who make our favorite products earn a living wage? You can check many corporations’ ethics regarding labor conditions by doing simple search on the Internet. Or visit the website of one of the following pro-labor organization to se how your brands score:
- Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights: globallabourrights.org
- CorpWatch: corpwathch.org
- Global Exchange: globalexchange.org
PAPER: Complete the three parts of this assignment listed above. Write a 3-4 page essay outlining and analyzing your findings.
Grading – 20 points
– Submitted on time: 2
– Followed directions: 3
– Thorough: 5
– Thoughtful, creative, sociological perspective: 5
– College effort (typed, spell check, etc.): 5