Friday, 15 March 2013

Re-shoring can be reassuring, if not perhaps in this case

For years, we in the West have lived with the spectre of off-shoring. 

Jobs disappeared from our allegedly advanced, high-cost economies to other countries where production costs – i.e. wages, mainly – were so much lower that not even the fact of having to transport goods far further could wipe out the savings. Most notably, the great destination for off-shoring was China.

It is however a phenomenon that has been repeated in country after country down the ages, the people who seem happy enough to live in the sweatshop nations of the world initially, rapidly become disenchanted with the idea. It’s possibly in part related to seeing the Mercedes, or even Jags, turning up at the factory each day and disgorging the bosses (sometimes called Communist officials of the People’s Republic – some of these guys have a wonderful sense of irony) while the workers satisfy themselves with pay that just about enough to buy a plastic mug from which to drink their water, if they can find any that isn’t poisonous.

Eventually, these characters start to demand better wages. The bosses, who have after all to keep up the monthly payments on the Jag and the charming little place they’ve bought on the coast, sometimes decide that a strike isn’t something they can afford, so the pay climbs. That means the costs grow and the off-storing starts to lose its sheen.

I first came across the phenomenon of ‘in-shoring’, ‘on-shoring’ or ‘re-shoring’ a few years ago, as some of the off-shorers brought their businesses back home, once the economic benefits of having the work done abroad began to erode. But the best case of re-shoring I’ve come across so far came just a few days ago.

The company Symington
s makes a product called ‘Pot Noodle’. It's just what the name suggests, and in only a few minutes a consumer can heat up a pot and have a filling meal. 

Just how appetising can a meal look?

Note that I say ‘filling’ rather than ‘nourishing’: quite honestly I have only to see one of those pots to feel my arteries clogging up, and only to smell one to have the chemical balance of my body upset at the idea of hitting it with the string of synthetic substances they must contain.

The noodles are loosely based on oriental dishes so it was perhaps appropriate to have them produced in China. But, faced with the weakening pound and spiralling production and transport costs, the company has decided to move manufacture back to Leeds. Up North (please pronounce ‘up’ as ‘oop’), in Yorkshire.

So this quintessentially English mock-up of a Chinese dish will now be produced in England. That
s bad news for the Chinese workers who may lose their jobs (and a couple of bosses who may lose their Jags); its good news for some English workers who may secure or obtain positions; it’s bad news for English consumers who will continue to be exposed to the damaging effects of a quasi-toxic but (to some) apparently tempting fast food.

Pot luck will have proved luckier for some than for others.

In any case, isn
’t this a fascinating example of the workings of an unfettered global labour market?

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