more and more production shifting overseas to newly industrialized countries

More and more production shifting overseas to newly

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more and more production shifting overseas to newly-industrialized countries (NICs), where abundant supplies of low-cost, unskilled labour are the perfect match for apparel assembly operations. By exploiting changes in trade systems and encouraged by NICs that were enthusiastically embracing apparel and textile production as the cornerstone of their export-led growth strategies, much of the apparel industry in high-wage economies shifted to NICs during the 1990s and 2000s (Doeringer & Crean, 2006; Jones & Hayes, 2004). From lean retailing to quick response Production system changes amongst domestic manufacturers included restructured workplaces as well as a focus on higher value-added products (higher fashion content). The former included teamworking and modular manufacturing, which were classified generically as high performance work practices (HPWP) but often merely entailed ways of cajoling workers to work harder (efficiency gains) as opposed to smarter (effectiveness gains) (Taplin, 2006b). Such organizational changes did enable manufacturers to meet the increased flexibility mandates of retailers, especially the improved flow and speed of production and shortened cycle times. The corner- stone of these efforts became known as quick response (QR), in which operational re-structuring allowed manufacturers to minimize lead times and expenditure for labour and materials handling (Jones, 2002). Designed to rationalize supply chain management, it was nonetheless a logistical innovation that ultimately benefited the retailer (buyer), whose size enabled it to dictate cost and quality terms plus delivery
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251 GLOBAL COMMODITY CHAINS AND FAST FASHION schedules. Riddle et al . (1999: 134) emphasize the underlying logic of these innova- tions by claiming that they became a competitive necessity for manufacturers rather than a source of competitive advantage since the majority of benefits (sales increases, stock reduction and forecasting error) accrued to retailers. Outsourcing and export-led growth In recent decades, much of apparel manufacturing has shifted to Asia, particularly China, which has become the leading exporter of clothing followed, more recently, by Bangladesh. Apparel has been a crucial component of NICs’ industrialization strategies, becoming the first step on the industrial ladder for emerging economies as they utilize their large pools of low-wage, unskilled labour and exploit changes in trade regimes. With economic growth strategies based upon export-led manufactur- ing, firms in these countries have been able to offer low-cost production as well as meet strict delivery schedules. Containerized shipping and lower cost air freight make sourcing to such sites cost-effective for Western retailers. Progressive trade liberalization, starting with NAFTA in 1993 and followed by the ending of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 1994, transformed the post-Second World War policies that had heavily regulated trade in textiles and apparel (Commission of the European Communities, 2003). Quotas associated with
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