Since the 1990s the organization of production in global commodity chains GCCs

Since the 1990s the organization of production in

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Since the 1990s, the organization of production in global commodity chains (GCCs) has changed, driven by powerful retailer groups that used their buying and bargaining power in production networks to demand flexibility in addition to low costs from suppliers (Gereffi, 1996). Instead of clothing manufacturers pushing fairly standard- ized products through the chain, a greater variety of products are now pulled through the chain by retailers. Smaller quantities of more varied goods and more sophisti- cated product replenishment schedules enabled retailers to respond more accurately to consumer purchasing behaviour. By pushing cost savings further back in the value chain, and shortening product life cycles, they imposed logistical changes for manu- facturers through more varied demand imperatives. Whenever possible, manufactur- ers responded by mechanizing domestic procedures and using innovative production systems and organizational change to maximize the effectiveness of the remaining domestic workforce (Sels & Huys, 1999). Eventually, the cost pressures were so great that lower value-added manufacturing tasks were moved offshore to firms in emerg- ing economies and domestic production in high-wage economies significantly declined (Rosen, 2002). With extensive supplies of plentiful, low-waged labour and increased liberalization of trade regimes (Curran, 2008; Taplin, 2006a; Taplin & Winterton, 1998), many newly industrialized countries (NICs) embraced apparel manufacturing as a way to build an incipient industrial base. Such disaggregated production systems across national boundaries have been well- documented (Dicken, 2007) and subsequent technological innovations have allowed enhanced rationalization of production systems and improved channel integration in ways that have further transformed GCCs. Large firms such as Wal-Mart in the US required suppliers to acquire information technologies that enable them to share sales data, standardize product labelling and develop materials handling procedures that expedite product throughput (Abernathy et al ., 1999). This provided a better way of coordinating their supply chain to enable a closer matching of supply with uncertain demand (Cachon & Swinney, 2011) but pressured suppliers (manufactur- ers) to develop better performance measures, in particular the ability to coordinate production and distribution schedules. This new system, known as ‘lean retailing’ (LR), became the industry norm by the late 1990s and led many manufacturers to adopt quick response (QR) manufacturing systems — a combination of restructured workplaces using team production con- cepts, smaller batch production and logistical innovations in materials handling (Jones, 2002) — not dissimilar to just-in-time production systems in other industries.
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