Made in Nowhere


8 February 2018

For decades now, the “Made in …” tag on consumer objects has been a reassuring guide as to what we spend our money on. Or so we thought.

As recent revelations have uncovered, the “Made in …” tag means very little. In May last year, The Guardian showed that Louis Vuitton’s exclusive shoes, supposedly made by hand in a Venice workshop “revered for its fine shoe craftsmanship”, are in fact manufactured in Cisnadie, Romania, where labour is cheaper. The only part added in Italy is the sole, therefore qualifying the €1,000 shoes for the “Made in Italy” label. In 2016, the Australian sports brand Rip Curl made headlines when it was proven that its “Made in China”-labelled ski jackets were in fact made in North Korea.

Even if the two examples are very different – in one case the manufacturing took place in an EU country subject to similar employment laws as its purported place of origin, the other in a totalitarian regime where working conditions are impossible to regulate – they nevertheless proves that “Made in …” is far from satisfying its promise of “origin-labelling”. In fact, the first examples of labelling products with their place of manufacture were intended to dissuade people from buying the product. A “Made in Germany” stamp was introduced by the British Merchandise Marks Act in 1887 to stem the popularity of cheap imports of imitation Sheffield cutlery.

In similar fashion, US President Donald Trump has recently cracked down on “foreigners slapping on ‘Made in America’ labels to products,” aiming to protect US industry in the process. But how efficient can a “Made in …” label be in a global economy where most consumer goods are produced in multiple countries, fuelled by businesses trying to find the cheapest labour for the task? A number of “Made in USA” brands are known for employing similar tactics, where parts are produced in other countries and assembly is then carried out in a token fashion, for similarly low wages, by unskilled workers in the US.

The laws around the “Made in …” tag function more as a service to business owners than consumers, proving that the system cares little for protecting jobs or invention. Rather, it is yet another malign gesture of a capitalist society that always seems to conveniently forget about people.