It is now common knowledge that most manufactured goods come out of China or other Asian nations. Wherever labor is cheapest and supply chains most efficient factories will follow. This leads to cheap goods that customers demand and corporations desire, despite a supply chain of thousands of miles. Where corporations run into trouble is the “Nike problem”, in which consumers do not want to buy foreign goods produced under poor working conditions. Consumers like cheap goods, but dislike cheap goods made in sweatshops by abused workers. The line between appropriately cheap goods for the consumer and suitable working conditions is thin and nearly impossible to walk.
The amount of manufactured material from China that the average American consumer owns is substantial. Nearly all personal electronics are assembled or made of pieces assembled in China. So why is it “the Nike problem” and not the cell phone/ computer/ television problem? With the exception of Foxconn, consumer rejection of work conditions is limited. Fallows describes how Chinese contractors and independent manufacturing companies have limited the embarrassment risk of Western corporations by playing a ball and cup game with components. Supply chains are now confidential. Consumers may know Bo, but they don’t really know his sneakers.