Demands of Supply: The Illicit Pathways of Global Supply Chains

Article excerpt

Global trade can give rise to new economic possibilities in developing regions and open a boundless world of opportunity for design and production. The following pages contain a composite map of the supply chains behind electronics manufacturing. Constructed by bringing together the routes of consumer electronics products at different stages of assembly, this map provides an overview of the network traveled in global manufacturing. As production has become increasingly complex, actors have emerged to take advantage of friction inherent in supply lines. Each point and pathway shown on the map is a site for the potential proliferation of transnational conflict. The products we consume traverse convoluted pathways of production--pathways put at risk by questionable practices that bring profits at the expense of working conditions, regional stability, and the environment. As seen in this supply chain, the smooth shells that characterize electronic objects can also be cracked by the jagged realities entailed in their construction.

This map highlights some of actors who benefit from the increasing complexity of transnational production. Far flung suppliers in East Asia subcontract subassemblies to agents who mitigate economic prices at the cost of poor working conditions and reduced oversight. African militias make fortunes through regimes of control and violence built from precious deposits of rare minerals. Waterways and landscapes become contaminated by the rapid development of global industry, without regard for local consequences. Supply chains for human trafficking overlap with the production pathways that shape the products of new digital lifestyles.

These violations lend themselves to different forms of resistance. Fair trade movements address the demands that force individuals into inequality--for example, the addiopizzo movement rejects the influence of the Mafia in Italian production. Organized crime and unethical business practices can by unraveled by limiting the routes they manipulate to reach consumers; in one case new legislation attempts to limit involvement in the trade of conflict minerals in the Congo and stem the violence of the regimes that control them. By mapping supply chains these flows of illicit behavior can be investigated, identified, and interrogated.

Scholars, journalists, educators, and lawmakers are able to assemble source data to visualize the geographies and communities at stake in this process. This brings the politics of logistics to a scale that can reveal the space for resistance. Growing numbers of web projects develop discourses from this mode of comprehension. Projects like Sourcemap (http://www.sourcemap.com) and Greenmap (http:// www.greenmap.com) provide tools for assembly with the awareness that global pathways are open to reassembly; they are constantly rewritten and reformed. …