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Is Chinafication of everything sustainable?


I had a roadside Dosa after a long time today, and realized how different it tasted compared to the one I am used to having either at home or in the usual fine dining joints. As I was thinking as to why there was a difference in taste, I wondered if this Dosa (a Mysore Masala variety) has the dreaded MSG for which Maggi was banned last year [read about MSG controversy].

When the Maggi controversy broke out, most defendants of Maggi had claimed that there is more MSG in street food than Maggi; and this goes unnoticed because India does not have strict vigilance processes for street food vendors. Why do street food vendors add MSG if it is bad for health?

One of the side effects of running a street food joint is that it must remain cheap, but for the vendor to earn sufficient profits so as to recover rentals etc, from such street food, they must ensure that they sell more and for the food to sell more, the food must be tastier and hence street food vendors add MSG (not as an individual ingredient, but MSG is a part of most taste making spices) to make the food tastier.

This is similar to toys or iPhones being made in the unhealthy, labor intensive factories of China. These factories, as the Foxcon controversy suggests, employ labor in almost in-human conditions. Why do such factories survive then - well the reason is broadly the same as that for MSG in streetfood. For Apple to pay good money to its shareholders, the 'expensive' designers who work in their Cupertino offices and even to afford the Loop in Cupertino - it must sell more and more iPhones. To sell more, they shouldn't sell at the price of gold; but since you can't pay less to your iPhone designers, you have to cut costs in manufacturing the phone, and hence you manufacture it in China in factories that flaunt in-human but cheap labor!

This loop of cheap but unhealthy began with movement of factories outside the developed world in the 1990s and exacerbated with globalization and the Internet. This effect, just like remittance economy, can continue for another few cycles - as China develops, its workers' aspirations rise and its factories become more advanced and hence high cost, but lower cost factories can then shift to rural China or Africa or Philippines. This is already happening in India, where, as metros like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai develop and real estate becomes dearer, factories are shifting to cheaper districts like Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Ghaziabad, Ludhiana, Dharwad, Coimbatore etc.

But what happens when we exhaust places to move low cost factories? What happens when African populations' aspirations for a better life start rising? This talk by Hans Rosling illustrates what may happen if all 'developing' countries become 'developed'.


As this video illustrates, what happens if in our quest to sustain cheap manufacturing we keep moving such factories from place to place but in the process damage the environment irreparably (we might have done that already)?
I am seeking answers.

Image Credit: Gayatri Krishnamoorthy @ Flickr

1 comments to " Is Chinafication of everything sustainable? "

  1. captain america will save us :)

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