Please raise your hands if you own a Nike sneaker or clothes made by Gap, Diesel, Tommy Hilfiger or Sara Lee Corp? Have you been to Disney or McDonalds lately? I see a lot of hands going up.
But do you know how and where these companies make their products? Since I see only a few hesitant hands up in the air, let me discuss ‘No Logo’ by Naomi Klein with you and many things would become in the process. For more details about the book and the author one can also go to the author’s website: www.nologo.org
The book discusses some of the practices of multinational corporations and the process of our world becoming a global village. When I read the book for the first time, some of the ideas hit me really hard. The book takes up the issue of ‘Brand’ vs. Product’ war and traces its implications.
What Klein argues is that a shirt is a shirt and a shoe is a shoe, they are mundane products. But look at any of the advertisements of the ‘super brands’ and they are anything but shirts, jeans, coffee or shoes. They are lifestyle accessories and part of the good life. They are ‘brands’ not products. Worst still, they tell us what is good life all about, rather than we defining it for ourselves. After reading this book, I defined there is a lot of good for me in trekking once a year, rather than going to a fancy resort.
The question that should be asked about our ‘Brands’, not products type goods is that where are they produced, what is the cost of production and what are the wages given to the labor who produce it? Many of the ‘super brands’ have their production facilities in what many call the ‘third world’. The cost of production is a fraction of what these goods are sold at and the workers get pittance, argues Klein. So how come when the goods reach back to the ‘first world’ they become so expensive? Well because once again they are ‘brands’ and not ‘products’ and hence they have to be endorsed by celebrities who have multi-million dollar contracts with these companies, to be sold in the state of the art stores, so of course the price is going to go up. Sometimes what a celebritey earns for one endrosement, would make for wages of an entire factory for an year.
When these brands are accused of having poor production facilities they disclaim any responsibility saying they have only contractors in my part of the world and no workers. The corporations today, as the book says, are in the business of buying commodities and putting their signature on it and turning then into brands. They have no cumbersome production facilities, no employee responsibilities; they are free floating brands flying from one cheap location to another, from Mexico to Korea to Philippines and ultimately to China so that many of the goods can be produced in the export processing zones in almost military like condition.
Taking up the basic premise of ‘Brands’ not ‘Products’ Naomi Klein’s book is divided like this: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs and No Logo.
No Space: I wonder how it would be to live completely surrounded by ads. That if you stand in the balcony, some brand is screaming for your attention and money. Or to walk up a street only to notice that it has been painted pink or purple to represent the colors of some corporation! To see ads in schools, even in the washrooms, to have aggressive marketers trying to be one step ahead of the latest ‘cool’ trend. In fact large ‘brand’ not product companies are not happy unless they are seen as ‘culture’ itself. I wonder because if I stand in front of my door (in a large city in India) I see no ads anywhere around. But I understand this can change. The book argues that advertisement has become excessive today and there are hardly any messages or public spaces left that have not been taken up by ads.
No Choice: This section of the book discusses the aggressive selling techniques employed by many of the multinationals selling ‘brands’ and not ‘products’. Either they build expensive and sprawling stores that are three dimension advertisements in them (Nike, Roots, Wal-Mart, etc.) or multiply themselves and carpet an area so completely that competitors do not stand a chance (McDonalds or Starbucks) and as a consumer there is hardly any choice left.
No Jobs: The focus in this section is on the flight of manufacturing jobs from The US and Europe to countries like Korea, Philippines, Indonesia or now to China. Companies like Nike, Gap, Disney own no manufacturing facilities but have only contractors in these parts. So when they are asked about child labor or low wages, they can wash their hands off by saying they are contractor violations.
The flight of these jobs is supposed to be made good by service sector jobs, but Klein argues that many jobs that have been created are ‘permatemp’ jobs, where companies deliberately keep the working hours just below the minimum needed to be qualified for permanent jobs. It is as if providing good jobs with some amount of security has gone out of fashion.
No Logo: Ad jamming, reclaim the streets, and consumer protest against unethical practices of multinational corporations has been some of the responses of our over-branded times. In culture jamming, citizens take over the messages of firms and give them back a different one, they essentially talk back to commercials. ‘Think Different’ of Apple becomes ‘Think Doomed’ and ultra thin models are given ghost like looks on a billboard. The book documents the victories of activists over multinationals and the future of meaningful citizen protest.
This and That: No Logo is a book packed with powerful ideas and analysis. It beautifully argues that if these ‘brands’ not products have created a shiny, prefect image for themselves, they are most vulnerable to any information contrary to it. The general response to such books is ‘firms have to make profits!’ But does it always have to be profit before people, is the question that the book asks? Even I feel that the time has come to stop treating the profit motive as God given and start questioning it.
The book deals extensively with flight of manufacturing jobs but has not taken up the flight of service related jobs in the software sector. I wonder how would Naomi Klein view it because from my own experience I can say that the jobs created in these sectors have been well paying ones in India (by our standards). The outsourcing of call-centres had not begun at the time the book was written and though the work is mundane the pay still is decent. I also wonder how this flight is affecting the West?