- Special projects (requires login)
A commodity chain is a term for a system of links through which raw materials are transformed by industrial processes, move onto to be combined with other materials in other processes, in several stages, leading to the production of manufactured goods. It also can describe the steps that follow: the movement of manufactured goods from the factories to distributors and ultimately to markets where they are bought and consumed.
Thanks to the globalization of manufacturing and capital, the links in a commodity chain can be spread all over the world. Commodity chains can be reassembled quickly when labor and other costs go up. Even apparently simple things have a surprisingly global reach, like Nutella. This is due not only to changes in technology, like the containerization of transport, but also changes in trade policy and the regulation of the economy in different countries. In other words, a global commodity chain is a social system, even if the people involved in it never know each other. Hence, commodity chains themselves have become new field sites for ethnographic research as anthropologists have begun to ask how economic globalization brings different cultures and populations into interaction.
Global commodity chains are often talked about as if they were new things, and they brought people into new relationships. On the one hand, the globalization of production has disrupted and dislocated people on unprecedented levels. On the other hand, the ground was prepared for the “new” era of globalization through colonialism. As one of the Internet commentators said in reply to the above Nutella article, “Seems kind of a stretch to claim that Tahitian vanilla is from France, as if it was grown in Provence.”
Ferdman, Roberto A. 2013. “Map: All the Countries That Contribute to a Single Jar of Nutella.” The Atlantic Monthly (December). http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/12/map-all-the-countries-that-contribute-to-a-single-jar-of-nutella/282252/.