Labelling specifying the country in which a good was produced has long been a marker of quality. The ateliers of France, leather workers of Italy and watchmakers of Switzerland have built global reputations for their exacting standards. Today, ‘Made in’ labelling is also an indicator of the regulations and health, safety and wage standards under which a good was produced.
But in a world with increasingly complex supply chains that can span several countries, a jacket sold by a European brand can be manufactured in a cheap and relatively unregulated labour market like China, but finished and packaged in France or Italy, thereby earning a ‘Made in France’ or ‘Made in Italy’ label. Indeed, according to European Union regulations, companies need only spend a certain amount manufacturing a good in a certain country in order to qualify for local ‘made in’ labelling.
At the same time, powerful alternative labelling systems, like Fairtrade and Certified Organic, have emerged, offering companies new tools for communicating manufacturing standards to consumers, who are increasingly concerned with the provenance of their goods. Does ‘Made in’ still matter?