Rob Walker writes the "Consumed" column in the Sunday NYT magazine. Partly in response to the terrible string of suicides at the Foxconn facility in China, he explored the issue of "knowing" exactly where the stuff we buy comes from, in an article called Open Secrets. He's acknowledging the fact that when something goes wrong (like the pet food recall, or YouTube video phenom of the slumbering Comcast repairman) the transparency culture and social media tools are quick to surface these blunders.
But Rob is highlighting the 99% cases in which we buy something, and nothing goes "wrong" but we have no idea where it came from, who made it, or how. He argues that this precise information would be even more compelling to people than aggregate scores of "goodness":
"I suspect it’s the specificity that matters; knowing something about a particular laptop or pair of sneakers or pet food resonates with consumers more than an aggregate score or a big-picture summary. Imagine an open-source effort emerging to make that brand/production relationship much less opaque than it is. I don’t expect that most consumers would actually turn every impulse buy into a research project, but I bet it would change the way brands scrutinize their supply chains if they knew that every thing we buy was really, truly transparent."
This article hit me at just the right time as we've been evaluating a Grommet submission which does reveal exactly this kind of information. In my mind having precise supply chain information (factories used, location of each, people employed, component materials information) elevated the product (which is wonderful, but not revolutionary on its own) to a different category. To "here's a company raising the bar for everyone else."
Rob wrote an update to the NYT article on his Murketing blog. It is worth checking out...turns out there is some progress being made on this issue.
These are the original images from the NYT article...by Sam Panthaky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image. I hope it is kosher to share them....nice work. I will pull them right down if I am crossing a line.