How can 'The Box' help us in understanding the global flows of trade?
“The Box” is a new initiative launched by the BBC to help explore the workings of globalisation.
A shipping container has been painted with the BBC logo and a GPS (global positioning system) transmitter attached. Over the coming year, the journey taken by this container around the world (with firm NYK) will be photographed, mapped and analysed. The BBC hopes to give its audience a better appreciation of “the story of international trade and globalisation”, as well as a deeper insight into the world’s current economic situation.
How does The Box help us understand global flows?
Why is Scotland sending whisky to China in The Box?
Information technology – the internet and broadband – is generally regarded as the most important technical factor allowing globalisation to accelerate and strengthen over time. However, containerised shipping is another hugely influential Twentieth Century development that has shaped the pattern and rates of global trade – hence the BBC’s decision to analyse how it all works through use of this new case study.
Since the 1940s, containerised shipping - a relatively cheap method of transport - has enabled the mass transportation of consumer goods around the world. Typically, goods are shipped from low-wage places of production to high-wage places of consumption.
Around 200 million individual container movements now thought to take place each year. These containers are the blood that flows in globalisation’s veins.
The spatial division of labour that TNCs (Transnational Corporations) are fond of adopting (meaning that they locate their factories in a part of the world that is far from their headquarters) relies on:
cheap labour costs in places like Dongguan in China (a city known as ‘Santa’s workshop’ because it produces so many toys for European markets)
very cheap costs of shipping transport to bring the manufactured items to important markets like the UK.
These two factors work together to enable firms like Tesco to sell jeans made in Asia for just £3 apiece to their customers in UK stores. (See our previous case study of Dyson manufacturing for a more in-depth explanation of the division of labour concept.)
Now the BBC is developing content for television, radio and online audiences as well as producing teaching resources around the “daily diary” of a single container – which they have branded “The Box”. The project is a collaboration between the BBC and NYK, on behalf of the Container Shipping Information Service which aims to bring the global container industry to life and highlight some of the key features of global trade associated with the global success of container shipping.
The BBC website explains it all: “We have painted and branded a BBC container and bolted on a GPS transmitter so you can follow its progress all year round as it criss-crosses the globe. The Box will hopefully reach the US, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa and when it does BBC correspondents will be there to report on who's producing goods and who's consuming them.”
Key Concept: Networks and Flows
Networks are maps or illustrations that show places as being interconnected or linked together. Extremely well-connected places are called hubs, while minor places remain mere nodes. Network maps, like the London Underground, do not give accurate details of real-word distances or travel times. Instead, they provide a representation of the world that shows where important and influential switched-on places are located.
Flows are the movements or processes that connect places within networks. As well as trade movements (such as containerised shipping), other global flows include:
the movement of people (international elites moving for work, or tourist flows)
the transfer of money and capital (through markets and stock exchanges – and the cause of the 2008 ‘global credit crunch’)
the movement of information (via different media, telephone and most recently the internet)
FDI (Foreign Direct Investment = money that TNCs invest in overseas economies by setting up operations there)
international aid (money gifts from one country to others)
The first journey made by The Box actually challenged a stereotype of world trade – namely that manufactured goods are now nearly always made in China before being shipped to the UK.
In fact, some of the UK’s manufacturing and food processing firms remain in robust health and are successfully exporting their goods overseas – including to China!
Scotch Whisky (whisky made in Scotland) is a global success story. Like Champagne and wine, Scotch whisky is protected by international laws regulating food and drink (see our article the Great Global Grape Migration). As a result, it can only be produced in Scotland. Scottish whisky distillery owners have successfully claimed “protected geographical status.”
Whisky is a popular drink amongst older people and heavily-populated Asian nations are becoming major consumers of Scotch whisky (as wealth grows in Newly Industrialised Countries, more people living in these places can afford to buy luxury goods).
Record volumes of over one billion bottles were shipped from Scotland in 2006, with 90% destined for overseas markets. Tariff barriers on whisky imports have recently been relaxed in India, reflecting the drink’s rising popularity amongst Indian middle-classes. (See also our previous article on India which discusses the growth in numbers of affluent consumers there).
China now has 30 million affluent consumers, many of whom have developed a particular fondness for Scotch whisky. Total Scotch sales in China have risen dramatically, from just £1m in 2000 to £40m last year. “The Box” was filled 15,120 bottles of 12-year-old Chivas Scotch on its maiden voyage headed east towards China, where Chivas is especially popular in the bars of metropolitan Shanghai and Beijing.
By placing a booking, you are permitting us to store and use your (and any other attendees) details in order to fulfil the booking.
We will not use your details for marketing purposes without your explicit consent.
You must be a member holding a valid Society membership to view the content you are trying to access. Please login to continue.
Join us today, Society membership is open to anyone with a passion for geography
Cookies on the RGS website