Laurie Parsons
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Founding the global factory
The first five hundred years
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All of us now depend on a globalised system of production that connects people and environments across thousands of miles. Clothing worn in Europe and the US is made in Bangladesh, Cambodia, or China. Raw materials are mined in one country, refined in another, and manufactured in a third. This is the global factory: a system of international production that has exploded in size and complexity in the last five decades, boosted by logistical innovation. Yet, despite its newfound interconnectedness, the roots of this system can be traced far further back in time, to the systems of unequal resource extraction set in place during the colonial era and which still dominate the power dynamics of global trade. This chapter will show how the rise of the global factory, in its colonial and post-colonial incarnations, is not, as it is often presented, a question of building up, but of breaking down: of people from nature, nature from itself, and of natural value from culture. The slow death of nature this instigates makes the labour force staffing the global factory self-sustaining, as the deepening pressures on rural livelihoods swell the crowds outside the factory gates a little more. Each flood, each drought, each unpredictable period of rainfall increases the pressure still further on workers in the global South, who have little choice but to accept the terms and conditions they are offered.

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