The links between stagnating wages and buyer power in U.S. supply chains – Nathan Wilmers

Nathan Wilmers, Assistant Professor, Work and Organizational Studies

From Washington Center for Equitable Growth 

Stagnating wages among U.S. workers since the 1970s is well-documented. Also well-known is the outsized—and still growing—market impact of a small number of giant retailers such as Amazon.com Inc and Walmart Inc. What is less known is whether these two trends are linked.

In research I’ve been conducting—detailed in an article recently published in the American Sociological Review—I’ve found that increased pressure from large corporate buyers decreases wages among their suppliers’ workers. The growing influence of these buyers on workers’ wages is significant enough that it accounts for around 10 percent of wage stagnation since the 1970s. My findings show how shifts in market power have affected workers’ wage growth.

Relative to the postwar economic boom, U.S. workers’ pay growth has slowed by around one-half since the 1970s. During that same period, market restructuring has shifted many workers into workplaces heavily reliant on sales to outside corporate buyers. Large retailers such as Walmart and Amazon wield increasing power against manufacturing suppliers and warehousing and shipping contractors. When this happens, big corporate buyers are able to demand lower prices for the goods and services they are buying, and suppliers and contractors must sell at lower prices and try to cut costs. Likewise, companies increasingly outsource noncore functions, including food service, janitorial, and security jobs, a phenomenon known as the fissured workplace. The result is that more and more workers are employed by intermediate employers, which in turn rely on sales to outside corporate buyers.

Read More »

Expert explains how to improve supply chain efficiency — Thomas Roemer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Thomas Roemer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Thomas Roemer

From Supply Chain Opz

Companies seeking to further improve their supply chain efficiency will have to continue fighting their old foe – variability – albeit in a set of new clothes.

One emerging way to combat demand variability is to locate (some) manufacturing closer to the customer. By reducing lead times due to shorter delivery routes, inventory and waste in the system can be reduced without sacrificing service levels. Much of the recently observed reshoring efforts fall into this category.

Highly flexible manufacturing goes a step further by moving from a Built-to-Stock to a Built-to-Order system for the most erratic demand pattern. Amazon’s printing and binding some of its demand at centers close to their customers while serving base demands from stock is one example of this approach.

Read More »

Chinese manufacturing seeks a major upgrade – through the use of robots — Thomas Roemer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Thomas Roemer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Thomas Roemer

From South China Morning Post

When Chinese officials recently announced plans to support investment in robots in China’s manufacturing industries, the reaction in some US circles was one of astonishment, if not incredulity. Much of China’s attraction as a manufacturing powerhouse, after all, has been low labour costs, so turning towards robots would seem like relinquishing a key competitive advantage. In fact, several key drivers explain why this is a very intentional and strategic move.

One key factor is that while China’s labour costs still lag behind those in other key economies, Chinese labour has become relatively expensive compared to nations such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Moreover, Chinese labour costs are increasing at a much faster rate than in the US and, while the gap is still considerable, it is narrowing at a relentless pace. China also faces a labour scarcity in its economic boom centres.

Read More »

Why it’s time to bring manufacturing back home to the U.S. — Thomas Roemer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Thomas Roemer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Thomas Roemer

From Forbes

In the last decade, we’ve lost millions of manufacturing jobs to outsourcing. According to U.S. News and World Report, there are now 5.1 million fewer American manufacturing jobs than in 2001. The lure of low wages, tax advantages, and other cost savings has made for a seemingly straightforward calculus, and manufacturer after manufacturer, supported by intricate spreadsheets, has abandoned ship, until offshoring has become the emerging mantra of the new millennium. U.S. companies that still manufactured locally have slowly become outliers.

Interestingly, this dynamic now seems to be changing, as we’re beginning to see more manufacturing in the U.S. Total output from American manufacturing relative to gross domestic product is back to pre-recession levels, with more than half a million new jobs. According to the Reshoring Initiative, 15% of this job growth results from reshoring alone. There are many reasons for this shift back to the U.S.

Read More »

The financial case for local manufacturing — Suzanne de Treville

MIT Sloan Visiting Professor Suzanne-de-Treville

MIT Sloan Visiting Professor Suzanne-de-Treville

From Outsource

In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a massive wave of manufacturing jobs move to low-labour-cost countries. Now, many companies are beginning to question whether the cost differential offered by distant suppliers compensates for the cost of working with an extended supply chain. These companies find themselves with massive inventories, yet in spite of those inventories they frequently are not able to meet all demand.

It has been difficult for managers to analyse the cost differential mismatch trade-off because mismatch costs are difficult to quantify. The intuition is that the mismatch costs are high, but the managers I discuss with have difficulty believing that overstocks and stockout costs are high enough to wipe out the cost advantage enjoyed by their offshore supplier. Without solid numbers, it’s difficult for managers to incorporate these costs into decision-making.

Read More »