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Pietra Rivoli's the Travels of T-Shirt inBook Report

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Pietra Rivoli's The Travels of T-Shirt in a Global Economy is a fascinating narrative that offers a unique way to analyze the globalization phenomenon. The book is both didactic and fun, personal and historical while denoting many of the tenets pertaining to globalization in action. The author is a college university professor whose tone is not overbearing. She manages to discuss financial business concepts in terms that even laymen can understand. In doing so, she presents a compelling manuscript that reveals as much about contemporary culture and the textile industry as it does the ever evolving principles of globalization upon which so much modern commerce is based.

The concept of globalization is at the core of the way that international business is conducted in the modern era, and Rivoli deconstructs both of these notions with a singular use case that spans continents, countries, and cultures while focusing on the textile industry. In this respect, there is a simple brilliance to the author's methodology and structuring of this manuscript. She details the life cycle of a t-shirt, her own, from its inception to its 'final resting place' in Africa. In doing so, she is able to demonstrate the way that international commerce is currently conducted in the textile industry. The manuscript illustrates the relationships and the various points of restrictions existent between international communities that enables globalization to take place. Moreover, she also hints at some of the underlying methods that are employed in international business that make it both profitable for some and extremely less so (if not outright exploitative) for others. In doing so her manuscript ultimately attests to some of the lesser known facts of international business that indicate where the true power in this practice really is -- which might surprise more than one reader.

The most poignant aspect of this manuscript is the international regulations and restrictions enacted by various countries, and by the United States in particular, that help to make international business in the textile industry advantageous. This point is actually a fairly critical one in explicating Rivoli's narrative. Although the principles she discusses are applicable to international business in general, they take priority with those interested or involved in the textile industry. And, regarding this industry, the author notes that there are strict governmental restrictions in place about how things are traded, what is traded, and certain aspects of pricing that drastically shape the marketplace. It is extremely interesting to note, for example, that despite the fact that it is the U.S. government responsible for the formal tariffs (and setting of tariff amounts), quotas, and other parameters for how international trade is regulated, the government is merely responding to private interests. In this respect Rivoli's novel actually elucidates certain areas of politics without which contemporary business would not survive. There are a number of powerful lobbyists, backed by corporate interests and certain of their individuals representatives, in certain cases, that fund the politicians and their policies that help to shape the way that international trade is conducted.

In this particular manuscript, of course, the trading in question unequivocally pertains to textiles. Due to the formal governmental restrictions (that are the result of lobbying efforts), the United States has consistently retained its status as the principle exporter of cotton: which is a key element within the textile industry. Additionally, these regulations have made it extremely profitable for manufacturers in China to export the raw materials for textiles (i.e. The t-shirt whose 'lineage' Rivoli is tracing and millions of others just like it) to the U.S. At a wholesale price where these materials are marked up accordingly and then sold within retail locations. Thus, at the core of this trading relationship is the political relationship between these two countries, China and America. What the author is implying is that the crux of international business is ultimately politics, which helps to facilitate international relationships between countries engaged in business.

It is also interesting to note the information that Rivoli disseminates pertaining to the core of the textile business from the perspective of America as the top exporter of cotton since around the time of the country's founding. The history that the conveys about this aspect of the textile industry is intriguing, and greatly relates to the southern section of the country as the premier producer of this particular raw material. The author's own short stemmed from cotton that was harvested and refined in Texas -- which illustrates the length of time that the south has dominated this particular industry. Originally, the northern part of the country and New England was responsible for engendering this raw material. However, with the advent of slavery and with the invention of the cotton gin in particular, the south became dominant in harvesting this raw material. The question of slave labor in globalization is an extremely eminent one. During the 17th and 18th century, slavery played an immense role in the triangle trade. In contemporary times, there are parallels between slavery and the extremely low wages that workers in places like China (which has become the principle exporter of manufactured goods, especially within the textile industry) make. The lesson learned by this parallel and this implication in the work of Rivoli is clear -- despite the vitality of governments and the huge profits that some corporation make in international business and with the textile industry, there is always some worker getting exploited.

One of the many strengths of this narrative, however, is that the author makes a concerted effort to go behind the bureaucracy and policy mandates to get the human side of the effects of globalization that pertain to the tactile industry. In this respect, Rivoli fully explores the parallel between slaves and the modern day, low wage factory workers overseas who actually manufacture finished goods from the raw materials exported from America. A substantial amount of text is dedicated to elucidating both the lives and livelihoods of these workers in China who, for the most part, are females. The career options for such workers are inherently limited. In China, youth can both rigorously excel in academics and earn a slot at one of the universities that populate the country, continue to work in farms in the rural areas that many people live in, or attempt to earn a living at low wage factory jobs. According to Rivoli, working in these factories has its benefits, which largely includes the fact that doing so, "beats the hell out of life on the farm" (p. 90). This fact is partially related to the reality that although the wages are low by standards in America, they are much more significant for those who are accustomed to living on farms and earning nothing for toiling in such a way that is even more laborious than the factory work. Depending on the perspective of the viewer, then, the level of exploitation that is at the heart of the capitalist economy that facilitates globalization has either declined or remained the same. Rivoli implies the former, although whether it has done so enough to significantly trump the latter is still extremely suspect.

Those interested in the textile industry will also learn a lot about the methods that the farmers in the southern section of America who reap the raw materials that keeps this country the leading worldwide exporter of cotton manage. According to the author, they do so in a manner that far exceeds the capacity of virtually any other farmer in other countries: "American cotton growers have adapted their production methods, their marketing, their technology, and their organizational forms to respond to shifts in supply and demand in the global marketplace" (p. 134). Additionally, they are also able to capitalize on governmental support to help keep America's place as the top cotton exporter. Cotton farmers routinely receive subsidies from the government to enable them to keep pace with the fluctuations in supply and demand in the market. The insight drawn from this section of the book is fairly lucid. The government has certainly prioritized the exportation of cotton, and has made it worthwhile for cotton farmers to remain in this trade. Simultaneously, those farmers have adapted their methods to propagate their advantage as the one of the top exporters in the country in a situation that benefits them, the government, and country as a whole and its economy.

Still, one of the most revealing aspects about Rivoli's book is the burgeoning aftermarket industry for textiles -- which quite possibly is one of the strongest facets of this particular market. Granted, there are certainly corporations that are exploiting the cheap prices of manufacturing labor that China provides by marking up its finished products considerably to sell to consumers in developed nations in North America and Europe. What most readers likely are not aware of, however, is that the lifecycle of these garments extends far beyond the season that a style or color is fashionable. When consumers decide to get rid of their old textiles by donating them… [END OF PREVIEW]

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