Fast forward to now. Five years after Optiva was acquired by Philips, Elite, scion of the old Sonicare, is becoming a global status icon. Elite is just one of the oral-care products a team of 4,500 workers of two dozen nationalities, at 12 locations and in five time zones, manufactures - this is indeed a global team. From Der Spiegel, here's the first half of the global journey of the Elite toothbrush, from spare parts to the assembly line:
The toothbrush is essentially comprised of 38 components. The parts for the energy cell, a rechargeable nickel-cadmium battery, are supplied by Japan, France and China. The circuit board, its electronic heart, comes pre-etched from Zhuhai in the Pearl River delta of southeastern China. The copper coils originate from the Chinese industrial city of Shenzhen, not far from Zhuhai. They are wound by armies of women with bandaged fingers. Globalization is largely a female phenomenon.And here's one of the current driving forces:
The 49 components on the board - transistors and resistors the size of match heads - hail from Malaysia. They are soldered and tested in Manila. Then they are flown to Snoqualmie on the West Coast of the U.S., the site of the parent plant. Meanwhile, back in Europe, the more complicated plastic parts are trucked from Klagenfurt in Austria to Bremerhaven in Germany. Klagenfurt also supplies blades made of special steel produced in Sandviken, Sweden. A freighter from Bremerhaven takes the half-finished brushes across the Atlantic to Port Elizabeth, New Jersey. From there they cross the continental United States by train. And in Snoqualmie, a 40 minute drive from Seattle, the final product is assembled and packaged.
By this time the components have traveled a full 27,880 kilometers, two thirds of the Earth's circumference.
A worker in the US assembly team earns between $9 and $14 an hour, depending upon her position on the assembly line. A Chinese worker brings home about 1,000 renminbi a month - i.e. $120, or roughly $0.75 an hour. Just over 5 percent.Conclusions:
- Such redistribution of labor could explain the low inflation in the US - by keeping wages in check;
- The US workforce will likely find more redress from education than from labor unions;
- And... Today's future is in transportation.