Sustainable Supply Chains Sacrifice China! (Most of the Time.)

Last Friday we posted China is the Enemy because, especially where your supply chain is concerned, China has just demonstrated what SI has known for over a decade — it is the enemy. (This isn’t the only situation where China or the CCP is the enemy, but those are different rants. Note that we do NOT equate China or CCP with Chinese people. Most Chinese are NOT the enemy of your supply chain or democracy just like most Americans are NOT the enemy of intelligence and common sense.)

Long time readers will know that in the naughts, SI spent a lot of bandwidth telling your deaf ears that you should be investing heavily in nearshoring and home country sourcing because of the dangers of outsourcing in general, and, the dangers of oversourcing to a specific country, like China, in particular — which have finally become very apparent. It’s too bad it took a freakin’ pandemic to make clear how dangerous it is to outsource so many critical products and JIT materials to a country halfway around the globe, especially when such sourcing in bulk across the industry leads to the lack of capacity close to home due to factory closures and talent evaporation.

There’s a reason the doctor told you two weeks ago to remember the 80’s (and the early 80s in particular) … and that’s because that’s the last time most multi-national corporations in the Americas got outsourcing right … when they were near-sourcing to Mexico (who should build the wall just to keep Trump out, but that’s yet another rant for another day).

Let’s face it, some stuff just shouldn’t be sourced from home. Stuff that’s not critical, stuff that’s very expensive to make at home (but easily trucked across a single border) for various reasons (which can go beyond labour to energy costs if there are no affordable renewable sources nearby, transportation costs for raw or unprocessed materials are ridiculous otherwise, etc.), or stuff where most of the raw materials or necessary environmental conditions (for growing, mining, etc.) are just not present at, or near, home.

But when you consider a typical organization, how much stuff really falls into this category? First of all, you have to exclude any product for (re)sale that’s a primary profit line. Then you need to exclude any raw material or component critical to production unless you just can’t get it nearby. Then any product necessary for security or safety. And so on. At the end of the day, you don’t have much left, and if you’re doing the analysis right, you’re going to be left with:

  • raw materials and products just not available nearby (because you need certain growing conditions, large deposits of a mineral only found in certain geographies, etc.)
  • processed materials or chemicals where the raw materials are very expensive or dangerous to transport
  • products unique to a culture or region
  • novelty or other items not critical to your business

which (before the short-sighted wall-street loving common sense hating clueless and unskilled consultants of the late 80’s and early 90’s, like Steve Castle, put everything into the outsourcing bandwagon and blinged it out beyond belief) were the only products a company would outsource halfway around the world and still the only products a company should be sourcing from halfway around the world. Everything else should be near-sourced, and if really critical or the cost differential is small, home-sourced.

This also means that just shifting everything to another country in the BRIC, and India (which is ruled by a more open, transparent, and dependable democracy) in particular, is also NOT the answer. (They may not be the enemy, but they are still NOT the answer.)

So, unless you want your Supply Chain to completely collapse after the next global disaster, go back to basics, remember the smart outsourcing decision from the 80s, reopen those Mexican factories, and start near-sourcing again. And then, where you can, bring it back (close to) home.