Further driving home the point that “Made in…” labels mostly just mean what customers want them to, the New Yorker recently published an exhaustively reported piece on the Chinese workforce that’s been powering the Tuscan city of Prato — a major Italian manufacturing hub — for years.
“In the past decade, [Chinese-owned Prato factories] have become manufacturers for Gucci, Prada, and other luxury-fashion houses, which use often inexpensive Chinese-immigrant labor to create accessories and expensive handbags that bear the coveted ‘Made in Italy’ label,” the story writes.
Located just 15 miles northwest of Florence, more than 10 percent of the city’s 200,000 legal residents are Chinese (plus what one official estimates as “thousands” of undocumented workers), and those workers drive the region’s once-flagging, now-thriving textile industry. But, despite their contributions, the Chinese workforce has been subjected to racist, second-class treatment pretty much the entire time they’ve been there.
“Although it could be argued that the Chinese have revived Prato’s manufacturing industry, there has been a backlash against them,” the story says. “Native residents have accused Chinese immigrants of bringing crime, gang warfare, and garbage to the city,” along with evading taxes and not contributing to the local economy, among other things (which is a set of complaints that sounds unsettlingly familiar).
But like most nativist rhetoric, the anti-Chinese sentiment in Prato is wrong on facts, and ignorant on impact. “According to a 2015 study by a regional economic agency, Chinese residents contribute more than seven hundred million euros to Prato’s provincial economy, about [11 percent] of its total,” the story says, which means that they do buy things and pay taxes, because everyone buys things and pays taxes – except super rich white people.
And in a truly ironic twist, the story notes, Chinese firms are basically the only regional outfits that can make an entire garment in Italy at market rate, which means that their “Made in Italy” labels hold water, unlike most others.
You can read more about it at The New Yorker.