Fieldwork_23, April 2010, Shipping company

Posted: April 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: logistics, maritime industries | No Comments »

On 23 April, Ned, Yulin and I visited one of the world leading shipping companies* in Ningbo. The aim of the visit covers research on the routine operation of a logistics company, the software/IT devices that track employees’ KPIs/ business operation, and working conditions of local staff in local market.

Comparing with a small domestic shipping company visited by other members in our team at the same time, we observed some interesting differences. The international company has a big and nice office in a 5-star hotel and with a well organized chart on human resources. About 100 people working here in different departments with clear job descriptions while the small company with 10-20 employees that staffs always wear several hats at the same time (our team member there found a girl kept data inputting while calling a customer).

Software used in KPI tracing in the big company differs from the small one. As mentioned by our interviewee that a powerful *EDI system is extensively applied within international companies that it can automatically generate update information from different database instantly to ensure the operation go efficiently and properly. By contrast, the system was not mentioned by the small company. Instead, my colleagues there observed the individual used personal MSN as a communicator for customer service and maintaining.

Another issue we want to explore is the working conditions.  People working in the international giant seem to work in a less stressful environment for most of they show confidence in achieving targets for their performance and can finish work on time without OT. Interviewees in the small company expressed that sometimes they need to work after office hour for customer- relationship building. Other findings are the role and influence Worker’s Union in the big company. Although most people apply for Union membership as joining the company, they don’t treat union as a powerful place for right protection. Even most of they don’t know how the Union usually work. The way workers claim their rights not through any organization as Worker’s Union or Foreign Enterprises Service Company but through the communication with the immediate boss which are regarded as the direct and efficient way. The reason for this, according to the interviewee, that there is no a culture here to seek help from Worker’s Union. No feedback from the small company on this question. 

In short, although located in a local market- Ningbo, we can see the culture in the big company is oriented by host country- more European and more international in terms of management style and daily operation practice.

western/international company culture with Chinese elements in the office

 Further research

Another finding included foreign company in China is forbidden in dealing with domestic services (voyages). This will lead to a further investigation on the updated stage of Chinese commitments to WTO on controlling domestic logistics. And the logistic chain is closely linked with the value chain of international trade. Thus, further investigation should be conducted the points along the chain as from factories to logistics agencies for booking space from shipping companies, to preparing the goods , to local containers management, to deliver to the port, to container loading into the port and finally to the destination.



*As required by the interviewee, any attempt to public the details of the interview in name of the company needs to be approved by the company management. Therefore the name of the company is not specified in this post.

*EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). More details about EDI system at

Logistics as a Technology of Governance and Measure

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: creative industries, logistics, maritime industries, theory | No Comments »

The primary task of the global logistics industry is to manage the movement of people and things in the interests of communication, transport and economic efficiencies. Central to logistics is the question and scope of governance – both of labouring subjects and the treatment of objects or things. One of the key ways in which logistics undertakes such work is through the application of technologies of measure, the database and spreadsheet being two of the most common instruments of managerial practice. In the age of cognitive capitalism, new sites of struggle are emerging. Everyone, in short, has the capacity to be produced as creative labour, since the measure of economic value shifts from a logic of scarcity (IPRs) to one of aggregation, recombination and storage that corresponds to the materiality of digital information and social production of value.

See: Neilson, Brett and Rossiter, Ned (forthcoming 2010) ‘Still Waiting, Still Moving: On Migration, Logistics and Maritime Industries‘, in David Bissell and Gillian Fuller (eds) Stillness in a Mobile World, London and New York: Routledge.

Related fieldwork questions:
How would you summarise the work of your company?

Is your trade or business predominantly or largely transnational or is mostly within China? If it’s transnational, does that mean between Europe, the US and China, or does it mean something more regional: East and South Asia perhaps?

Are there differences in supply chain integration depending on whether your business serves foreign or domestic markets? If your company engages both domestic and foreign markets, does this lead to any conflicts in how supply chains are integrated?

If your business is transnational is there a disconnect between Chinese suppliers and Western buyers in terms of business expectations? In other words, how does culture play into the movement of commodities and communication with clients?

How do you understand logistics?

To what extent does logistics impact upon the economy or profitability of your company?

Are there cases or instances when supply chain quality can ever be sacrificed to maintain deals or whether solid deals result in the solid execution of logistics integration? Is the emphasis on getting paid or on supply chain innovation? Or are there tensions here?

If your business is prepared to live with performance gaps for the sake of deals what are the implications for labour performance measurement?

What sort of software programs do you use to measure KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) databases?

What sort of time cycle operates with these KPIs – is it an hourly measure or maybe daily or even monthly? Or perhaps it’s a by-the-minute sort of measure on how products and activities are moving along supply chains?

Do you know if workers in your company ever feel under stress to ensure they meet daily KPI targets?

What happens if they don’t meet KPI targets? Are any disciplinary measures taken?

How does the company deal with hold ups in supply chains by partner associates? Are you aware of such holdups via information from the KPIs or ERPs?