MANUFACTURING ORGANIZATION IN PACIFIC ASIA
 
 

 

* AWARD NO: L324/25/3043

 

AWARD HOLDERS: Professor Barry Wilkinson, University of Bath

Professor Douglas Anthony, University of Wales, Cardiff

Dr John Humphrey, University of Sussex

Professor Jonathan Morris, University of Wales, Cardiff

 

PERIOD OF REPORT: 1.1.97 to 31.12.97

 

AMOUNT OF AWARD: £103,302

 

 

AIMS AND METHODS OF RESEARCH

A large number of case studies (target 60 now met) of manufacturing plants in Pacific Asia have being generated and are now being used to analyse the emerging intra-regional division of labour and technology, and to assess the implication for work organization and human resources development. Case study choice was based on the tracing of commodity chains in the consumer electronics and garments industries, companies being located in six Pacific Asian countries at different stages of economic development (Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Malaysia). The results are allowing an assessment of economic inter-dependencies which in turn provide a better understanding of the nature of "Far Eastern" competition; they are also allowing us to test theories of industrial organization, work organization, and human resources development and management.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE RESEARCH AND IMPORTANT FINDINGS

As planned, the bulk of the fieldwork was conducted during the 1997 calendar year, and analysis of the data from over 60 case studies is under way. The data gathered is as follows:

Japan: 6

Korea: 7

Hong Kong: 8

Taiwan: 3

Malaysia: 11

China: 27

26 of the case studies are of organizations involved in the clothing industry, and 36 are in consumer electronics. In addition, a large amount of secondary data has been compiled, and many interviews were conducted at key institutions in the region such as development agencies, trade unions, and employers’ organizations. Important findings relate to the organization of the two industries in the Pacific Asian region, and the characteristics of work organization, human resources management and human resources development in different sectors and different countries in the region. Explanation of the findings are set in the contexts of commodity chains on the one hand and societal environments on the other.

 

PUBLICATIONS

Professor Wilkinson published a conceptual paper: ‘Culture, Institutions and Business in East Asia’, in Organization Studies in 1996. However, writing which is based on the empirical research findings is only just commencing (as anticipated originally) and we expect to submit several articles to leading journals in the near future. Presently the team is working on articles which address the following themes: (i) the new international division of labour and technology in Pacific Asia; (ii) international business strategies of Japanese, Korean and Hong Kongese multinationals; (iii) human resources development implications of emerging commodity chains in the region; (iv) patterns of human resources management; (v) changing forms of work organization in the consumer electronics and clothing industries. We are also to write a book, and are presently discussing the key themes which we will address.

 

ENGAGEMENT WITH POTENTIAL RESEARCH USERS

We are continuing contact with various bodies in East Asia, such as Hong Kong and Korean employers’ organizations, and will be briefing them on our findings. Feedback will also be provided to those companies which participated in the research. We intend also to disseminate findings to interested parties in the UK such as the DTI.

 

DETAILED PROGRESS

Since the last report in January 1997 we have completed 60 case studies, and these have been subject to analysis over the past two months. Detailed analysis of our large data base is allowing us to address key empirical and theoretical issues.

 

Empirically, we are using our data to map and help describe the organization of consumer electronics and clothing production networks across the region, using examples to illustrate the interaction of the international production strategies of Pacific Asian multinationals with market environments and societal conditions which give rise to the new division of labour. The implications of our findings for the ambitions of the developing countries of Malaysia and China are particularly interesting in terms of the transfer of technology, skills, and new forms of management and work organization. Equally, the effects of production relocation from Japan, Korea and Hong Kong is important, and our data allows us to specify exactly which activities are being transferred and retained, for what reasons, and with what consequences in the home country.

 

Our analysis will include comparisons of sectors, of companies in the same sector under different national ownership, of operations in different societal locations, and of plants at different points in the commodity chain.

 

Theoretically, our data on industrial organization is allowing us to contribute critically to the debates on the salience of institutional logic on the one hand (i.e. does ownership and/or plant location make a difference?) and commodity chains on the other (i.e. does position in the commodity chain determine the key characteristics of human resources management and development and work organization?).

 

We have six months to project completion, and we feel we are fully on course to meeting our objectives. So far we have completed all the activities we set on our original timetable.

 

 

DIFFICULTIES AND CHANGES

Our initial optimism has been justified. We did have a problem of access to companies in Singapore, and while we gained significant and valuable information on the role of Singapore for some of the multinationals studied, we decided in the end that we had to give up our ambitions there with regard to plant level case studies. However, in compensation we were able to study far more plants in China than we anticipated, and we were able to add three case studies in Taiwan. Hence while our sample of companies is not quite as we originally intended, it does nonetheless build a picture which is highly comprehensive.

 

The one remaining problem is the employment status of our research officer, Dr. Gamble. Because we asked to substantially reduce the budget from our original proposal, we cut the length of employment of the researcher to 21 months, and his contract expires at the end of March - i.e. three months before the project deadline. However, because of the richness of the data we gathered - in large part due to the competence and hard work of Dr. Gamble - it is certain that we will be continuing analysis and writing after the end of his contract. Dr. Gamble will of course continue to be credited in publications, but in an ideal world would be employed with us until the end of June to ensure his full and dedicated participation in the final analyses and writing.