Adventures in Local Content

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Wednesday, 17 January 2018
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This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 28 March 2016:

As a community development specialist working with the extractive industry in developing countries, I am very pro-“local content” and often force my clients to include sourcing from local companies as a non-negotiable site or company policy.  Thus, when I needed some golf shirts for a commemorative event in Ghana, I knocked on the door of local suppliers, in particular one who produced shirts for a fundraising event in February 2015.  For that event, he produced the shirts successfully but a nail-biting mere six hours before we needed to distribute them, blaming “dum-sor” (frequent disruptions in electricity supply in Accra) for the delay.  We understood the problems that caused the delay in production, and therefore asked him this year (which has far less electricity interruptions than last year) to please provide us with a quote and a design for the shirts.  After two weeks, he returned with an outrageous quote, but wanting to do the right thing and source locally, we asked for a design to be sent to us ASAP.  One week passed and another and we were fast running out of time, so I decided that we could not possibly wait for him to get back to us.  (And as I am writing this two days before the event, we still have not received the designs....) Considering that there were less than 10 days available for production of the shirts, and these 10 days included the long Easter weekend, he would never be able to produce the shirts on time.  What to do?

Well, the main sponsor for our nature conservation project is a South African company.  Certainly it is still acceptable “local content” if I procure the shirts in South Africa?  Yes, I argued, the lesser of two evils – the main evil being production of shirts on another continent….  The t-shirt company in SA is fast, within a few minutes I receive a quote (half of the price quoted in Ghana), a design and a promise of it all being ready within a day or so.  My heart sang.  All is under control.  Local content is the winner here.

In South Africa, I go to collect the shirts.  As I pick them up to inspect them, I notice to my utter horror that these shirts were made in China…. “China?!” I shriek at the owner, “Why not South African made?”  “Sorry, we don’t source from South Africa.  But at least the embroidery was done here.”  Small mercies that we are grateful for one day before the Easter weekend starts and there is no time to do anything about it, but to learn two valuable lessons for the future:

1) Always check where any product is produced despite where it is actually purchased;

2) Give local companies at least one month lead time to produce quotes and designs and another month or two for production.

The worst of it all: I was expecting cotton shirts, instead I got polyester….

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