Demands of Supply

Matthew Hockenberry
November 27, 2012

Global trade can give rise to new economic possibilities in developing regions and open a boundless world of opportunity for design and production. The above map shows  the supply chains behind electronics manufacture. Constructed by bringing together the routes of consumer electronics products at different stages of assembly, this map provides an overview of the network traveled in global manufacture. As production has become increasingly complex, actors have emerged to take advantage of friction inherent in supply lines. Each point and pathway shown on the map is a site for the potential proliferation of transnational conflict. The products we consume traverse convoluted
pathways of production; pathways put at risk by questionable practices that bring profits at the expense of working conditions, regional stability, and the environment. As seen in this supply chain, the smooth shells that characterize electronic objects can also be cracked by the jagged realities entailed in their construction.

This map highlights some of actors who benefit from the increasing complexity of transnational production. Far flung suppliers in East Asia subcontract subassemblies to agents who mitigate economic prices at the cost of substandard working conditions and reduced oversight. African militias make fortunes through regimes of control and violence built from precious deposits of rare minerals. Waterways and landscapes become contaminated by the rapid development of global industry, without regard for local consequences. Supply chains for human trafficking overlap with the production pathways that shape the products of new digital lifestyles.

These violations lend themselves to different forms of resistance. Fair trade movements address the demands that force individuals into inequality; as the addiopizzo movement rejects the influence of the Mafia in Italian production. Organized crime and unethical business practices can by unraveled by limiting the routes they manipulate to reach consumers; in one case new legislation attempts to limit involvement in the trade of conflict minerals in the Congo and stem the violence of the regimes that control them. By
mapping supply chains these flows of illicit behavior can be investigated, identified, and interrogated.

Scholars, journalists, educators, and lawmakers are able to assemble source data to visualize the geographies and communities at stake in this process. This brings the politics of logistics to a scale that can reveal the space for resistance. Growing numbers of web projects develop discourses from this mode of comprehension. Projects like Sourcemap ( and Greenmap ( provide tools for assembly with the awareness that global pathways are open to reassembly; they are constantly rewritten and reformed. Sourcemap was created by the MIT Center for Civic Media and Tangible Media Group as a mechanism for assembling the details of supply chains. This method intersects with mapping focused on not only production, but consumption, circulation, and discard. While the map of electronic supply chains can only gesture toward the possible hazards of global assembly, users on these sites are able to respond to increased demand for the investigation of global flows by expanding the data and creating new maps. In this respect source mapping becomes an investigative tool for collaboratively identifying potential security threats and transnational criminal behavior.


Clockwise from the top:

  1. The trade in illicit spare car and airplane parts throughout Europe, created by PBJackson.
  2. Cocaine trafficking throughout the world, created by Pacemaster.
  3. The North American ivory trade (the circulation of pieces produced post-1989) between 2008 and 2009, created by Matthew Hockenberry from published data sources.
  4. The locations of women and young girls in poor working conditions throughout the world, created by the Ethical Trade Project.

Maps created on, a free and open site for mapping and sharing supply chains.


  1. Barbara Whitaker, "Immigrant Smuggling Draws New Attention," New York Times, 4 January 2000.

  2. Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradshear, "How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work," New York Times, 21 January 2012.

  3. Charles Duhigg and David Barboza, "In China, Human Costs are Built into an iPad," New York Times, 25 January 2012.

  4. Esther de Haan and Roos van Os, "Mobile Connections: Supply Chain Responsibility of Five Mobile Phone Companies," (Paper, SOMO, Amsterdam: 2008).

  5. Greenpeace International, "Driving Destruction in the Amazon: How Steel Production is Throwing the Forest into the Furnace," (Forest Report, Greenpeace International, Amsterdam: 2012).

  6. Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, "The Other Side of Apple II: Pollution Spreads Through Apple's Supply Chain," (IPE Report, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, Beijing: 2011).

  7. James Melik, "Can Conflict Minerals Really be Controlled?" BBC World Service, 28 March 2011.

  8. Jerrold L. Nadler, Edward J. Markey, and Bennie G. Thompson, "Cargo, the Terrorists' Trojan Horse," New York Times, 26 June 2012.

  9. Joseph B. Treaster, "More Drugs in Ship Containers Flood Ports," New York Times, 29 April 1990.