We've chosen scale

In 2014, the Guardian reported that Burmese migrants were being forced into slavery to work aboard shrimp boats off the coast of Thailand. According to Logan Kock of Santa Monica Seafood, a large seafood importer, “the supply chain is quite cloudy, especially when it comes from offshore.” I was struck by Kock’s characterization of slavery as somehow climatological: something that can happen to supply chains, not just something that they themselves cause.

But Kock was right, supply chains are murky—just in very specific ways. We’ve chosen scale, and the conceptual apparatus to manage it, at the expense of finer-grained knowledge that could make a more just and equitable arrangement possible.

See No Evilby Miriam Posner, Logic Magazine, spring 2019. Posner's essay is about the profound social cosequences of “supply chains”.

The article continues,

It’s not as though these decentralized networks are inalterable facts of life. They look the way they do because we built them that way. It reminded me of something the anthropologist Anna Tsing has observed about Walmart. Tsing points out that Walmart demands perfect control over certain aspects of its supply chain, like price and delivery times, while at the same time refusing knowledge about other aspects, like labor practices and networks of subcontractors. Tsing wasn’t writing about data, but her point seems to apply just as well to the architecture of SAP’s supply-chain module: shaped as it is by business priorities, the software simply cannot absorb information about labor practices too far down the chain.