Author Archives: Ciarán Quinn

The Murky Business Of Territorial Waters

The thought of international waters conjures images of shady dealings, pirate radio and lawless seas, but the claimed areas of water bordering these oceans have questionable origins, too. Territorial waters appear straight-forward on the surface, but peering into their depths often leads to a sea of murkiness surrounding politics, natural resources and importantly, trade. In a world where natural resources are becoming ever-more depleted and in conjunction with the departure of Britain from the European Union, these waters will become even more important.

Defining Territorial Waters

In international law, territorial waters are defined as the areas of water directly adjacent to a state, and are subsequently subject to the jurisdiction of that state. This means that the adjacent state has sovereignty to the water, the seabed below, and the airspace above. Other states may only enter this body of water for “innocent passage”, with foreign aircraft or submarines not permitted to pass through. Due to this, fishing rights are not extended to the trawlers and fishermen of foreign nations, although the Common Fisheries Policy of the E.U. is an exception to this.

While this is perfectly reasonable regarding a nation’s immediate borders, the laws can and have been bent to meet a nation’s needs in a variety of ways. For example, Chile and Peru claim their territorial waters reach as far as their continental shelf: an area of submerged land still connected to the continent with relatively shallow waters, which lies directly before the much deeper ocean floor- much like the steps leading to a deeper swimming pool. This gives these nations an additional 370 kilometers of offshore territory, and more importantly, access and ownership to natural resources such as oil and gas.

Similarly, Russia has made claims that an ocean ridge on its northern coast stretches into the Arctic circle, allowing them to lay claim to the huge reserves of oil and gas estimated at $2 billion, which for millennia had been protected from mankind due to the difficulty in its extraction due to harsh weather conditions in the Arctic. With global warming melting these obstacles to harvesting, Russia has staked its claim to the Arctic seafloor, in the form of a Russian flag being planted by a miniature submarine on the North Pole seabed. This region of the world is very susceptible to ecological harm and any type of oil extraction poses as a serious threat to the climate and wildlife of the region. The indigenous Saami tribe of the area are threatened from the potential claim, with their culture and livelihoods at stake.

Colonial Claims

France’s territorial waters are the largest of any nation with nearly 10,760,500 km2 under the 5th republic’s governance. This initially seems odd, given the size of France (643,801 km2), but taking a look at the country’s colonial history gives an explanation. The embers of a once great French Empire lay scattered across the globe in the form of small inhabited islands, archipelagos and atolls stretching from la France métropolitaine to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, further still to Antarctica and across to the Caribbean islands of the French West Indies.  While many of these once subjugated islands were granted independence, many still belong to France, leading to a situation where France’s longest land border lies not with Belgium or Germany, but rather between French Guiana and Brazil, 7,216 kilometers from Paris. These satellite dominions give France a global presence in terms of military activity and natural resource exploitation. The huge swathes of ocean associated with these areas also gives great opportunity to the French fishing industry.

Chinese Island Construction

China has come under fire recently due to its decision to engage in “island-building” in the south China sea in order to bolster its territorial claims. China has built on sandbanks and small uninhabited islands in the region, transforming them from scraps of land into military installations, strengthening its presence in the area. While China isn’t the first to engage in such practices in the region, the rate at which it is aggressively pursuing this course is a cause of concern for many parties. A third of the word’s trade flows through the South China Sea. With China having the potential to effectively control this trade route, many states fear that sanctions may be imposed, and restricted movements enforced by the Chinese government. The actions would cripple industry and business within their respective economies.

How A Small Island Can Play A Huge Role

While the points above highlight the role these island outcrops can play, one could still be forgiven for questioning how important a small island may be on a world-wide scale. One can look toward the small island chain of French Polynesia. The micro-state only possesses a population of 270,000. With the main industries consisting of agriculture and handicrafts, it’s clear that it is far from an industrial powerhouse. However, the importance of French Polynesia is best highlighted in terms of its waters, whose combined area exceeds 4.7 million kilometers2. For context, this is comparable to the entire landmass of the European union.

This ability for small plots of land to hold huge strategic importance can be highlighted a lot closer to home. The basalt outcrop of Rockall has long been a source of contention between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The uninhabited rock lies 370 kilometers north of the Donegal coast and 300 kilometers west of the Scottish island of St. Kilda. Officially incorporated into the United Kingdom through an act of Westminster in 1972, following its annexation by the British navy in 1955, Britain’s claim to the island is still yet to be recognized by the Irish government. Presently the fishing rights around Rockall belong to Scotland, and with Britain’s departure from the European Union, the tension surrounding the Rock is bound to escalate further. This is best highlighted in the Scottish Secretary for Economy’s threat to deploy naval vessels to the area to enforce Scotland’s exclusive fishing rights to the waters surrounding Rockall. The fishing industry is vital to County Donegal and many of its fishermen risk being wiped out if they are denied access to fishing in Rockall’s waters, highlighting how large an influence a now-extinct volcanic island can possess.

Übung macht den Meister: How Germany Perfected Quality.

Germany is synonymous with product quality. Ranging from its renowned software companies such as SAP to the automobile powerhouses of BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen, it is not difficult to understand how the “made in Germany” label became the most respected in the world. It is not only fascinating how the country’s industries can produce consistently superior products, but also to consider how a country’s culture, education system and approach to industrial relations blend seamlessly to produce an industrial equilibrium. To believe however, that this was always the case would be wrong. German quality was not always respected as it is now, and there a variety of factors which have simultaneously been of detriment to the country, but also have been of benefit to the nation, igniting the flame of innovation and change.

19th Century Germany: The Setting of a Movement in Motion

The advent of the steam engine launched the British and French empires into industrial superiority within Europe. Germany too benefited from the industrial possibilities allowed through rail, but even with its already established educated workforce and strong work-ethic, the country couldn’t keep up with its neighbours. One factor however led to the country’s eventual position as an economic powerhouse by the turn of the 20th century: copyright law.

Copyright law had been established in Britain since the early 1700’s, whereas the Germans had yet to enact legislation to dissuade potential plagiarizers from taking works to print and distribute in their thousands. This led to a situation where swathes of literature, mainly academic, flooded all corners of Germany, allowing for a population who previously were unable to afford such books to possess small re-printed libraries. The vast amount of readership allowed academics to publish their scientific results to the vast readership, and in doing so disseminate knowledge in an unprecedented way. With on average 14,000 papers being published a year in Germany, a scientific movement was set in motion allowing for the “Gründerzeit” (foundation time). Industrialists such as Alfred Krupp, carrying on the practice of appropriation, conducted espionage on British steel mills before taking his findings back to Germany and establishing his own steel manufacturing plants. This copycat practice coupled with his introduction of sickness insurance and housing for workers in return for their company loyalty propelled Germany into being a true competitor against its international rivals. Even when laws whereby products had to state their origin (e.g. made in label) were introduced in order to highlight the inferior copycat Germany products, the Germans instead focused on utilizing their exceptional production capabilities borne from widespread academic readership and an educated yet cheap labour force to create competitive products at lower prices.

The War Years

By the turn of the century German products of high quality were prevalent across Europe’s economies, until the outbreak of two world wars would once again strip away any German advancements in their industrial reputation. Both conflicts left Germany hurting. By 1945 Germany was a shell of a nation, left scarred by constant bombing and harsh years of war, not to mention that the nation was divided between two opposing forces, making any sense of industrial or economic cohesion impossible. Germany’s reputation was in ruin and this was reflected in its produce, with the brand “made in Germany” becoming associated with that of a loser, yet there remained a phoenix to be born from the ashes of a ruined Germany.

The Miracle on the Rhine

With the war over, a huge number of scientists who previously been working in the war effort were left without an option but to enter their respective fields within the consumer industry. While Germany’s infrastructure was left incapacitated, there remained a hard-educating, workforce eager to pick up the pieces and begin anew.  Sanctions on the Axis forces to engage in military research also allowed for an even greater emphasis to be placed on R & D within civilian economy. Clever economic decision making by then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his economic minister, Ludwig Erhard utilized this technological expertise and workforce and ignited the flame of the “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic wonder). This homegrown innovation, aided by the Marshall Plan and introduction of a new currency allowed once again for West Germany at least, to flourish. This strength within West Germany’s industrial capabilities helped to raise East Germany’s industrial prowess post re-unification.

Experience in Quality and innovation in Education

While much of Germany’s current economic success can be owed to the decisions made in the wake of WW2, there are also a variety of long-established factors which played a vital role in its success. An emphasis on quality was important in Germany as far back as the 19th century, with the introduction of a “craftsman’s code” by Emperor Wilhelm I. This practice of protecting and supporting craftsmanship is carried on to this day, with heavy regulation imposed on trades within Germany, with a ‘master craftsman’s license’ being mandatory in many fields. The propensity of Germans to meet their own quality criteria is borne from their “dual vocational training system”, whereby young adults can enter a trade-training course that lasts between 2-3 years with a high degree of education within their respective field. Due to the high skill level associated with such training, there is little distinction in the quality between learning a trade and obtaining a degree. This sentiment is echoed in the partition of tertiary education between universities and “Fachhochschüle” (an equivalent of an institute of technology). Understandably more focus is placed on specific fields such as engineering within these Institutes. The lack of educational snobbery allows for equality and a better educated pool entering the workforce.

The Little Guys on the World Stage: Germany’s local heroes

The “Mittelstand” within Germany, referring to the vast amount of small and medium enterprises (SME’s) within Germany also plays a huge role in strengthening company culture and loyalty, allowing for exception quality to be produced by a motivated workforce. 37% of corporate turnover within Germany can be attributed to these SME’s, along with employing over 11 million people. Due to these homely roots and integration with both the local community and economy, the firms of the Mittelstand are naturally more predisposed to care for their workers better than a transnational corporation which lacks a relationship with the areas in which they operate . This results in superior industrial relations and exceptionally good sick and maternity leave allowances (such as receiving 100% of one’s salary for up to 6 weeks while on sick leave).

 This loyalty to their community, coupled with a vast number of firms sharpening their expertise in a specific field leads to a situation where the German economy can provide the world with an array of superior products at better prices than that of the international market.

The Perfect Storm: The Butterfly Effect on Business

The butterfly effect refers to the ability of one incident being able to make huge impacts on the future. This sentiment is echoed in the theorized capability of a butterfly’s wingbeat causing a hurricane on the opposite of the world. While this idea is certainly ominous, when applied to business it has an altogether different (and more hopeful) outlook. The butterfly effect in business promotes the notion that small acts can have huge results, with a focus on a firm’s communication with people.

The Golden Rule

When the people that interact with a firm are treated well and feel valued, they are much more likely to have a positive attitude toward the firm, and in turn pass this sentiment on further down the line. This continues until a positive spider web of experiences evolves into something far larger (not unlike that of a wing-flap’s evolution to that of a tornado). This approach in business is known as “Stakeholder Theory”, whereby businesses place importance on the various people within their business and beyond (customers, suppliers and employees) and see them as entities to be valued, rather than objects from which the highest price, the cheapest cost or the lowest wage can be extracted. The immediate effects of this are obvious; a happy customer who feels like they’re really cared for is much more likely to become a patron. A supplier who isn’t constantly in turbulent negotiations surrounding prices will be much more accommodating in the case of invoice delays and may even opt to provide trade discounts in the future. This theory boils down further to ‘The Golden Rule’: treat people the same way that you want to be treated. An employee who knows they are valued is sure to put in a good shift and the idea that they have a future with the firm further reinforces the sentiment to work hard. It’s no wonder that the companies that either actively or subconsciously incorporate the butterfly effect into their businesses are some of the most successful in the world.

Weathering the Storm: The Firms With Wind in Their Sales

Finance and capital management firm Workday prides itself on its ability to create a distinct workplace environment in which their employees can thrive. This is in part thanks to the creation of a globalized outlook in its company culture. This, in simple terms, means that the firms six ‘core values’ (which unsurprisingly contains employees, customer service and integrity) allow for employees to feel a connection or rather ‘culture’ which goes beyond their shared office space. This is particularly useful in the firm’s ability to create global teams of employees from different bases due to this universal culture. By ensuring employees feel valued on an individual scale, the company can in turn enable cooperation on an international scale, which culminates in Workday being ranked as the best place to work in Ireland.

The French beauty giant Sephora places a great emphasis on how it values its customers. The company appreciates how beauty-care products are very much personal products, shaped by personal views. Sephora feels it is only right for customers to therefore be able to engage in a personal experience. The beauty behemoth has introduced the ‘Sephora’s Virtual Artist’, where patrons can try on products from multiple categories using their smartphone camera. The brand has strived to make strong links between themselves and the wider beauty community thanks to the benefits made possible through digitalization. This has culminated in their ‘Beauty Insider Community’, which fosters rapport between company and customer. The brand’s embrace of the digital age is best reflected in their collaboration with Google Home to create voice recognition powered beauty assistant, which provides tips on beauty and skincare. Sephora have recognized the opportunities from digitalization, but also their responsibility in providing both a valuable product and service to their customer base. This is best highlighted in the firm’s policy of not paying a commission to employees. This has two effects; customers can be certain that the advice that they receive is genuine, as agents have no incentive to prioritize one product over another. Agents in many cases enjoy this policy as it means they can be more comfortable and genuine in their workplace- thus creating an overall better work environment.

Patagonia, as I have written before, are renowned for their stakeholder approach to customers, employees and, namely, suppliers. The retail firm has stringent codes to ensure not only that they treat their suppliers fairly, but also that their suppliers are ethical companies themselves. The latter is particularly important in the context of the butterfly effect; although Patagonia may not be dealing directly with poor third party supplier relations, they may suffer the repercussions of scandals which affect those firms, as seen with Primark and the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013.  Patagonia not only ensures that their suppliers receive a fair price for their product, but they also monitor the minimum wages of the different countries from which they source and ensure these rules are being adhered to. The company also audits the goods it receives to ensure compliance with its social and environmental standards and is a founding member of a plethora of multi-stakeholder initiatives. While the effects of Patagonia’s activities may not seem at first obviously beneficial to suppliers, it does provide a platform from which they can engage in more business, as an indirect accreditation of manufacturing from Patagonia.

It’s the Little Things

The companies mentioned above are great examples of how small actions can give way to movements far greater than ever imagined, by placing importance on the little things. The same fact holds true for malpractice. All companies can heed the warning characterized through the butterfly effect, whether that be for better, or for worse.

A Vintage Vision: How Depop Is Changing The Fashion Industry- Ciarán Quinn

The Impact of Fast Fashion

Fashion has long been a lucrative industry, with its domestic market being valued at US$406 billion. The ability for this market to amass such a wealth is a testament to the phenomenon of what we all know as ‘fast fashion’: the way that companies can now produce clothing for very cheap prices quickly. This creation was the result of innovation within the clothing industry’s supply chain (how a company gets all the materials it needs to make their product, along with how quickly the product can get in the hands of customers). The resulting accelerated transition of fashion trends from a Milanese catwalk to a suburban fashion outlet was the spark for an industry poised to explode. This is no more obvious than when one looks at a goliath of the industry, Zara. The Spanish apparel retailer has honed their ability to produce quickly to a fine point, where the time frame for turning a design into a wearable item only has a two week turn-around. This incredible propensity to deliver item after item is reflected in their sales value of US$21.9 billion, as of July 2020. However, these great strides in production have come with ramifications. With the U.K. sending 350,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill annually, and 62 million tonnes of apparel being consumed globally per year (and a huge amount of electricity, water and chemicals with it), it’s clear this cannot go on indefinitely. Not only is a huge waste being created, but there is also a certain amount of skill and value being lost with it. Historically, the creation of the ‘cotton jack’ and the emergence of the golden age of cotton in the American Deep South saw another world snuffed out almost entirely. The institution of apprenticeship and the guilds that maintained it were swallowed up by the processes made possible through this industrial innovation. The fast fashion industry resembles this, with an increasing number of smaller manufacturers and independent clothes shops in Ireland and the wider world having been decimated competitively. With over production and over saturation, one door of entrepreneurial possibility and innovation opened as another shut.

The Flea Market: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

An unlikely hero has emerged with an innovative solution to the fashion industry’s current situation: Vintage clothing through the peer-to-peer shopping app, Depop. The app was founded by Simon Beckerman in 2011 as a cross between a marketplace and a social network in what he affectionately labelled an ‘international flea market’. The resulting app gave the chance for users to act as buyers and sellers simultaneously. The app provided a perfect springboard for sellers to be a manager of their own P.R. and marketing as they bought and sold items. This gave individual sellers both a digital voice and an electronic stall from which they could buy and sell items. The app has skyrocketed in popularity, with over 140,000 new items being added daily on average to over 15 million users

Making the Most of Social Media Appeal

Depop operates much like its alternative e-commerce platforms such as eBay and Amazon. However, its design, with an almost Instagram like feel, has played an instrumental role in its success. The glossy home screen and potential to scroll through a variety of potential buys imitates a stroll through a vintage shop-laden street in Berlin, which in turn reinforces its focus on fashion, style, commerce and culture. With the world’s current situation barring people from such treasure troves, now more than ever has the app’s clever interface made vintage-shopping accessible. The addition of a Twitter like ‘verification badge’ echoes this sentiment and encourages users to invest time and effort into shaping and perfecting their ‘shops’ image. Depop charges a flat rate fee of 10% on sales, including shipping costs, which is a competitive rate against the likes of eBay. The University Times has a very informative article about two Trinity business students who have seen a significant rise in their account traffic since the beginning of lock down, which you can read here.

Old Items, New Chances

The app has allowed a new lease of life to be given to second-hand items of clothing and it’s no wonder these used items are dubbed as ‘pre-loved’. This propensity for old items to find new homes is reflected in the sale of DVD’s, cassettes and tapes which became obsolete years before now fetching a price on the site. The potential doesn’t stop there as Depop’s user base’s continuous innovation cuts slices out of the fast fashion behemoth. Seasonal items such as Halloween costumes or decorations, whose lifespan is short-lived before inevitably being dumped into a landfill, can now be enjoyed and sold again. Although the app may have not been initially designed to act as a sustainable platform its potential has been revealed, much like users who sought to just shift unwanted clothes but have (perhaps unintentionally) embraced vintage fashion. 

The app’s ability to give individual sellers a voice is not limited to reselling, with a variety of crafters and indie manufacturers making use of the website, ranging from hand-knitted sweaters to embroidered garments and handcrafted accessories. It is ironic to say that these historic industries have been given a lifeline through modern innovation – derived in part initially from old garments. This ability for indie crafters and individual sellers culminates in the store-like feel that each ‘shop’ creates, with the ability for relationships to build between buyer and seller in what creates a much more intimate user experience. There is no doubt this has a part to play in the app’s already enormous and still growing success.  

A Word of Warning

Depop is a prime example of a media come market platform that has grown organically into realms not imagined. Dishearteningly, Depop seems to be putting a tap on this growth. There were reports that a platform was being designed to allow brands to sell to customers wholesale using the app. The potential effects of this should send a shudder down the spine of users of the site, much like how the industrial roar of America’s production lines stunned its guilds to a murmur. Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it and if Depop fail to heed this warning, it may drown out the very business and people that cherished it.