Business issues: Learn about the global supply chain and why it’s broken

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Featured Article: “‘It’s not sustainable ‘: what does the US port crisis look like up close
Featured Podcast: “The big break in the supply chain“(32 minutes)

Throughout the pandemic, businesses of all sizes have faced increasing delays, product shortages and costs from disruptions in the global supply chain. Consumers were faced with a rare experience in modern times: no stock on hand, and no idea when it will arrive.

In this lesson, you will analyze the causes and effects of what Times correspondent Peter Goodman calls the Great Supply Chain Disruption. Then, in the Going Further section, you will have the opportunity to learn more about just-in-time manufacturing or deepen your understanding of the fundamentals of trade and globalization.

Part 1: Which countries manufacture the products we buy?

Look at the labels on your clothes, sneakers, electronics, or whatever else you own. Pick five items and find out where they are made. List the countries on the board or share them in small groups. What trends do you notice in the classroom or in your groups? Which countries make the things you buy?

Part 2. What do you already know – or think you know – about global supply chain issues?

Have you experienced empty store shelves, out of stock products, or delayed shipments during the pandemic? Do you know someone whose job has been affected by supply chain issues? Turn around and talk to a partner if you are in a classroom and discuss the above question: What do you already know – or think you know – about global supply chain issues?

When you’re done, take a look at the brief explainer @nytkids created on Instagram on how the supply chain works and where it is currently in crisis. How much of what you and your partner have discussed is reflected here?

For this activity, you have the choice to read the featured article, listening to the featured podcast (here is the transcription), or do both. Before you begin, review the four prompts below to get ready to jot down or take notes. After reading or listening, answer the following questions.

1. The problem: The article and podcast both refer to an issue the world faces today: the Great Supply Chain Disruption. In your own words, describe what this problem is. Then find your own term for the problem, without using any of those four words “excellent”, “supply chain” or “disruption”.

2. The Causes: Throughout the article and podcast, journalist Peter Goodman explains many of the causes of the Great Supply Chain Disruption. What are they? Make a list as long as possible.

3. The effects: The article and podcast both detail the effects of the Great Supply Chain Disruption – from the port to businesses to the consumer. What are these many effects? Make a list as long as possible.

4. The solutions: Neither the article nor the podcast devotes much time to comprehensive solutions to the great supply chain disruption, but they do hint at some steps that could help. What are these measures? Which do you think could be the most beneficial in alleviating the problem?

Option 1. Evaluate the pros and cons of just-in-time manufacturing.

In the article “How the World ran out of Everything,” Peter S. Goodman and Niraj Chokshi discuss the role just-in-time manufacturing is playing in today’s supply chain crisis.

After reading the article, explain in your own words what just-in-time manufacturing is.

Next, consider the business benefits of just-in-time manufacturing. Why has the approach been adopted by the automotive industry and beyond?

Next, ask yourself how did the strategy help provoke and exacerbate the current disruption in the global supply chain?

Finally, based on what you’ve learned about just-in-time manufacturing, what suggestions would you make for companies trying to adapt their practices for the future?

Option 2. Learn more about trade and globalization.

The Council on Foreign Relations has created a series of learning modules to help make complex international relations and foreign policy issues accessible to learners. Two of these modules are on Trade and globalization.

For example, the commerce module starts with a seven minute video explaining what trade is and how it works in today’s global economy. The globalization module begins with a four minute video on the benefits and challenges of our increasingly interconnected world.

Use these self-study modules to learn more about the fundamentals of increasing trade and globalization in our modern world and take the multiple-choice self-assessment at the end of each module to check your understanding . Then browse through any edition of the New York Times and find as many articles as possible that relate to the various concepts covered in the modules, from trade deficits and foreign investment to international pharmaceutical manufacturing and human trafficking.


Want more lessons of the day? You can find them all here.


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