How Social Ties Influence Resource Flow: A Case Study On the Bangladesh Ship-Breaking Industry

Mayer, A. L., Michigan Technological University

Until recently, Industrial Ecology has underestimated cultural, political, and economic influences on the flow of resources through industrial systems. Several recent case studies have found that a lack of social ties has impeded the formation of symbiotic links between firms that would improve resource use efficiency, but present no explanation of why these ties were missing or critical. In this study, we focus on the flow of recycled metals and social connections simultaneously in the ship-breaking industry in Bangladesh. On average, about 400 retired oil tankers, container ships, and cruise ships are beached off the coast annually, representing 1.5 million tons of metal. We demonstrate that social connections are a primary driver for the flow of metal scrap from the ship-breaking yards in Chittagong to a collection of processing firms 500 miles away in Dhaka. We argue that the Dhaka industrial system exists primarily because of these social connections.


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