While most of these posts list ,some of the most-known Chinese brands and ask people to boycott these, there are a few other posts that provide information that will apparently help us identify Chinese products.

One such post states that the first three digits of a barcode can be used to identify the country of origin of the product.

we will check the facts behind reality of this claim.

 First understand what a barcode is.

  • bar-code is a method used to represent data in a visual, machine-readable format. The parallel lines of varying width and spacing that we associate with a bar-code are part of the initially developed bar-code system. The initial bar-code was based on the Morse code, which was subsequently extended to thin and thick bars. This was patented in 1952.
  • With smartphones as the norm today, we now also have bar-codes with different shapes like rectangles, hexagons, and dots. The concept of having bar-codes on products really took off in the 1970s, when check-out counters of supermarkets started to scan the bar-codes on products. Here comes the Universal Product Code, or UPC.
  • UPC is a barcode that is used extensively in most countries to track the goods being sold in stores. UPC consists of 12 numeric digits that are assigned uniquely to a trade item. The first-ever product to be scanned using a UPC was a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum at Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio in 1974. The UPC follows the global GS1 specification, which is based on international standards. 

What is GS1 ?

GS1 is a non-profit organization that develops and maintains global standards for business communication in consensus with various governments, companies, and experts. These standards are designed to improve efficiency, safety, and visibility of products in supply chains. The GS1 barcode is applicable to various physical and digital channels across 25 sectors.

Let us go back to the social media post mentioned earlier, the one that claims it can help us identify what product is Chinese and what isn’t.

The post says that if a product has a bar-code that begins with a number ranging from 690 to 699, it is from China and products that have bar-codes beginning with 890 have the M. K. Gandhi-approved tag of swadeshi.

The UPC barcode consists of a GS1 prefix. This is a prefix allotted by GS1 to its member organization or the country. This means that each member organization or country has a unique prefix. So yes, as the social media post says, China and India do have unique company prefix codes.

 890 belongs to GS1 India and 690-99 belong to GS1 China. And that is where the social media post stops being correct.

The presence of a particular prefix alone does not mean that the product was manufactured in that country. The GS1 portal explicitly states that GS1 member companies can manufacture products anywhere in the world, which means that the GS1 prefix cannot be used to identify the country of origin or manufacture of the product. It only indicates the GS1 member country where the company that manufactured those products has registered with GS1.

Let us break this down with a few examples.

  • The MI brand of mobiles is immensely popular in India. It is common knowledge that the brand belongs to Xiaomi, a Chinese company. The first three digits of the bar-code on these mobiles has a GS1 China prefix. But if you look at the boxes of some of their phones, you will see that these were manufactured in India and bear the ‘Make in India’ stamp. So, the GS1 prefix can trace the product to China because it was manufactured for a Chinese company but was not actually made in China.
  • The next example is of Lays Chips. The Lays brand belongs to PepsiCo, which is an American company. But if you look at the barcodes on Lays chips packets sold in India, you will see that these begin with 890, the GS1prefix for India. This is explained easily by the fact that this product is manufactured by PepsiCo (India) Holdings Pvt Ltd, which is an Indian subsidiary of PepsiCo and so, registered in India.

To complicate things, GS1 provisions indicate that a subsidiary company can use the GS1 prefix of the parent company but not the other way around. In other words, PepsiCo (India) can use the GS1 prefix of PepsiCo, which is the USA prefix. But PepsiCo cannot use the GS1 prefix of PepsiCo (India).

  • Finally, let’s look at Apple. If you look at the barcode on an Apple MacBook, you will see a UPC barcode starting with 190. A few companies use a Universal Product Code instead of a GS1 barcode due to their global presence.

To identify the EAN bar-code, one needs to prefix the UPC with 0. So, the barcode on an Apple laptop bought in India would be 019, which belongs to the USA. However, the Mac Book is manufactured in China, which is clearly indicated on the product. So, in this case, the Apple laptop available in India is manufactured in China, even though the barcode used is of an American company.

What these examples tell us is that the barcode cannot be used to ascertain the place of manufacture of a productIt only indicates the country where the manufacturer registered to get a barcode.

All this is okay, but I have a question. If a Chinese company is manufacturing in India and Indian companies are manufacturing in China and an American company is manufacturing in China and selling in India, how am I supposed to prove my patriotism?

Conclusion, social media posts that claim that one can figure out where a product was manufactured by its bar-code are fake.



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