World Factory: 'Thatcherite propaganda' at the Young Vic

Matthew Partridge explores the murky world of business ethics at World Factory, currently running at London's Young Vic theatre.


World Factory (designed by Zo Svendsen and Simon Daw, and written by Kate O'Connor and David Isaacs), which is currently running at the Young Vic theatre in London, takes this idea to the stage to explore business ethics.

On arrival, the audience breaks into small groups, and after some introductory monologues, each group is charged with running a Chinese textile factory and given money and a folder with a list of workers. For the next 90 minutes, you are given a series of multiple-choice cards, with choices affecting both the bottom line and the number of staff. At certain points, the game stops for events such as the annual spring holiday.

Unlike your average dry business simulation, World Factory is slick, immersive and fast-paced. With the help of barcode technology, the four performers (Naomi Christie, Lucy Ellinson, Heather Lai and Jamie Martin) move between teams, dispensing cards and taking cash. Screens show containers being loaded and unloaded, and ticking-clock effects up the tension. In keeping with the fashion theme, each participant receives a receipt with their choices listed on it at the end.

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So how realistic was it? My own group's experience suggests it is possible to achieve a balanced outcome. Our stance over 22 decisions earned us a comfortable profit, above-average worker satisfaction and the best output of all the factories.It's far from the only path another team killed someone, suggesting that much darker outcomes are possible but our result mirrors World Factory's essential pragmatism.

Globalisation has boosted living standards in emerging markets but some workers in developed countries may lose out. Freer trade has helped UK consumers by slashing the cost of clothes just don't expect them to last.

Other reviews have generally been positive. The conflict between profit and ethics made for "a richly absorbing experience", reckoned Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard, while The Guardian's Lyn Gardner called it "sociable, exhaustingly good fun" that "clearly connects actions to consequences". Even The Spectator's Lloyd Evans was pleasantly surprised having expected to see "labourers bullied, serfs cudgelled" and "chimney sweeps starved", he was shocked to find "Thatcherite propaganda at the Young Vic".

World Factory runs at the Young Vic every evening at 7.45pm until 6 June.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri