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September 11, 2007

Comments

Padraic [#14721021]

Well said. The cries for "Made in Canada" clothing always seem to me to be nationalism disguised as altruism. Clearly, to develop, the Global South needs trade - if MEC can help ensure that this trade is of a more ethical nature, all the better.

Mike Falls

Mountain Equipment Corporation still uses this " ethical sourcing " as a selling point. I have no problems buying Chinese products - I do, however, have issues buying from a store that prides itself on being ethical.

MEC contributes to child labour, green house gases etc. by simply producing products in countries that do not have labour rights. You had a great thing with the Serratus line of goods but chose to hire someone at two dollars a day to produce the same products in a third world country.

This concept of a cooperative has now eroded to another Wal Mart style chain of stores. At least Wal Mart is honest about being a for profit corporation. This part of the reason I refuse to shop at MEC now.

MEC allows people to picket outside its stores for all sorts of causes.

Perhaps you'll allow me to petition outside of the Toronto store to get you folks to, PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH.

Please advise.

Thank you in advance,

Mike

Harvey

Hi Mike,

Implicit in your email is the notion that MEC has to do some serious soul searching and really come to full terms with the social consequences of manufacturing in Canada and the developing world, I agree with that.

The concept of a cooperative selling products made only in Canada is a great ideal. Regrettably, the vast majority of our members are not reflecting this belief at the cash registers. They want quality and reasonably priced goods, which sadly translates to fewer and fewer locally made products.

I'm not sure if MEC would sincerely encourage individuals such as yourself to petition outside its stores. Should you choose, MEC would definitely not stop you. But I think you could have greater influence by getting yourself elected to the Board because some of your views are legitimate and would bring added insight to the table.

Respectfully,

HC

Steve Patterson

[Editor's note: Below was deleted for profanity]

Dear Harvey -

MEC and ethical sourcing? Methinks not!

Back in April 2007 I wrote a letter to MEC asking them to stop selling Nalgene clear plastic drinking bottle due to the growing body of evidence that BPA (Bisphenol A) is leaching into our drinking water (and our environment). BPA mimics estrogen and has been strongly linked to breast cancer and other health issues. Three Ontario political party heads (McGuinty, Tory and Hampton) had themselves tested for BPA and they ALL had high levels of this substance in their blood - all at levels that have been found to be harmful in animal experiments. Health Canada and Environment Canada are conducting safety reviews of this chemical, which can be found in many types of plastic. Our government agencies being what they are, this review could take a long, long time.

So what is stopping MEC from pulling this product from their shelves, or AT THE VERY LEAST signing the product with a warning about its potential health detriments? PROFIT, I guess. What other reason could there be?

I asked MEC to take a stand, be proactive about their members' health, and STOP selling these products - replacing them with opaque plastic and stainless steel drinking bottles. Nalgene hard plastic bottles are a BIG moneymaker for MEC.

Here is the sad response I got from MEC Head Office:

=======>begin MEC response
Hello Steve,

Thank you for writing to express your concerns over the sale of polycarbonate food and beverage containers in MEC stores.

MEC is committed to selling products that do not pose proven health and safety risks. As a retailer, we look to public health bodies and the scientific community to understand and assess product-related health concerns that consumers and our members may harbour, including those related to Bisphenol-A (BPA) in polycarbonate water bottles and food containers. Based on the weight of evidence established by years of BPA research and several internationally recognized public health studies, we have no reason at this time to believe that the polycarbonate products we sell pose a risk to human health.

The studies that have raised concerns about the possible negative effects of BPA have been based on lab experiments with rats. There is considerable doubt as to whether these studies are relevant to human usage scenarios of polycarbonate containers. There is currently no proven link between BPA and any human health effects. Health Canada is in the process of studying this compound and its effects. If this study or other future public health research into BPA determines that it is harmful to human health, then we will take steps to remove polycarbonate products from MEC stores.

MEC offers alternatives to polycarbonate bottles, including ones made from stainless steel. Given the concerns over BPA, we are expanding our selection of non-polycarbonate containers in order to provide Members with greater alternatives. We have a new stainless steel bottle arriving in May that will be similar in price and weight to the polycarbonate bottles. Our current SS bottle is both heavier and more expensive than the plastic alternatives.

MEC continues to offer polycarbonate bottles because the alternative materials do not perform as well for backcountry uses. Polycarbonates are lightweight, optically clear, heat-resistant, and durable. We think that it is appropriate to provide our Members with a choice that includes polycarbonate containers, at least until Canadian public health authorities direct us to do otherwise.

I hope that this response satisfies you that MEC is behaving appropriately when it comes to ensuring the reasonable safety of of the products that we sell.

Regards,
Harry
===========>end MEC response

This head-in-the-sand response shocked me to no end. What got me was "Based on the weight of evidence established by years of BPA research and several internationally recognized public health studies, we have no reason at this time to believe that the polycarbonate products we sell pose a risk to human health."

There is FAR more peer-reviewed research available showing harmful effects than there are showing no harmful effects.

The ONLY research that shows NO HARM are the ones sponsored by the plastics industry! For a lark, go to http://www.bisphenol-a.org/.

Now, who presents the misinformation and slanted viewpoints presented on this website? The Plastics Industry.

My only recourse is to stop shopping at MEC, which I have done. I go to Europe Bound exclusively now.

Shame on MEC - "ethical sourcing" my [deleted]!

Alan Philip

[Editor's Note - the following was edited for language]

First, I find it comical in the year 2007 that the word [expletive] is considered profane.

Second, although I commend MEC for its strong stand on environmental and social causes, I detect a hint of greenwashing in the establishment of this blog and the weak arguments by the author & MEC in favour of MEC's current policies.

To quote an example: "The concept of a cooperative selling products made only in Canada is a great ideal. Regrettably, the vast majority of our members are not reflecting this belief at the cash registers. They want quality and reasonably priced goods, which sadly translates to fewer and fewer locally made products."

So MEC apparently is going the route of WalMart and Costco, where price is the most important consideration. The fact that this blog has been established indicates that there must be a significant number of members who still find MEC's sourcing a concern. Since I joined MEC way back when, the catalogue has become dominated by goods made in China, a country with an abominable human rights record, invader of Tibet, and recently coming to light as the producer of contaminated, unsafe products.

The blog author contradicts MEC's own Sourcing Report Summary which states: "For the majority of contract factories, we bought less than $500,000 worth of goods. These numbers reflect the limited "punch" we have in flexing economic power to change a global supply chain." He tries to support off-shore sourcing by claiming: "...our financial threats that drive stubborn factories to eliminate "Oliver Twist" like practices." Which is it? If you don't have the clout to change factories why try to pretend that you are.

The occasional inspection of a factory does not make up for abysmal workers' rights, support for a brutal regime, and contributing to the rapid growth of a huge greehouse-gas emitting economy.

MEC proudly trumpets it's ethical sourcing. It should therefore live up to high standards and not hide behind the euphemism of "pragmatism".

Lawren

MEC reeks of Hypocrisy. I seem to recall MEC shutting down Serratus and moving the whole operation overseas. I also recall one of the board of directors resigning over this. When I contact MEC about this issue of Outsourcing , they were quick to claim it was not cost effective to maintain the Serratus plant in Vancouver, and there for it should be shutdown and the work done by cheaper employees in another country. MEC does alot of good things for the planet but its not doing anything original by using cheap labour in other parts of the world.

Edson Castilho

It's amazing to me how far people can go to rationalise their actions or those of the company they work for. You know, I really like MEC, at least the people who run the company think about things other than the bottom line. However, on this ethical sourcing thing, I think personally that MEC is very wrongheaded.
Sourcing from places with horrible regimes, no matter how ethically you attempt to do it, is not going to change anything. Oh, but it will at least make the lives of the workers better you say. Maybe, marginally, but really, why are those workers there in the first place? The story of your grandmother illustrates how ordinary people are displaced in times of war. Well, the only difference now is that the warfare is economic. The west is simply doing what it has always done - exploiting its colonies and now the developing countries for their resources including their cheap labour. Corporatism as it exists in China is not an inevitable end point of history, it is a logical consequence of western economic imperialism which benefits a very few, now very wealthy Chinese businessman and exploits the majority of Chinese people.
I think it is hypocritical that you continue to pretend that your arguments are as valid as those against. It is total rubbish that there are always valid points on both sides of any issue!
And finally, your assumption that all Chinese female factory workers are meek, docile, bow their head and get to work type people is really offensive. Like me, I'm betting you have no idea what any individual worker in those factories feel. Perhaps it's "if you rich, western imperialist !@#$@#$s hadn't caused, I could still be at home in my rural home with my family, living way better than I'll ever live here where I was forced to come because my government forced me to relocate so they could expropriate my family's land to build a huge (pick your mega project)"

Chau for now

Edson

Markus

Both Mr Falls and Mr Patterson highlight how accessible Mountain Equipment Co-op is as a target for criticism. The very fact that they hold their Co-op to higher standards than most other companies I'm sure they shop at shows that people expect more from MEC and set the bar high when it comes to sustainability and ethical sourcing.

With issues like bisphenol-A and labour rights, it is easy to lash out at a company that already goes far beyond most others by exposing its own flaws and accepting--and acting upon--criticism from its membership.

I find it unfortunate that people will trend to the reactionary and more often than not fail to delve beneath the surface of the current hot topic issues. Anyone who has taken the time to read the various conflicting studies regarding bisphenol-A knows that it is indeed a muddled issue and that there is no clear answer. It is easy, however, to be swayed by sensationalized news stories and internet articles that fail to cite and real health studies and at the very least, members like Mr Patterson will force their Co-op to take a good hard look at the issue and ensure that they are making the most informed decision they can.

You see? It's about choice. I do not trust my Co-op to be the final authority in all matters, but I do trust them enough to have done their homework at a deeper level than is available on the internet. I for one am glad that polycarbonate bottles are available because I have read various research papers on bisphenol-A and feel that I have made an informed decision in my continued use of the product. If I don't buy them from MEC then I will have to walk across the street to buy them at some other store. MEC allows me the freedom to choose between two alternatives without having to leave the store.

Full disclosure: I am an MEC staff member. This doesn't mean I am simply sitting here pushing the company agenda though. I recently engaged in a discussion with several co-workers as to whether or not a certain shoe belonged in our line-up. At first blush I failed to see how the shoe fit into the Co-op's mission statement but had it explained that there was indeed a performance and environmental story behind the shoe's addition. Questions are being asked on the inside all the time, and given the general level of gear and activity knowledge around here, you need to be mightily prepared to defend your decisions with hard facts.

I have several of my own criticisms for the way the Co-op is currently being operated, just as I'm sure many other staff and members do. This is a big part of what keeps MEC working towards attaining higher levels of sustainability, governance, and ensuring that we are making the best sourcing, pricing, and production decisions for the members we serve.

Harvey

Hi Lawren,

I think everyone of us (MEC, members, you, me) has to seriously think about the issue of using cheap labour in the developing world. It would be dishonest of us to not admit that costs/price are a major consideration in everything we buy and consume.

You're right on about your last comment "MEC does alot of good things for the planet but its not doing anything original by using cheap labour in other parts of the world". We need to understand this and do better.

Cheers

Harvey

Alan,

Actually, this Blog was not a response to member letters or an attempt by MEC or me to "greenwash" anything.

It's a medium that I had to sell to "MEC" senior management which they eventually fully endorsed after much back and forth.

The purpose of this Blog is to "put all our cards on the table" (we don't quite yet), shape your views and have your thoughts moderate ours.

As cornball as this may sound it's the only way of moving forward on this highly charged issue. We don't expect unanimity but we do hope for greater awareness.

Harvey

Hi Edson,

Is it really "hypocritical" to believe that our views are as valid as your? And is it outright "rubbish" to take the position that "there are always valid points on both sides of any issue?"

The moment we assume there is only one answer the closer we regress to the recent darkness in human history.

Having an opposing view is never invalid nor rubbish. In fact it's an inalienable human right that is afforded to everyone.

Harry Wolf

Civilised Discussions.
So civilised while slave labourers in China (worse than Stalin's Russia), are murdered and/or their lives and the lives of their children and spouses destroyed.

There is no 'discussion' possible in these circumstances, no debate.

If you value MONEY above PEOPLE you are corrupt.
Thats it.

Therefore, MEC is a CORRUPT organisation, and its PR department (this blog) exists to hide this corruption.

One more thing:

MEC has no right to allow or dis-allow anyone demonstrating or picketing outside the stores - we still have the right in Canada to protest anything we wish.

For now.......


Oh, one more thing - 'nationalism disguised as..' ? Get a grip - this isnt your high school debating society. Its called real life.

Don Derby

I am very disappointed to see that MEC has joined the race to the bottom. I am at a loss to determine how the co-op could have decided that participation in globalization should become one of the main operating practices. Am I wrong in thinking that Mountain Equipment Co-Op was to be different than the Sportcheks and other like companies? It doesn't seem very different that the others now.

There has been a lot of discussion about ethical issues. Perhaps somebody should look at moral issues as well.

James

I can understand how difficult it is to bypass Chinese goods these days and you're right, as consumers we love the way prices have dropped due to outsourcing. The sad fact remains however that many Chinese factories are actually owned and operated by the Peoples Liberation Army and therefore there is a direct link between "our" dollars and an organisation that has, since invading Tibet in 1950, perpetrated one of the worst cases of genocide since the Nazi holocaust. I would hope at the very least that MEC directors would make a point of investigating ownership of the factories with which they do business.

Davide

I read with interest the above post. It is said that MEC is outsourcing to China for pragmatasim and economical reason. Looks like Nothr America and European companys are forced to outsource to China to survive.

I think that in most of the cases this is not true.
Outsourcing in China does not usually decreases the retail price, it only increases the brand and retail profit which was already pretty high.
Last season a powerdshield jacket made in Canada, by MEC, was sold at 250$CAN. Same kind of jacket made with the same fabric, in China, by Arcteryx was sold at 450$CAN.
Looks like outourcing to Canada is cheaper...
One more example is here, about merinos underware:
http://www.chocolatefishmerino.com/kiwimade.html

I would like to to ask to Mr. Chan to publish the manufacturing price (that is the price MEC pays to the outsuorcing factory).
Transparency is extremely important in a democratic and free society, so I think that these numbers should be known by the costomers and in particular by the MEC members.
Thanks.

Edson Castilho

Despite my comments above, I still feel that MEC is a very good option for people who wish to shop at a place that is about more than merely profits. There are lots of problems with MEC but the fact is, MEC is way a way better option than a SportChek or Europe Bound. They could do much better, eg. stop sourcing from countries with horrendous human rights records and treatment of labour. But let's face it, if you boycott MEC for selling Nalgene bottles or for selling stuff made in China, you are not going to be shopping anywhere in this entire country!

Edson

Edson Castilho

Dear Harvey

I never stated that people can't have opposing views on different subjects. I merely stated that it is utter rubbish to state "In any disagreement between reasonable parties, there is validity on all sides." to use your own words. Perhaps the word reasonable is your escape clause on this issue but I think it's obvious that the settlers of this continent appeared very reasonable to themselves and a vast majority of the north american public while they were almost wiping out the aboriginal population. Is there any validity to their position? All I am saying is that sometimes it is as simple as right or wrong. And sourcing from countries like China is indefensible. But that's just my opinion, which by your logic, should make it valid :-)

Edson

Steve Patterson

OK Harvey, I won't use the "a**" word in this post. Geez...

So today, Dec. 7, 2007 MEC announces it is finally going to stop the promotion and selling of BPA-laden goods to unsuspecting, trusting MEC "shareholders".

Yet less than a mere 3 months ago, MEC's official stand was:

"Based on the weight of evidence established by years of BPA research and several internationally recognized public health studies, we have no reason at this time to believe that the polycarbonate products we sell pose a risk to human health."

So there must have been a veritable flurry of new damning studies released in that time, in order to tip the balance of "the weight of evidence" on the side of the plastics industry.

But wait, no, there was but one lonely warning released a couple of days ago about BPA leaching into baby bottles!

But I suppose, even though MEC looks funny with egg all over its face, I have to give then kudos for sucking it in and finally doing the RIGHT THING.

But it did take an awfully long time for this to happen.

Steve Patterson

You might NOW want to remove this silly page on how safe BPA is and the link (that MEC references as proof about the safety of BPA) to the plastics industry website that lies about the safety of the product: www.bisphenol-a.org.

From the MEC website page: http://www.mec.ca/Main/content_text.jsp;jsessionid=GvkVjQWn0YvWjtSKJnjg5Q1QgKpgyp3MMsb6vlpwk53VZMW2RzTV!79276373?FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=2534374302881801&CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198674101533&bmUID=1185064021878

Polycarbonate Water Bottles
More people are using reusable polycarbonate water bottles, especially in the outdoors. But do these bottles have an impact on our health? We don't believe so.

Concerns About BPA
Polycarbonate bottles and food containers are made with Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical which produces clear, light, heat-resistant plastic. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor that mimics the human hormone estrogen, and is one of the most widely studied chemicals in the world. Some recent studies link BPA to abnormal tissue development in rats, and speculate it could possibly leach into liquids and foods through food-grade containers.
Internationally recognized studies of BPA by the European Food Safety Authority, the Japanese Research Centre for Chemical Risk Management, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, conclude that polycarbonate is suitable for food-grade use. Current exposure levels are deemed safe. Based on this, we have no reason to believe the polycarbonate products we sell pose a risk to human health.

Products at MEC
We carry a selection of water bottles and food containers – including high-density polyethylene and stainless steel.You may prefer to use these products, however, we believe all our products are safe for our members.

We are continuing to look to public health bodies, such as Health Canada, to research, understand, and assess product-related heath concerns. If at any time, they determine there is a health or safety risk related to polycarbonate products – we'll stop selling them.

To find more information on BPA or chemical regulation in Canada check out these sites:
www.thegreenguide.com
www.bisphenol-a.org

HC

Hi Steve,

I forwarded your email about updating MEC.com to reflect our position on BPA.

Thanks.

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