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January 25, 2008

Comments

gp mazzotta

very well put!

Amos

I don't believe China and Sri Lanka are in the Southern Hemisphere. 5 times, hmm does the UN assessment take into consideration that our climate on average is more then 5 times colder then say Johannesburg, South Africa?

HC

Hi Amos,

Thanks for the email. Its true Canada is much colder and that contributes to our carbon footprint. Every country has been dealt a "hand" and our "set of cards" is a huge land mass above the 49th parallel. It's darn cold and expansive populated mostly by moose and other wildlife. A sliver of a population lives along the border with the US. This in part drives our contribution to global warming.

On the flip side, India and China have been dealt a "hand" which is a bit different. Instead of a huge land mass relative to population, they have a huge population relative to land mass. To feed this massive population of 2.3 + billion, they burn a lot of coal to drive their industries. In a few years, China as an aggregate will exceed the US in carbon emissions from coal consumption.

The path we're on in terms of climate change doesn't make exceptions for carbon emissions based on geography or population size. Regardless of the hand of cards we've been dealt, our climate is going to change and it won't be pretty.

Every one of us on this planet, who has not yet taken action, must act now!

Khono

I think that the only reasonable solution is education. Most people, when they buy their products, aren't aware of the path that product has taken, what environmental and social effects it has. What if we (you, at MEC) make this kind of thing known at the store so that they can check it as they shop? For example, if you're buying boots from from two different places, one where the workers are paid very poorly, the environment suffers, etc and one where the workers are paid better, where certain environmental and social concerns are addressed. What if you put up a little picture for each place with a very short description of the difference in price and effects of production at each location for each product, and a link to more info on the subject? I don't know whether this is feasible or not, but I know I'd find it very interesting and useful if I came across it.

I went to the MEC site to find the address for the store closest to me when I stumbled upon this blog. So I'll be going to a MEC store in a few hours and will return here to comment on what information of this sort is apparent to me, there.

Khono

Oh and I'd like to mention, all through school I went through at least one school-bag a year. I finally got sick of this upon entering University and got a nice quality bag from MEC. 3 years later, it's still in excellent condition. Not only have I saved money, but that's better for the environment, too, all production variables being roughly equal. Just thought that'd be a valuable thing for customers to be aware of.

HC

Hi Khono,

Thanks for the support. At one time I thought MEC could link a factory to a product so that someone like you can look at a pack in our store and take it to one of our kiosks and hyperlink yourself to the factory that made it. There you would see pictures, descriptions and etc.,

We can't not because we're giving proprietary info away to our competitors (imagine Coast Mountain walking into our stores and grabbing the exact spot where we make it) but because of human rights standards. We in the West often forget this.

The factories, which make our stuff are private enterprises. They are not government operations or a NGO. Companies are entitled to some level of privacy. When our audits tell us that a factory is not paying its taxes they have a right to not have us broadcast that to the world. They have a right to respond to our allegations and have these issues held in confidence. Imagine Revenue Canada broadcasting to the world every company it finds cheating on its income tax. It can't be done.

Canadians have a right to know the conditions of a factory but they don't have a right to know the details and identity of the parties involved.

MEC's goal is to get our contract factories to smarten up. We got to do it in a smart and respectful way.

(I hope I'm not lecturing you. I found your comments very insightful).

Thanks

Khono

Ehh, I forgot to report back here. Despite that, I still remember I didn't find the kind of info I was looking for. The tags would sometimes give other info, like that it's made with organic products, but I didn't see details about the conditions it was made under.

I understand what you're saying about privacy. Personally I don't believe in corporations having rights to privacy like that. While for some things it may be reasonable, working conditions can be easily checked by anyone in the area (assuming it's not a tightly guarded place) by popping their head in or talking with the workers so making it illegal to allow that kind of thing to be known by the customers is quite plainly wrong, I think.

The content of food is listed on packages (presumeably for our health), yet it's so difficult to find such easy information on other products, for the health of those who make them and the world at large. The line between the privacy of the manufacturers and putting health at risk can certainly be fine, but I don't recall seeing any info about how the things there were made other than the occasional thing being listed as organic.

I understand it takes work to check conditions, to make the info available, but isn't it reasonable to have at least a simple indication like "Made under sweatshop conditions" or "This product costs $5 more so that all those who manufactured it could be paid a fair, liveable wage."? Perhaps there's no reasonable source for this kind of information, but putting up nothing, not even a little sign at the entrance explaining the situation seems like the wrong way to go. Don't get me wrong, though, I didn't exactly go over the place with a fine comb.

Just out of curiosity, how far does that protection go? Would it be illegal for me to say I worked at Slidemaster and while I was there there were a few serious safety issues that violated their own regulations and which they chose to ignore ?

I don't want it to seem like I'm attacking MEC. It's really tough to do things ethically when competing against others which have little or nothing forcing them to do things ethically. Like, how can one afford to pay one's workers say $8/hr when one's competitors pay theirs $4/hr? IMO the most obvious way to make it possible to pay them more is to let people know that when they're buying the more expensive products, they're supporting fair labour conditions rather that sweatshop conditions.

HC

Hi Khono,

It's not legally prudent for MEC to negatively categorize our suppliers in the public domain. We could say we buy goods from Factory A who happen to be our number 1 rated factory. However, we cannot say Factory B is rated number 55 because it does not pay its payroll taxes. This is a very serious allegation.

We're beginning to explore what it means to pay people more so that they can earn a higher wage. We know some consumers will pay more but not much more.

Cheers

elfi

Canadian business law states that companies have to provide public information about all the issues mentioned in your post. Companies are not 'human' and therefore cannot have 'human rights'. We should really prioritize human rights over corporate rights, don't you think? And if your post is an attempt to get these international business to look favorably upon MEC, there are better ways to do this. It is important to provide and meet relevant standards and to not deal with those businesses which show no interest. We should ensure that the followup done with the company mentioned above on that particular child worker is effective and actually remedies her situation. Quoted from a bove "factories, which make our stuff are private enterprises. They are not government operations or a NGO. Companies are entitled to some level of privacy. When our audits tell us that a factory is not paying its taxes they have a right to not have us broadcast that to the world. They have a right to respond to our allegations and have these issues held in confidence. Imagine Revenue Canada broadcasting to the world every company it finds cheating on its income tax. It can't be done."

HC

Hi Elfi,

Applying "human rights" to a private enterprise is incorrect as you state. Businesses (MEC is one) are constrained by a number of practices. One is stating in a public domain that another business is cheating on its taxes. There is a huge liablity risk to do this.

We can disclose in detail the violations of a factory but we cannot release the name and address of the factory. This has nothing to do with making a business smile on MEC. It rests on liability laws and good business sense.

Thanks


Khono

Alright now I'm confused. What is it Canadian companies have to disclose? Just their tax info, or other things like average worker pay and maybe even worker conditions? If it's really true that y'all can't disclose basic things, like whether the product was made in a sweatshop or not, because of Canadian law, then this system is really messed up!

...What if some trusted NGO does a review of the working conditions of all the sources of your products (I'm sure there are plenty of NGOs out there that're willing, if not having already done it) and you post like a rating scale on the price tag of all your goods indicating the NGO's review? *sigh*, if even THAT isn't possible... and here I was thinking it was stores that didn't care to give us that kind of info!

I do have one other idea. If you guys have a source of ethically manufactured goods... let's use shoes as an example. Have one brand of shoes that's ethically produced with a detailed description of how they were produced then a description of how shoes are normally produced.. then for all the shoes that aren't ethically produced have a little note on the price tag saying so (it could be as simple as saying whether something is fair trade or not), and referring the customer to the ethically produced shoe for a list of conditions the other shoe was likely NOT made under. That doesn't seem to be disclosing any personal info

HC

Hey K,
I can't tell you in exact detail what private or publicly traded companies must disclose. Nor can I tell you what privacy, liability or "what is deemed in the public interest" standards practice.

MEC is a Co-op held accountable to its members, and thus is incredibly transparent to them. We often think that this transparency extends to MEC's suppliers and business "partners". As much as we would want this logical extension, it doesn't work this way because the world doesn't revolve around MEC, me or you. We can't forget this.

There are some things MEC cannot publicly disclose about its suppliers because:
1. Liability risk (e.g., we can be sued if we publicly claim or defame another entity)
2. Business etiquette requires some discretion.

We need to balance transparency with common sense.

cheers

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