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February 08, 2008

Comments

Khono

I agree with everything you said. Is it reasonable to increase the prices of the goods at the store (maybe as low as $1?) in order to raise the pay of the workers? What about pushing for innovations in the way the products are manufactured? For example, most places I've worked at tend to be bad at controlling the environment, like temperature and air quality, excess noise, cluttered workspace, etc. All these can be addressed. Perhaps we could also learn from other industries, like if we went for the same concept as casinos or video games where the worker is rewearded for actions, like the pleasant 'music' in casinos or whatever it is that motivates people to spend 10 hours a day "grinding" for items in World of Warcraft.

So long as the will is there, I think this can be improved. Willpower seems to be in short supply, though.

Peace,

Cas

I will happily pay more for clothing which is ethically waged. The Co-op has a massive market, why can't we charge a few dollars more to pay people a living wage?

MEC customer

Why don't you just pay a living wage?

Why don't you train unemployed people to do the work?

You make it sound as if the minimum wage is what the law requires you to pay the sewers - maybe you didn't know this but you can actually pay people more than that absolute minimum that the law will allow you to pay them.

Just an idea...

Claire

Although the manufacturing sector is disappearing in North America, there are still many apparel workers in Canada, specifically in Quebec. The reason that they stick with their jobs? They have a union which protects them and gives them good working conditions, including a living wage. Progressive companies such as Mountain Equipment Coop would benefit from such partnerships, as they create a more stable workforce. Workers forming unions won us all the rights and benefits we have on the job today - the 40h week, sick pay, maternity leave, the list goes on - and remain relevant as the best way to ensure good working conditions for workers no matter their type of job.

HC

Hi Khono,

You're right. As long as there is a will we can do it.

We have to find the conviction and then we will eventually get there.

In terms of raising prices. Here's something for us to all think about. Two product managers/buyers have openly stated that they would consider moving prices up to better compensate workers. (Great start). On the flip side, we've seen sales drop on items when we raised the price (Bad outcome).

Long and short of it, fixing this wage thing is going to be a committment on the part of retailers, factories and consumers.

HC

Hi

Thanks for the note. I don't think anyone in their right mind would argue with you about workers being paid a living wage. It's the right thing to do.

The problem is how do we run a business that is so heavily sensitive to costs and product pricing and yet pay a living wage.

It's a challenge that no retailer has figured out yet.

Cheers

HC

Hi Claire,

Unions are desperately needed in the developing world. Regrettably, they won't be there soon. In Vietnam and China there are State sponsored unions that really exist to maintain the status quo.

Interesting enough, labour activitism in Vietnam is probably the most "independent" in these totalitarian regimes. Workers went on strike last year in one of our factories.

Thanks for the comment.

Sven

You are talking about paying minimum wage, in BC. With the unemployment rate as it is in BC, people are no longer willing to work for minimum wage.

Mike Langtry

Well, it seems that everyone at MEC is talking about the deplorable conditions overseas in the manufacturing sector. Well my suggestion is that MEC sould have it's own factory here in Canada, the highest tech available, with good paying jobs and good working conditions....incorporate such ideas a jobsharing for moms and other without a full day, apprentiships for high school studens destined for the blue collar market, Green tech for the building and it's processes. This will eliminate all the GHG related to all that shipping and provide the nation with a valid example of how Canadian ca do it right. Stop talking and moaning about how we cannot change others and make the move to prove to the world that it can be done, and right here in Canada. Cost... well it might cost a bit more but we are a wealthy nation, and it'll get to that eventually, so lead instead of following.

HC

Hi Mike,

Great comment.

About 6 years ago, MEC shuttered its pack factory (Serratus) just outside Vancouver. It was a tough decision. However, if MEC didn't make that move and a whole of bunch of others, it would have headed into bankruptcy.

Running a factory requires an incredible skill set and determination. That does not exist in MEC nor the stomach to try one more time.

Many of our contract factories in Canada are facing a heck of time. Some of these factories are making world class products using quite a bit of technology. Many of them see a finite future for them. It's too darn difficult even for these seasoned factory managers.

Theoretically, your suggestion could be done. It'll take an extremely experienced and entrepreneurial individual to sell the concept to MEC. And it will take a consumer audience willing to pay a premium for locally made goods. Neither are realities right now.

Cheers

brian t moore

yes those are the realities of doing business today. just try and buy something not made in china these days.

there are reasons for this and some of the reasons are foolish. the irony of wanting items made in canada but not wanting to be the cog that magically transforms our wants into product is a confounding one.

I dream of a day when i can know the woman or man making my sweater and s/he makes it for me. no brand, just quality and sustainability.

oh to dream.

E.

Since I stopped purchasing products from the MEC made in Asia many years ago, wouldn't that also qualify as "lost sales"?

HC

Hi E,

Yes it does mean we're one member less. As much as we want be a compelling co-op to everyone, we can't.

Thanks for your email.

Member

Where is the money going? $200+ for a lightweight jacket made in China?! Or do you ensure the workers get paid more for making MEC product before they start on the Wal-Mart batch? When I first joined almost 30 years ago, your mandate was "made in Canada". One days' wage bought me a jacket then; today I have to save for 3+ days to buy the equivalent jacket and it's made cheaply offshore. Which I don't buy because it's made offshore. Your comment about not being a "...compelling co-op to everyone" notwithstanding, the reason we join co-ops and credit unions in the first place is because the executive board is supposed to have the balls (and concomitant wherewithal)to do more than lament current business practices. We don't need/want to be patted on our collective heads with comments that could have been cut & pasted from a GAP or Starbucks PR site. It's belabouring the obvious to chide us for "wanting made in Canada - as long as [we] don't have to make it." As to your final question of whether I can live with the inequity presumably caused by my "vigourously demanding" locally made clothing, my question is, is it easier to live with this inequity if it happens elsewhere?

HC

Dear Member,

Thanks for the note. You will not find the content of this blog pasted on other brands because its not sugar coated enough.

Thirty years ago MEC probably sold predominantly made in Canada stuff. That stuff made us feel more Canadian. It fed our economy. But that stuff was likely made by immigrant workers. Taking jobs you and I would never take. Now that immigrants are getting wiser and the economy is booming, they don't want these cheap jobs anymore.

These jobs are tough and poorly paid. At some level it doesn't matter where these jobs are located because they are inherently inferior to the ones you and I will take. Let's recognize this and do something about this inequity rather than perpetuate it in a nationalism based buying philosophy that masks occupational ghettos derived by gender and race.

Human rights means you, me and the factory worker are all equal.

Buying from factories in Canada or abroad has human rights implications. Let's recognize them and do something about it.

Cheers

Adam

There are solutions to the problems that MEC faces and they are solved through ethical Canadian employment. Smaller communities would love to develop a manufacturing base to ensure stability within their economy. Primary industry such as clothing (or any kind) of manufacturing is highly sought after. Manpower in the boom & bust, welfare ridden small towns of Alberta, Saskatchewan and BC isn't a problem. Getting wages that allow for single moms to pay the rent etc. so they can participate in the economy is.

In addition to comparatively lower tax/land costs these employers would also enjoy a disproportionate level of political influence on a local level. It's a very old win/win/win scenario that doesn't play out because owership of manufacturing plants don't want to spend time in the smaller centers. First year economics makes it sound like the big city has cheaper labour, and it's true if you don't give a rip about your employees. However anyone with foresight and a tactical ability to locate a business would have avoided the problem to begin with. In short, if you're the only game in town, you win.

Still confused? No problem. Peace River, Lethbridge, Prince George, Ft. St. John, Dawson Creek - all have populations from 10k - 100k that could do the work and have enough un/semi skilled labour to fill the spots needed. Not that the above list is in any way complete. Smaller towns have lower operating costs due to smaller infrastructure support costs and higher poverty levels. Keep in mind you don't put all of your plants in one place - smaller economies are easier to overheat.

Worried about price control? Manufacturers who set wages relative to output (so much per item produced) can control their costs and deliver on time while retaining their staff. Owners obsessed with paying only minimum wages in an oppresive environment will find themselves out of luck anywhere. Personal experience clearly indicates that employers who understand this kind of advantage stay in business and avoid infationary spikes. Good employers are as important as good employees.

Removing middlemen between MEC and the manufacturer is critical as well. Smaller local plants with direct contact to the final vendor are less likely to attempt to cheat on an order and are more responsive than someone on the other side of the planet with a dozen other clients. Inspections are easier and less costly (cost of flights, visas to asia vs. driving for 1 day to the plant). There are also fewer problems with ethical issues as it's within our culture.

It's easily understood that a child who works for a dollar a day and sleeps in the back of the factory will fatten profit margins and lower costs vs. hiring an adult Canadian that has their own apartment and car. The premise of Co-op's elsewhere is to focus not on the the higher profit margin but on sustainable operations while getting the members what they want, such as locally produced goods at a reasonable price. The decades old schtik (sp?) about exporting the bad jobs (like sewing) to 3rd world economies doesn't hold water if you've been around Canada. We have a formidible work ethic and plenty of poverty, too.

It would help the debate considerably if the actual purchase $ values for a simple imported item vs local manufacutured cost were displayed along with your overhead costs (try a t-shirt). Examples are always illuminating.

Thanks

John Olley

Pay the people who work in these factories more than just minimum wage. I wonder if they have any benefits.

Let's face it, most of the members of MEC have considerably more disposable income than the average Canadian. What are a few dollars more?

HC

Hi John,

Thanks for your valid comment. I leave it to others to add some thoughts.

HC

Hi Adam,

Thanks for suggestions. Ten years ago, MEC ran a factory just outside Vancouver. It was shut down about 6 years ago.

Running the factory was tough because it requires a certain economies of scale and technical expertise to constantly improve the product. Plus be able to manage a manufacturing facility.

To be honest, I'm not sure if anyone at MEC has the appetite to try again.

It may happen in the future but not right now.

Cheers

David Donaldson

I personally don't shop Mec because it's cheaper,it often isn't.I shop Mec because i usually can get correct info about my purchase re:sleeping bags,down vs. whatever and generally quality and return policy.And a non pressure,friendliness not found often elsewhere.I personally don't mind prices being raised slightly to have Canadian made stuff.Post large signs re: prices a bit higher for made in Canada goods.I bet most would willingly pay more,i personally dont buy made elsewhere unless i have too because of no other choice...

Sylvia

The only reason I have ever shopped at MEC is because MEC is the only place where I can find anything made in Canada. If MEC continues to source elsewhere (such as China), I will stop spending my money there. There is no difference in the resulting environmental implications when MEC sources in Asia, than if any other company did. MEC's representation of ethical sourcing does not mean anything unless it practices the values that it preaches. Another thing I wanted to add was that I am deciding right now what career to pursue, and if sewing clothing at a factory was a fair-waged dependable job, I would consider being a seamstress as either a part time job, or eventually, a career. Sewing is fun and relaxing as long as there is appropriate equiptment, motivation and creative outlet (such as giving the factory workers a chance to try and design some of the clothes they make). I do not think that sewing clothing (a very skilled trade) is something that should be compared to flipping burgers at a fast food joint. If the workers feel they are a part of something they agree with, they will not quit.

HC

Hi Sylvia,

Thanks for your note. I applaud you if you decide to pursue a career as a sewer in a garment factory. Sewing clothes in a factory is much different than making a stylish dress at home or school. Factory sewers are a link in a big assembly line. For 8+ hours a day they sew the same collar on a shirt, over and over. A clock governs the pace. There is no creativty.

As I stated in my post, the work is so tough that sewers are leaving the industry. Factories are having a tough time finding labourers.

Good luck in your search and if working in the above environment makes you happy, more power to you.

Cheers

David in Ottawa

OK so MEC will buy Canadian-made goods?
OK - then when I call to sell Canadian-made, high quality socks with a guarantee of adequately-paid worker, financial depth to carry out major orders, high quality and a further guarantee of on-time delivery and distribution I am guaranteed that MEC will do the right thing and "Buy Canadian"?
MEC will buy real Canadian-made Mohair, Alpaca and wool socks - right?
MEC will take the high road on margins and not substitute inferior Chinese, Indian or Vietnamese-made products to save a buck on already expensive goods?
We deal in India, China and other Asian countries and now have a chance to "Sell Canadian". I hope our socially and politically active friends at MEC see the wisdom in considering Canadian-made goods.

Darren Star

An unbelievably arrogant and snide comment to Sylvia. Maybe she hasn't sat in Indian or Chinese or Bangladesh factories for days on end. Well I have and still do. Sure it is hard, boring work. I made brick and steel for a number of years. That sucked too. And the fact we have sold off all of our manufacturing to the Asians sucks too. I guess we can all be MEC employees or WalMart employees making a third of what a solid manufacturing job pays. And if those sewing ghetto women can't even say "Do you want fries with that" how do you expect these women to do anything else to make a living?

You act like you are "saving" workers from a fate worse than death - hmmm employment, welfare, sex-trade, employment. You decide.

HC

Darren,

Criss-crossed and colourful comments. There are no saviours here. Neither MEC, nor me and not you.

Factory work is tough and it pays poorly. Regrettably, it's often the only economic means for impoverished and poorly educated women.

We can work together to make this reality less harsh but we will not be able to make the fundamental macro economic changes to move women out of occupationational ghettos in Asia or Canada.

It's important to have goods make in Canada. But it's more imporant to not obscure the reality that apparel manufacturing in Canada is an occupational ghetto that is dominated by Asians, who happend to be marginalized in terms of race and gender.

Asian sewers want security and economic means. Increasingly, this means leaving the garment sector for better jobs in Vancouver. And as much as this makes delivery difficult for our supply chain, I say more power to them.

Yes, we've decided.

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