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August 24, 2008

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gao

fantasies. someone produces one or two politically correct/encouraged blunders and petty bloggers think they are saving the world. The membership talk is crap that without one fifth of humans your community is what? or does China actually needs YOU to recognise? Pal, have no idea what respect is and even less about what self-establishment means.

btw, if some of authors' names mean anything, political zombies are always pathetic, and forgotten by both sides.

Paul Levendusky

My personal buying habits include label reading and avoiding anything made in China. ( A dauniting taste- but ethical for me!) I do this for dress clothes, shoes, foods, electrical equipment, etc. As it is impossible to own nothing with a made in China label, I do feel it an ethical obligation non the less for me. One may offer many reasons to support China trade and manufacturing and the realpolitik to do so, but I resist on the following grounds. I lived a short time in PRC and step outside of being politicaly correct but regard the country as a repressive police state. The government and its perceived power to provide prosperity and to control disorder and chaos holds great sway over the people and the development of the country. Hence, working conditions, the use of prisoner labour, lack of and real enviromental practices can be present and very difficult to monitor by outsiders (e.g. leaded paints, radiator coolants in pet foods and tooth paste). There is no reason to believe that local government reassurances or investigations will provide trustworthy answers. Next on our import list is fresh foods grown in China. Would you honestly trust that this food is outlawed-pesticide free, let alone that it hadn't been grown next to a toxic river or waste dump. Traditional Chinese herbs ( in the prepared form) are strictly controlled and tested before sale in NA. Will this be done for food? But I digress. The point is that little controls are in place for the guarantee of good manufacturing practices and ethical treatment of workers in PRC. I will continue to buy at MEC but screening out your China products. Any extra cost for goods made elsewhere is my contribution to not supporting a repressive social system. Paul L.

JEFF, TORONTO

I've read the comments some of these MEC members have on China. They are so misguided, its unbelievable.

Read what MEC wrote, I know it won't change those extremist minds, but It's so true.

China is the #2, pollutor of Earth, the first is USA.

Canadians' carbon footprint per person is 5 times greater than that of a Chinese.

So, correct me if I am wrong, some of these Chinese-haters, will buy from American's who bomb women and children and are the number 1 polluter of this Earth? But will go thru great lengths not to buy Chinese.

Do I smell hypocrite? OR do they simply hate Chinese, just like the Germans hated and blamed the Jews for everything?

Think people, think.

Phil

I attended the ethical trade forum in Vancouver recently and was impressed by the leadership taken by NIKE in terms of its openness and transparency. NIKE lists its suppliers, doesn't just give them a number, but list the actual names of their contractors, subcontractors and factory names where its products are made.

I would suggest MEC do the same.

Speaking with Doug Miller, International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation, before the forum I asked him if there was a better way to ensure goods are being manufactured without using the audit and verification system. Some small suppliers find the audit and verification system onerous because they are being subjected to multiple audits from a variety of clients with different policies. Also, in many cases coerced workers are afraid to tell the auditors what the real conditions are like.

A BBC documentary was able to show that even manufacturers who have been subjected to multiple audits were found to be hiring children, not paying overtime, not providing breaks and paying non-livable wages. Manufacturers are aware of when audits are going to take place and dress up their facilities and threaten workers so auditors see a very different picture that the one the workers are subjected to on a daily basis.

Miller finally said the only way to verify and ensure workers are being treated fairly and that their workplace is safe is for the clients to control production by owning the facilities.

When one reads what MEC claims to do to ensure ethical purchasing one has to wonder if it wouldn't be in MEC's best interest to invest in a manufacturing facility with other sportswear and goods companies. I am sure Patagonia and Merrill, to name a few other companies, are big enough to swing such an initiative.

Rather than seeing numerous violations of MEC's ethical purchasing policy by its suppliers not only in China but in Canada too, by owning the manufacturing facility MEC would be accountable for any violations and not the contractors it currently uses to supply its goods.

Some of these violators of MEC's ethical purchasing policy are ones MEC has been purchasing from for 17 years. The argument that a longer relationship with a supplier can effect change is not valid. One of the oldest Chinese supplier is one that has the most violations.

MEC has committed itself to more outsourcing claiming lack of suppliers in N. America. It also notes that its attempt to reduce its carbon footprint has not been successful due to the increase in consumption by its members. I would imagine that the new reality of fuel costs will increase the cost of the goods it currently outsources.

While NIKE is making changes to reduce its supply chain, reduce the distances from manufacturer to consumer, MEC appears to be committed to a policy of increasing its carbon footprint.

There are alternatives. Invest in manufacturing facilities and reduce your supply chain distances. I would gratefully give up any dividends for 10 years to make these initiatives a reality for MEC.

HC

Hi Phil,

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

MEC will be disclosing its vendor base in late Oct.

MEC at one time ran its own factory, Serratus. It was shut down 5 years ago simply because MEC was in a painful financial trajectory if it didn't reorganize itself. Hence, I seriously doubt anyone Board member or manager at MEC would at this time seriously contemplate owning and operating a domestic factory.

Running a factory is extremely difficult. It's involves a passion, finances and a skill set that is complex and comparable to retailing. Not to be polemic but why don't the Unions own and operate factories? After all, given their intimacy with workers and huge financial reserves, they can control every aspect of production and demonstrate to the world how it's done.

The issue of carbon emissions is serious. Going off-shore and shipping goods everywhere is problematic. Making stuff in Canada to reduce the consequences of shipping is a great suggestion. This is something that needs to be considered. And it will when the cost of fuel outweigh the higher labour costs in Canada. As much as I don't like it, macroeconomics is often the faster impetus for change.

Thanks again for the great suggestions.

HC

Benoit

I mainly buy gear for bike tourring. My question is: Why doesn't MEC carry the Arkel and Ortlieb brand. Both are very good quality, not made in china and yes, more expensive. Like many people, I am willing to pay more for gear that is not made in china.

Gerald

I just want to comment that I am a long time MEC member and when I shop at MEC and all other retailers, I refuse to purchase products made in China. For several years I have gotten into the habit of always checking for the "Made in Where" label and it really bothers me how much of the Canadian manufacturing industry we have lost to China and not just to other developing nation's.
My protest does not go to the individual Chinese person, but to their government and also to the greedy Western Corporations that set up shop there and then fleece us.
My big outdoor passions are cycling and hiking. I just have to look at two big Canadian companies with a world wide presence that are now having the bulk of their manufacturing done in China and Asia and then not passing the savings on to us Canadians. These two BC sourced companies happen to be Rocky Mountain and Arc'teryx.
I have mentioned to MEC representatives my out take on Chinese made goods and have also mentioned that MEC has too much selection and product line. Not only when you wanter the pages of your catalog or the aisles in your store's, it just makes me wonder why you have to have so much selection.There is just so much product overlap. Why can't you have all of your clothing be limited to the MEC brand name and then have it all made in Canada and you could then boast that MEC clothing is all made in Canada. I am quite sure a lot of membership would really appreciate knowing that this Canadian retailer supports Canadian jobs.
When I peer through the catalog I really wonder why you cannot have a Canadian Manufacture produce tents, backpacks, sleeping bags and I know I can forget about hiking boots, but I can still purchase boots made in Europe, along with my cycling shoes, camp stoves, and knives etc.
It all comes down to the question, when everything you wish to purchase ends up being manufactured in China, then why shop at MEC? or any other outdoor retailer, because there will be no need for brand loyalty. You might as well then just shop around at the Wallmarts and Crappy Tires and Winners, because chances are it will all come out of the same factory.

Dale

I have been greatly disappointed with MEC's decision to increasinging source their products from outside of Canada.

I have two young children and had increasingly looked to MEC for well made outerware, most of which was made in Canada. Many of the incoming 2008/2009 products are replacing made in Canada for made in China, for example the Toaster 2 with the Toaster 3 Parka. I am prepared to pay a premium for Canadian sourced products that from past MEC experience, are exceptionally durable, comfortable, and functional. I am not prepared to pay a premium for foreign sourced products that I find to typically be of inferior quality.

This strategy will hurt MEC's image in the long term. If people want cheaper product, they will shop at Wal-Mart.

Sylvia Winter

In your article "Why China" you say "manufacturing capacity in Canada is declining". So, then, instead of rallying to support our manufacturing sector and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that this industry provided for Canadians, your buyers choose to purchase items instead, from China. By this reasoning, consumers in Canada should stop buying from MEC and only shop at WalMart.

You are a Canadian company - your ethical sourcing (by the way, I dislike that term - just say buying or purchasing) should be to support Canadian companies as much as possible. Looking at your catalogue, it is plain to see that Canadian manufacturers are competitive with other countries in regard to price, probably better in regard to quality and certainly much better in regard to working conditions.

In order for Canadians to keep having a decent standard of living , we have to stop sending all our raw materials to other countries and then have manufactured goods of all kinds come back here. So many of our resource based industries are in deep trouble as well as our manufacturing industries. Why don't you focus on the hundreds of thousands of workers in Canada who have lost their jobs in the garment industry, the auto industry and the forest industry, etc. If these people don't have well paying jobs, stores like MEC will no longer exist and your employees will not have jobs either.

Susana

I do not buy products made in China, period.

Julia

I am sorry that this is the 'BEST' that MEC can do, but why should anyone truly think that MEC has higher standards than other companies.It's all about the dollar it seems.Convince the buyers that we are doing the 'right' thing by supporting your overseas, sweatshop factories; and make your stockholder's happy with another share price increase, right?

Taylor

Like other posters here, I am disappointed with the extent to which MEC is outsourcing to China. To me, the combination of China's human rights issues, the carbon footprint of transporting product and the decline in product quality far outweigh the cost savings realized by outsourcing.

The state of the planet demands that we change the way we consume. We need MEC's commitments to the environment to outweigh its commitment to providing "affordable" (read "cheap") gear.

Like other visitors to this blog, I am willing to pay more for high-quality gear not made in China. At the very least, MEC should develop a policy that it will offer a North American product alternative in every product category, even if it is more expensive.

Murray Bookchin wrote that "The assumption that what currently exists must necessarily exist is the acid that corrodes all visionary thinking." Perhaps it's unrealistic, but I expect Mountain Equipment Co-op to be a visionary organization.

HC

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the comments. They're similiar to the many emails we get about China.

Many of the points raised in the comments have been addressed in length throughout this blog. I won't repeat them here. However, I would like to make a few comments.

#1 MEC is not a publically traded company. It's a co-op. We do not issue shares that are traded in the market.

#2 China has a lot of serious problems. But no credible international organization (United Nations, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Red Cross, Canadian government, WWF, OECD) is calling for a boycott of over 1/4 of the worlds humanity. To solve the huge problems in our world (climate change and social malaise), we must engage our neighbour.

#3 Not re-opening a factory in Canada is not defeatist Homerism. If you're on the path to insolvency, you take hard decisions and do what you do best. That is be a retailer. Three of our Canadian factories closed on us this year. Two were run by Asians who basically had enough. The tight margins, long hours and declining demand have taken their toll.

#4 Thanks for the commitment to pay more for Canadian goods. Our surveys with Members and the general population indicate that respondents are willing to pay more (about 10%) for goods ethically made. We need to build on this.

On the flip side, what people say in a survey is often not what happens at the cash register. We've seen demand drop dramatically on products when prices move higher.

Once again, thanks for the valid comments.

Cheers

Jennifer Green

To: MEC
Re: "Why China" article
Ethical Sourcing and MEC


I was very angry to read about MEC's decision to buy more of it's products from manufacturers in China, as stated in your Fall + Winter '08 catalogue, and to try to justify doing so.
My husband and I are MEC members and travel to one of your locations several times a year to buy clothing and outdoor gear for ourselves and other family members, not only because of it's good quality, but mainly because we find that it was usually made in Canada. In most instances we will go without rather then buy a product manufactured in China for several reasons. First of all, I like having a job. Does anyone consider loosing their job to a company in China when they are buying clothing, food, appliances, vehicles, household goods, etc? If we lose our jobs as a result of outsourcing to China, we won't be able to buy anything, let alone more products made in China. Secondly, what about the impact on our environment? China is one of OUR planets largest polluters due in large part to the manufacturing sector. Do we want to support an environmentally irresponsible country? Not to mention the extra and unnecessary pollution that stems from shipping China's "cheaper" products half way around the world. Lately especially I have noticed a big push to buy locally grown produce for both of those reasons, why can't we make the same correlation to the clothes we wear or the products we use. And what happens when the price of oil does go up to $200.00, $300.00 or $400.00 a barrel? Then we will no longer have our own manufacturers to buy from because we stopped supporting them in the first place and we won't be able to afford to ship products from China either.
Ethical Sourcing? What about environmentally friendly sourcing, or supporting our own country sourcing? MEC has not been"single handedly support(ing) an entire manufacturing sector"-quote from above mentioned MEC article titled "Why China?" up until now and certainly will not continue to be either unless we all stop caring where our goods originate. Plus working conditions in China are NOT improving as we all should have learned from the whole Kathy Lee Gifford feasco. These factories clean up their act for the scheduled inspections where workers are forced to lie about their pay, breaks, long hours, and general treatment and then all of the human rights violations continue on after the inspectors have left. There are still 14 and 15 year old girls working 14 to 18 hour days, making $0.06/hour manufacturing jeans for Walmart, for example, as we speak. (Source: t.v.o. special documentary titled"Blue China"). So if for no other reason then the one stated in your very artilce"Why China", it is NOT ethically responsible to buy more products from China either!
If MEC does not see fit to support Canada, then why should Canadians support MEC? We might as well shop at the local Walmart as they are building one around the corner from our home right this moment. We could save ourselves the drive to one of your locations as Walmart has lots of "economical" products from China already!

Yours truly, Jennifer Green, Watford, Ontario

Taylor

HC, your comments about the difficulties of running a Canadian factory are well-founded. However, the status quo is not good and things need to change. Just read the many posts here. Not many voices of support for the direction the co-op is headed vis-a-vis outsourcing to China.

MEC can either lead that change or wait for some other part of society to hold the door for them. I would rather see the former. We should be experimenting, conducting pilot projects, funding Canadian entrepreneurs, and taking financial risks to do so. Last time I checked MEC was expanding. I would rather it checked its growth and focused on finding ways to remain true to its founding values.

I used to buy MEC because I believed in what the co-op stood for: quality gear, Made in Canada, and environmental sustainability. However, one thing that has never sat too well with me is the impact MEC has had on small town gear stores -- stores run by committed, community-minded folks trying to make a living doing what they love. A dollar spent here does far more for my local economy than a dollar spent at MEC. So, if we're heading to a place where we have no options except made in China crap, I'll opt to buy my crap at the local shop, knowing that those dollars are going to come back around to me in some way, and that my community is going to stay strong.

As a side note, I just checked the catalogue and there is no obvious way to find out where a product is made, which seems odd given all the concerns members have expressed. There is a footnote in the bottom corner of each section, but it's not specific to each product. For instance, "MEC sunglasses are made in France, Taiwan and China." Ok, I'd like to buy the French ones. Which ones are they? I appreciate the spirit of transparency represented by this blog, but I find the lack of product labeling somewhat inconsistent with this.

Julia

Well that's true this is a cooperatively owned company, I forgot about that.
Why not ask us members to put in some hours at a clothing plant here in Canada..in return , we can collect'MEC' money instead of real money.Money we can use towards gear.Pay the same amount of 'MEC" money to your members as you would in dollars towards your regular staff;except this money can only be spent at MEC.
SO that all the money made goes back into the store?Cut back on employment and production cost, and it keeps everything local.Make it an environmentally responsible green building, and consequently , humanitarianly responsible.

And while MEC is working on other solutions, why not allow MEC members to view LIVE, through a series of hidden webcams this factory production of clothes in China?(And no editing or tamperinng with the recording).I would truly believe that the factory is ethical if they could do this..but somehow I still doubt the factory would be environmentally responsible..Can't I care about that even though the production is overseas?

HC

Hi Taylor,

Thanks for your thoughts.

Every product by Canadian law must specify where it is manufactured. It's on the packaging or label.

There's one point in your comment (and in several other's) I fully agree and that is MEC should consider breaking new ground, following it's own path, demonstrating to the world there's a different approach than the current economic models. However, such a path must include other countries including China.

When I studied policy sci in the 80's the big thinking back then was the gutting of the Canadian economy by international trade and foreign ownership. I use to believe this but no more. At the end of the day we're all humans living in a planet that is about to bust apart and with about 2 billion people living in abject poverty.

Climate change and billions of people who don't have access to jobs, education and health care are in my mind much more important than borders and national flags.

To change this depressing misery, let's offer our hand rather than the back of our hand.

I don't know exactly how many members agree with the anti-China sentiment. However, I do know that our sales are growing each year. They're growing in part because of good gear at a good price based on an agreeable philosophy towards the environment and China.

If the majority of members felt otherwise, we would be seeing a decline in sales. We're not (at least yet).

HC

Hi Julia,

Thanks for you suggestions. Maybe MEC can do something like trading labour for product. That's a good idea to consider.

We can't install cameras into our overseas factories because these businesses are private enterprises. What right does MEC have to stealthly broadcast over the internet the operations of another party? As a condition of doing business with MEC, we demand our factories to participate in audits and to make improvements. However, beyond this, we can't disclose the dirty details of each factory with their names and addresses. This contravenes every libel, confidentiality and privacy law in the world. If it were not for this, your suggestion would be great.

Scott

Basically every thing Jennifer Green, Watford, Ontario said I agree with. I became a member in the late 80s because MEC had so much Canadian made stuff, I used to make people shop at MEC... now I might as well just buy Nike products. I don't expect Everything to be made in Canada (that's unrealistic), but come on!

HC

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your comments. For some members and Canadians, it's important to have goods manufactured in Canada. As this is a sign of economic strength, nationalism and etc. For some others that's no longer the priority. The priority is ensuring Canada's economy is strong by being a global competitor or by being nationalistic by embracing the broader world.

Cheers

Scott

"The priority is ensuring Canada's economy is strong by being a global competitor.. " I think you mean Global Consumer. I really believe that "Ethical Sourcing" is just another buzz word designed to give the consumers a warm fuzz feeling that all is right in Whoville. I admire MEC for other things it has done for environmental causes, but I am disappointed in this new mandate or whatever you want to call it. From now on I shall call MEC by a new name: MIC (Made in China) The good news I guess is that I should be able to find the cheap nock offs down on Spadina. I'd better go get my last MEC jacket before the new MIC logo gets plastered on it.

HC

Hi Scott,

Actually, all is not fine in Whoville. Manufacturing is harsh no matter where it occurs. Making goods in Canada so that a "Made in Canada" label can be attached to it may make many Canadians feel good but it doesn't nothing to address the reality that most garment jobs in Canada are held by Asian immigrant women. This occupational ghetto is characterized by poor pay, repetitive work and little to none socio-economic mobility.

Canada holds dearly the ideal of equality. But beneath this principle is a real ugliness. My parents are Asian immigrants who held menial jobs all their lives. Jobs that few Canadians of non-colour would hold.

At the heart of ethical sourcing is the principle of universal equality. Made in Canada is great for economic and nationalistic reasons. But Made in Canada without a serious consideration for occupational ghettos and inequality based on race and gender is shortsighted.

Take a look at this Made in Canada As Long As I Don't Have to Make it at http://blog.mec.ca/2008/02/its-ironic-we-w.html

Trudy Shore

I think that MEC has gone too far. I would like to see at least one Made in Canada/USA option for each major item group. I think that will also give you a better idea what members are willing to pay. The last two things I looked on MEC.ca for were a shell and sleeping bag for my 9 year-old. I didn't buy either because I don't want Made in China. Mind you, I'm still looking. I would MUCH rather not have to look elsewhere.

H. Marie Veerman

Hi HC,

First, a thank you to you and all those who are contributing to this thoughtful debate from someone who is trying to decide on this problem for herself. From reading the blogs and comments, I think I understand that to be economically viable, MEC is going to China to have products made. Domestic production appears to be tricky and fraught with the same issues that make all of the commentators uncomfortable with buying made in China products. In particular, key shared issues include factory working conditions, and socio-economic status of workers. There are other issues individual to China, including the questionable ethics of its government.

I understand the complex economic environment and the attractiveness of manufacturing in China. What I don't understand, HC, is the lack of balance. Why can't you achieve both? Why can't you have products from China and Canada? LuLuLemon appears to be doing this. Lee Valley searches the globe for the best possible products..not just one country. You've explained the complex economics of the US economy, their Chinese debt holders (although I wonder how a country can be so "poor" yet own a "rich" country's debt...) Balance out the economic equation. One of your main concerns about producing domestically is that you feel people won't pay a higher price for these products. I don't buy this (no pun intended). You run a high-end outdoor gear store that sells to a highly middle class market with disposable income. We are already paying a high price for the goretex and fleece we sport on weekend outings. And to convince us of the value of a domestic product, you just need the right marketing and promotion. Make the product local, better, organic, fair-trade, and dollars to donuts we'll buy it. Then you'll be able to better position MEC and keep your core values and customer base intact.

As a bare minimum you should be doing unannounced spot checks on your Chinese factories. Make that a condition of doing business. If they refuse, I'm sorry HC, you seem like a reasonable person but you really must question why, and question why you are doing business with them. That is the only way to ensure adequate treatment of workers in a country with too many people to feed and house. And that will go a long way to reassuring your worried customers.

Regards.

HC

Hi Marie,

Thanks for the thoughtful and valid comments.

There are three points I would like to add to your thoughts.

1. Just over 1/3 of our MEC branded goods are made in Canada. Another 1/3 is made in China. And the rest from 5 other countries.

2. We audit our factories on a regular cycle. We have spot checks that involve our QA teams. A NGO randomly audits a small percentage of our factories to ensure our factories and our ethical sourcing program are consistent with industry standards.

3. Our retailing experience shows that the average member will only tolerate so much of a price increase. We've seen demand for products drop significantly when price rises. This doesn't mean consumer's won't pay more for a "sustainable" product. It does suggest that their are price tolerances.

I don't doubt your commitment to align your bank account to your convictions. Our retail experience indicates that the majority of our members are willing to pay a little more but not that much more. Regrettably, to get many of the workers in the developing world to a standard of living equal of ours, we consumers will have to pay a heck of a lot more.

I enjoyed your comments.

cheers

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