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September 10, 2008

Comments

pb

I saw the lead article in the latest catalog and felt I needed to comment. I specifically seek out products that are not made in china. As mentioned above, certainly not all products are made poorly and many are not made well, however in my experience, the uncertainty of the quality is not worth having expensive equipment break down when I need it most. I have been disappointed with many Chinese made products including clothing and outdoor gear.That is notwithstanding political and ethical issues involving the country.
As a MEC consumer, I will presonally continue to look for products made in other countries.

Karen Lawrence

I agree with your point that just because products are made in China, they are not necessarily bad. In fact, the dispersal of manufacturing jobs around the globe has meant an increase in the standard of living for many people. What concerns me is the unscrupulous owners of some of the manufacturing plants, who will stop at nothing to exploit the huge amount of human capital available in populous countries by not attending to the human rights of the workers. It is a fact that many workers are forced to work extremely long hours, do not get paid a salary commensurate with the value of the product they are producing, have no union representation to look out for their rights and have little opportunity to raise their educational level. Workers are little more than cogs in the machine that produces giant profits for a few individuals. I would like to know what MEC does to close the gap between workers in China and those in Canada. Unless MEC is actively involved in making sure workers are treated fairly, no matter how good the quality of the goods, I think MEC is failing in maintaining its ethical and moral high ground.

Louis Marcotte

I am happy to see interest in debating ethical sourcing at MEC and also about Canadian-made versus Chinese-made products. Please permit me to add these few comments.

Concious consumers will always be concerned by more than the cost of a product. They need to be concerned with durability, comfort, provenance, environment, and ethical considerations. In my humble opinion Chinese-made products are generally of inferior quality. As an example hiking boots you will get from China do not even compare to boots manufactured in Germany, Italy, Austria, or USA for comfort, durability, and selection (widths). But my major concerns about China are ethical. First please let me say that globalization should not mean China only. I believe Canada can compete with any country on earth as long as it is a fair competition. We cannot compete with a country that has no respect for people (salary, young workers, health, social conditions, work conditions, etc.), quality, intellectual property, copyright, and international trade regulations. Let's not forget that some devastating insect pests have been introduced from China because wood packaging material was not treated as is required by international trade. This is just another way to deliver cheaper products but with a lack of respect for the rules that all countries need to follow in a globalized society. Should we do busisess with a country because it will be a better global citizen in 20 years down the road? I do not think so. This logic should be reversed.

I could go on for ever but I will simply conclude that I will always buy first a Canadian made-product (without much consideration for the price), then a product made in a country that adheres to fundamental values (most European, Japan, USA, etc.), and as a last resort a Chinese-made product (because I have no choice at times).

One of the main reasons my spouse and I shop at MEC is because of the numerous Canadian-made products in comparison to other outdoor stores.

I would appreciate a Blog in French.

Thank you.

Kelsey

A couple of points:

1)
Last year I went to China specifically to meet the people who made my flip-flops. The husband and wife I met lived in a small room south of Guangzhou, 1,000 miles from their 13-year old son they hadn't seen since he was 10. They worked about 100 hours a week and often had to clock out and then go back to work. The workers talked about finding another factory to work at because they thought workers were treated better.

My point is that China is a big ol' country and we should be careful not to lump all products and all factories together in terms of quality and in terms of workers rights.


2) Today, so few of us still value quality, especially in our fashions. My wife is always getting on me for wearing "old" clothes. Do we need that jacket to last more than a few seasons? As consumers we've devalued quality and celebrated low prices. To be competitive in today's low-price centered retail market, many companies don't have a choice, but to source abroad.

3)
I commend MEC for listing the country of origin on all of their products online. Like Harvey said, "We all need to follow our convictions." Chances are that those convictions are different for each of us. I think it's great that MEC gives us the information to follow ours.

Davy

As someone born and raised in China myself, and came over to both US and Canada during my high school years, and are now studying in a Canadian university, I am most surprised by the comments I have read so far. I appreciate the level mindedness and fairness. I agree with most of what has been said, in that we should be conscious consumers.

I would just like to post a few replies to the previous posters.

First to Louis:
1. Chinese people have never had a history of hiking. Sure we had the Long March, but people were too busy not dying at the time to make better boots. The majority of China's geographical features are flat. Ergo there was never a need for serious hiking boots. So of course we don't make them as good as the Europeans or other countries with a lot of mountainous regions. My point is that we should also take into the producer's own history and culture into consideration when making comparisons. I would not expect my Canadian friends to make me the perfect Gon Pao Chicken, but as long as they don't burn it, I consider it a job well done. Having said that, I try not to ask my Canadian friends to make me Gon Pao chicken.

2. "I believe Canada can compete with any country on earth as long as it is a fair competition."
I agree. If it were fair competition, the early European settlers to North America would have waited until the Natives had developed guns and cannons then try to take over their land. Japan would have waited until China can build warships and fighter jets before invading China and massacring everything in their path. Early slave traders would have quit their jobs all together because it is not fair to enslave others less advanced than you, nor right. Robbers would give banks advanced notice because it would be fair. Microsoft would give everybody their secrets because it is not fair for the little startups to compete against such a massive company with so much experience. Everything you believe in hinges on one thing: fairness. And unfortunately, they are in a bit short supply in the world right now. In fact, there never was much of it to begin with. Can we put fairness on the endangered species list?

Second to the whomever posted to first post concerning riding a plane made entirely in China: I agree, if I found out that the round trip flight from Canada to China was a plane made entirely in China, I would immediately ask them to switch my plane. But give China a decade or two, I am sure we can make some pretty good planes by then. I would also like to think that our cars are quite good. Ok, so we didn't have as many years as the Americans had at making cars, but how many taxis can you claim to have survived a head on collision against a bus? To be fair, the driver of the taxi did not survive. But his car lived!

Thank you all,
I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. (Yes I know it is a week early, but I will be hiking next weekend with the gear I bought at MEC.)

Davy

Russell

Dear Harvey

With the loss of manufacturing jobs here in Canada, I was dismayed to read that MEC buy's 4% more products from China than from Canadian sources.
MEC members are use to paying a little bit more for the fine quality products that you offer. As consumers and customers we are making more educated choices in the products we buy. The distant the product has traveled, from the place of manufacture to the place of purchase.
Ed Burtinsky film "Manufactured Landscapes" gives a glimps of the impact of mega-manufacturing and the mega-waste that is produced. As concerned humans we do our best to minimize the impact of our consumerism.
The MEC store in Toronto sits in the heart of the soft goods manufacture industry. An industry that is quite capable of producing goods of equal and superior quality to over sea items. Canada has labour protection laws and a higher minimum wage, all of which goes into the cost of the product. Surely the reduced tranportation cost and the reduced Carbon emissions from point of manufacture to point of purchase is incentive enough to buy local. I relise that I am looking at the small local picture of my home store in Toronto but you can sew a hat together in Halifax or Winnipeg just as easly as in China.
I have been a MEC member since the early 1980's and watched the organisation grow and flurish.
MEC should continue to buy it's products form a multitude of sources but I would like to see the 'Made in Canada,Fabrique au Canada' sticker as the highest persentage of products on your shelfs not the second highest as the artical in the MEC Catalog reads.
Regards.

Russell

PS $365 for a Petzl flashlight is a bit excessive even if it is made in France.

Harvey Chan

Dear Russell,

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. MEC ought to determine if shipping goods from Asia outweighs the monetary and environmental benefits of having goods made locally. Frankly, this is at a very early stage of discussion at MEC.

Your comment about the $365 Petzl flashlights just about captures the irony of wanting goods made in the developed world - we want locally made goods and we want it affordable. Minimum wage in the developing world hovers at 50-70 cents per hour. Factor in low taxes, low environmental requirements and a general low value attached to human life and you have an ideal place to make goods cheaply. The $365 Petzl light is too much for my tastes but when you consider France is a generous "welfare" state with lots and lots of taxes we can understand why manufactured goods are so darn expensive when it is made in France or any other developed country.

Once again thanks for the thoughts.

HC

Don

Well, I've been doing alot of thinking about this ethics and China conundrum and I've come to these conclusions. I will go out of my way to purchase products made anywhere else other than China.

Why? Because they are on the worst list for violations of human rights, look at the recent melamine outrages in food preparation and products, the "Olympic" fiascos, Tibet and now the fur industry.

I didn't know that China is one of the largest producer of fur in the world The way the furs are harvested is inhuman and Peta should get involved.

I am not against the everyday Chinese who are just trying to make a living as are we all. I am against the "Captains and the Kings" of industry and government.

They will seemingly do anything to get their product made, built or produced, no matter the cost. Tainted food killed off large numbers of commercial fur animals as well as the domestic pet industry.

If you're simply trying to provide a reasonably well made product as cheaply as possible, I don't have a problem with that.

Just don't get hot over ethical practises in factories when there's so many more abuses of rights both human and animal that are being committed.

DH

murray

I live in Winnipeg, where a soft goods industry once thrived and still does to a small degree.
I was very dismayed to read a catalogue insert about MEC's bringing in more goods made in China. And that it is in part because the Chinese manufacturers supposedly have high tech fabrics and manufacturing capabilities available.
I'm sure that many Canadian manufacturers and designers could find the fabrics and develop the techniques in short order to fill MEC's orders. I would also hazard that a large number of MEC members would pay a premium to see that same product with a "Made in Canada" label on it.

Harvey Chan

Hi Murray,

Thanks for your thoughts. About a 1/3 of our MEC stuff still comes from Canada. In fact we are the biggest customer to a factory in your town. It's run by a bright go getter named Chuck. They make solid stuff.

There's a whole section on sourcing from China on MEC.ca so I won't repeat the discusion here.

I do see your valid views. The economic reality of the industry, consumers and retailing in general doesn't encourage local manufacturing.

Thanks.

Bill

The main problems that I have with sourcing abroad have nothing to do with human rights or product quality (although I do share these secondary concerns and think that they need to be monitored and addressed when issues arise - as they do at home).

My main concerns are:
1. lack of environmental controls in the countries of origin (and at home)
2. exogenous/hidden cost to the environment of shipping goods (energy waste and green house gas release)

For me, purchasing ethically means recognizing that the long-term permanent effects of our civilizations' economic design has broader impacts that include impacts on people and rejecting or compensating for these model flaws wherever possible.

HC

Hi Bill,

Yes, the true environmental costs of manufacturing are typically not amortized into the price of the good. But frankly its not just manufacturing, its consumerism and how humans live their lives. The true environmental costs of consumerism and the Western abundant life style is not calculated in how we spend our money or conduct our lives. The polar caps are melting becuase of industry, passenger cars, jets, Alberta tar pits, watermelons in the winter and etc.,

There's hope and I think you've touched on some aspects of it.

Thanks
Thanks

James Calpas

My two-bits. I am Canadian and truly, I do look for "Made in Canada". I'm not often successful in finding that Canadian label and I have foregone purchasing in order to avoid the China label. I am willing and have paid a premium for Canadian products, some of which are low tech fabric substitutes. I recognize that we are in a global economy and I choose to spend my locally earned Canadian dollars in Canada, on Canadian products.

HC

Hi James,

Thanks for your valid position. I understand where you're coming from.

Personally, the more I interact with people from other parts of the world, the less important nationalism becomes. Over the years I've gotten to know many factory managers who are very similiar to average middle class Canadians. They are often expats from Taiwain, HK or S Korea. They have kids in university. They work in foreign countries. They worry about the same things Canadians do.

Factory workers on the other hand tend be from poor socioeconomic brackets. They have limited educations, often come from rural areas where their family lives on a few US dollars a day. It would be a stretch for their future kids to go to college and the bulk of them will unlikely ever fly in a plane or travel as a tourist outside their country. Nonetheless, they share many of the same aspirations and hope that we do.

I share your "two-bits" and they're certainly not wrong. They're right.

Cheers

Nick P

Harvey, The "Made in China" label is etched in people's mind and associated with the poor quality products they are forced to buy at Canadian Tire or Walmart because there is simply no alternative.

I think it'll be hard to change that.

I also belive that stores like MEC are there for a reason, and that is to give those who seek quality products a chance.

Personally I can't imagine people working 100 hours a week or being asked to manufacture a product on a quick turnaround making quality products therefore I will continue to search the shelvs and pay the premium price for products that are made in the free world.

MIke Aronson

"Why can't you source more from Canada?"

I am sorry but I cannot accept your reponse to not being able to source skilled labour or that you are too small to support manufacturing in Canada. Management at MEC needs to change and hire the capable people (and there are plenty in this country) that can make it happen. MEC has for too long become comfortable in staying the course.

Let's see some "real" leadership and show this country that you are a serious "Canadian" company.

HC

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the serious option. Here's something to consider.

The hyrdofoil jacket was made in Canada. We improved the technology and consttruction and the price went up by almost 50%. Sales for this item dropped by 70%. A made in Canada technical product requiring skills and higher end textiles.

About a year ago we surveyed both members and Canadians to see if they would be pay more for ethically made goods. The overwhelming response was yes but only 10% more.

Over 1/3 of our products are made in Canada. The balances comes from 54 countries.

For all the reasons noted in several of my blogs, making it Canada is tough from a financial perspective.

Consumers don't want to pay a lot more. And until they do, our economy will continue to globalize in its effort to drive down costs.

Thanks

xxx

You mention you would not fly in a Chinese aircraft. What do you think about mission-critical, life-safety equipment being manufactured in China? Black Diamond now makes most of their climbing equipment in China. Laptops, cell phones, gore-tex shells and toys are one thing, but life-safety equipment - no thanks. I'll stick to European or North American manufactured climbing products. BD has gone the way of The North Face: all fashion no passion. Profit, profit, profit.

HC

Thanks for your comments.

I can't comment on BD's product quality. I've been to their Chinese factory and it's pretty state of the art.

Everyone has to use his judgement about where they want their products made. We need to be discerning consumers like you with your gear preferences.

Every business (including MEC) is under pressure to make money. The big difference with MEC is that its goal is not maximizing profit but covering costs plus a few percentage points to support community causes. Nonetheless, we operate under the same laws of supply and demand that for profit companies follow. In other words, we all need to profit.

Profits are directly tied to consumer demand. Consumers are extremely price sensitive. This sensitivity and the need to profit drive/motivate companies to go overseas for lower cost goods. Except for a few niche players, 99% of brands source from overseas. If they didn't, they would have a minute customer base and zero to negative profits.

You're right. It's about profit. Profit for the business and profit (cost savings) for the shopper.

Thanks for your thoughts. They're true.

Nic DB

Hi Folks

Whilst I agree with the environmental and social responibility comment son why we should avoid buying Chinese goods I have a different persepective I wish to add.
We need to see the bigger picture picture here, one that is not new or unprecedented. Retailers get convinced that price is everything, they outsource to get lower cost goods, Canadian jobs and manufacturing capacity is eroded, eventually the skills and the infrastructure are lost and the country becomes a net importer as it can no longer make anything. Unemployment remains high and the tax base is eroded. The country is sidelined as it has to bow down to those contries that do have manufacturing capacity and skilled workers.
All because folk wont fork out the extra C$20 for a pair of pants! Sorry but I dont buy the arguments that selling Canadian made items wont work, if sales go down for a while its just an 'adjustment period' as folks get used to being responsible citizens and actively supporting their country. I only wear Canadian made clothes, every day at work I can proudly say that every item I have on is made in Canada. This has not been easy to achieve I actually had to put some effort into locating stores that could provide me with what I wanted rather than just accept what I was presented with. As a member I do still shop at MEC, but I will only purchase Canadian made goods thus, year by year my financial contribution is reducing as the selection of Canadian made goods diminishes. I cant help but wonder what will happen 5 years from now, will I have to stop shopping there altogether, or will I have the opportunity to put more $s their way, I hope the latter will be the case.
Consumers have to realise that we are the most powerful group on Earth. We can make a difference by consuming responsibly and we must take ownership of our communities, our democracy and our country by supporting our national interest. Retailers like MEC need to make a stand and provide a vehicle for consumers to achieve this, and to provide appropriate consumer education. Once the clothing industry gets a lift from a 'Buy Canadian' campaign we will need to get to work on all the other industries we have let slide.

HC

Dear Nic,

I get your point. Consumers can and need to make a difference. But regrettably, we don't on many key issues.

Many consumers say they are willing to spend a few bucks more for made in Canada stuff. But what Canadian's intend don't translate to the purchasing habits.

For example: We conducted a survey in 2007 to determine how much more Canadians would pay for ethically made goods. The respondents said 10% more. Intent as we found doesn't translate to purchases. Second, we rebuilt a cycling jacklet recently using better frabric and more technical in design. Price went up 50% (made in Canada), demand dropped immediately by 75%.

Consumers have an intent to buy Canadian but it often doesn't translate to buying Canadian. In fact consumers are way more focused on getting the best price as opposed to finding out where it was made.

In terms of manufacturing, Canada needs to focus on high valued added industries like the Blackberry and not 50 dollar sweaters. Simply because the people who work in factories are Asian immigrant women who make about $8 bucks an hour - and even they are looking elsewhere for work. We need high paying and high skill jobs. I betcha a lot of these Asian immigrant women would be willing to work on assembly lines making PDA's for a salary of $50-70,000. But then it won't just be this ethnic group. It'll be men of women of every shade.

Thanks

Dentists Daytona Beach

After the controversies about Chinese food products (like the milk and other candies), it makes you wonder that it is an alarming health issue. Though, I agree that some other products that was made their are great. It is a challenge for our government to really check on the products that comes to our country (especially if its a food product) are safe for consumers to eat. We should be really careful on the food that we eat.

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