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May 13, 2009

Comments

MJ

I'd like to know if there are ways that members and frontline MEC staff members can become more actively involved in this process through the co-op. Are there brainstorming groups in place at the community level? Is this something that we could begin? As a staff member in the Burlington MEC, I would like to become much more actively involved in these types of issues.
Thanks for keeping us all informed!

Mr. Fberry

Your contract suppliers are not an issue with me since I boycott all products made in Asian Communist countries ever since you introduced them years ago at MEC. Your board may try to sugarcoat this issue as much as you want but the issue remains. Buy locally, buy ethically and support your neighbor.

Nice to see a picture of Canada's president in the blog. Wouldn't your President Ignatieff be more appropriate?

Member and cooperative shareholder since 1987.

HC

Hi Mr. Fberry,

Thanks for your comments. MEC for sure has evolved from the day it started selling goods in the back of a car to the national presence it has now. In ten years, it will change even further. And these changes will be controversial.

Blogging politics on a retailer's ethical sourcing blog is a sure route to a headache. President Obama has a few ideals that transcend borders. One of these is the urgency of global warming that is melting the Canadian Arctic, killing BC's pine forests and etc., He is attempting to foster a monumental paradigm shift in how industry, consumers and politics view climate change. This is hopeful given the pace at which our natural environment is declining.

Regrettably, our Tory President and his oppossing Liberal "wanna-be" President don't even come close to articulating a vision to tackle this pressing issue. I want a Canadian Arctic for my 5 year old. As do many Canadians for their offspring. And anyone including an American president who can deliver/save this Canadian treasure has my vote.

bdsmiley

how green we are scourcing our products from third world cheap labour countrys with few or eny enviormental and labour laws where the employees cannot afford the products they produce if ever they had the time to use them, shame on us

Christoph

"I want a Canadian Arctic for my 5 year old."

I assume, therefore, you support a robust, lethal Canadian military able to project power by land, sea (nuclear submarines being ideal in this environment), and by air, not to mention across space and the information sphere?

To that end, physical fitness -- and a culture of educated outdoorspeople -- is essential. It's been an enormous part of the Canadian identity, and our strategic capability, since the beginning.

Cheers,

Christoph
Member since who knows when... years, anyhow.

"President Obama has a few ideals that transcend borders. One of these is the urgency of global warming that is melting the Canadian Arctic..."

Ugh. Talk to me about that in 10 years. By then, you'll have moved on the the next big political environmental scare.

But darn. We do share a love of trees and wilderness.

I don't mean to make light of your efforts to ensure the producers of MEC's products are properly compensated, treated fairly, and work in a safe environment.

But you hardly limited yourself to that....

Marcella

Hi, I am very happy to see that MEC has an honest and realistic approach to the issues around working conditions in garment factories. These issues are though and pretending that they are not is nonsense. In my view garments (non-perishable, relatively low tech to produce and requiring lower financial investments to get started than other products) are a perfect product to be produced in so called 'developing' countries. One issue remains a bit difficult however, China by law does not allow workers to organize freely in unions of their choice while the right to organize is fundamental if we want workers to be empowered to change their own situation. How does MEC deal with this conundrum? For the rest: way to go MEC. I am proud to be a member!

Michelle

It's a good thing you're trying to be ethical, but How about we make everything here in Canada so we don't have to worry about unethical treatment in places like China?
And what's with the picture of Obama there? His "change" speeches are just rhetoric. He's taking down Unions, lowering wages. He won't end the Patriot act implemented by bush which allows the government to take you away in the middle of the night without telling anyone.. no jury no nothing. He's trying to pass the waters of America bill so he can steal peoples property that has any natural water source on it. Everybody Obama chose for his team are from Wall street which are looting the whole country.

Mark

I'm going to agree with the above comments. As a co-op member of MEC I demand to see REAL changes in the manufacturing process. Bring manufacturing out of the dark secretive third world countries and back to Canada.

MEC undercuts local stores with cheap MEC branded goods, how about supporting our local economies while.

MEC has become a perversion of what it started as - a community minded CO-OP. Now its a sweat shop denying, local economy killer.

Colin

By producing certain things outside of Canada, quality of life is improved for all people involved in the trade.

Canadians have more money to spend because they bought the less expensive product.

Even though the labourers may be poor by our standards, the jobs created by the manufacturing gives them more money and opportunity than they would otherwise have.

HC

Hi Colin

Thanks for the input. I fully believe it.

Cheers

Bruce Klint

It is nice to hear that MEC is aware of this issue. The human rights issues are one component of this problem as are the environmental issues of buying goods and services from countries with extensive corruption and no meaningful committment to environmental issues.

However, I continue to be shocked and saddened by companies like MEC who are satisfied to say "yes we know there is a problem but we are doing our small part to make progress" on these issues.

The reality is simply this ..... if you participate in these economies you are complicit and culpable for the injustices perpetrated by these countries. There is no sane way to rationalize this.

Have you ever even considered sourcing ALL (or virtually all assuming the prodcts are available) in Canada even if that meant higher retail costs to your memebers. I would actively support this idea completely. It is time to stop participating in systems we KNOW are corrupt and and take no meaningful care and protection of workers or the environment.

Stop rationalizing and DO the right thing!

Kai

While many members of the MEC board and some posters to this blog feel it necessary, if not obligatory, for MEC to continue its participation in sweatshop sourcing, perhaps given the rest of the outdoor retail segment's actions, I thought I would make an appeal for ethical sanity by highlighting what I feel is the real reason companies chose to support globalization - maximizing shareholder and/or private-owner profits - while urging a different focus at MEC. I still feel that MEC has a real opportunity to forge a new path in the retail sector and greatly improve upon its success at the same time.

Clearly, 1000% (or higher) mark-up on goods produced by sweatshop labor creates massive profits for publicly traded companies and those privately held. We all know that maximizing profits for shareholders is "job number-one" for publicly traded companies and, for those private companies focused entirely on increasing profits, making as much money as possible many times overrides all other concerns. However, for MEC, by way of its very nature as a Cooperative enterprise organized under the The International Co-Operative Alliance's "Statement On The Co-Operative Identity", several other concerns come ahead of profits (or an "operating surplus" in coop vernacular). MEC is different and quite unique in this regard. To view it any differently or operate it as something it is not, in my opinion, denies its democratic lineage and soils its populist intent. MEC needs to steer this ship away from the rocks of free market globalization and toward the safer harbor of fair trade and local production to ensure the longterm viability of the coop.

I urge those of you on the fence over this issue plus any of you who are supportive of MEC's current "ethical" sourcing policy to take a few minutes and watch the following short produced by Link TV...

http://www.linktv.org/video/1514/the-outsourcing-report-sweatshop-warrior

...[or visit Link TV's website and search for "The Outsourcing Report - Sweatshop Warrier"] and decide whether MEC's current actions are truly ethical, at all sustainable, or in any way responsible.

In order for MEC practices to better allign with cooperative principles, I think it is imperative that we all admit to the reality that MEC's current sourcing policy does little to offset the real harms of non-fair trade globalization and the destruction of our local manufacturing base. The MEC membership deserves far better as does the business model, which requires real innovation [read: a return to its historic principals] if it has any hopes of surviving this current "race to the bottom." Lest we forget that we are talking about our nearby neighbors and flesh and blood people just like you and I living outside our border(s), all of whom are deeply affected by the choices that MEC makes.

Kai

Full disclosure - although still a member, I stopped shopping at MEC over a year ago, partly in protest over:

(1) the store's increasing action of sourcing gear from countries with poor environmental and labor regulation/practices, and;

2) because I know I can find the high quality gear I need by spending a little time researching manufacturers who produce here in North America or - in the case of no one local - overseas, in countries with environmental and labor laws comparable to those in the USA and Canada.

In my experience (most recently while sourcing gear for my upcoming two person open-ended global cycling expedition), I know first hand that anyone who claims - (a) there are no local manufacturers producing high quality affordable gear and/or (b) there are no manufacturers producing the same overseas in countries with comparable environmental and labor laws - is guided only by the almighty dollar and ridiculous margins and/or simply lazy when it comes to sourcing gear. I maintain a sizable list of amazing manufacturers whose products I am proud to buy and whose praises I sing. I wish I could count MEC in this group, but I cannot.

We find ourselves in the middle of an economic and environmental disaster. Is not continuing to turn our backs on local producers while increasingly sourcing lesser quality goods from countries with horrible environmental and labor laws/practices not a big part of why we find ourselves in the situation we are in? Selling our collective soul in this way and thus severely impacting our resiliency in the face of changing global markets, I would argue, is a big reason why the USA and Canada are finding it so difficult to recover from this economic mess. MEC can lead the way in returning to local manufacturing and the stability it provides to the people of North America or it can continue down the path of irresponsibility and un-sustainability. I urge everyone to really think about this issue.

Kai

If MEC did a better job educating its membership and showing concern for its community it could operate quite nicely without sweat-shop produced products. If properly educated, the customers will happily buy the locally made or fairrade MEC garment, safe in the knowledge that they'd just voted responsibly with their dollar. You see, they were shopping in MEC, and not some other retailer. I the MEC board would be surprised how much local pride (pride in Canada) plays in guiding consumer decisions (over just price) and that the reason you don't see it displayed is not because it doesn't exist but because there are fewer and fewer reasons for most people to even bother looking to see where something is made since so much is made overseas (especially too when a retailer shoots itself in the foot by including sweat-shop products next to its domestically produced goods while at the same time fails to better educate its members in the advantages of caring). As I see it, MEC has a responsibility as a coop to do a much better and more responsible job of promoting itself as the retailer of choice...

1) because it is a coop (and therefore members are owners and have a say and coops are less constrained by the need to show massive profits);

2) because it [can offer] consumers what, sadly, has become one of the few high-profile non-sweat shop alternatives in the outdoor gear market place (a niche spot);

3) because it could increase competition amongst local manufacterers thus reducing retail prices for locally made goods;

4) because it supports the local marketplace and keeps dollars in North America, and;

5) because it promotes nature and sustainability.

I think if it did all of the above, people would flock even more to MEC (they might even be willing to pay a few bucks more for the "Made in Canada" item if it made clear to them what they were really buying Voting with their dollar at the clothing rack can be one of the easiest ways people have nowadays to contribute to a more sustainable business model. Look at Patagonia's ridiculous "1% For the Planet". Their customers love it because it allows them to feel good about shopping for their over priced (for "Made in China") gear because they think they are making a difference with their dollar. Brand recognition and durability are the other reasons people shop their gear. MEC has the brand name and still retains a shred of its once famous durability plus it has the environment thing going for it. Wow, what if it also, through responsible education, could poke the same holes in Patagonia's greenwashing that I am doing here with MEC's? I'd call that a major leg up. Patagonia won't match it because the can't - they're so far gone its impossible to return. To clarify, I shop almost exclusively at my local food cooperative because I believe in all it stands for. And my local cooperative insurance agency. And my local cooperative wholefoods wholesale buying club. And I am far from alone. My local food coop has paid patronage dividends for the last two years running (for what I think is the first time in its 30+ year history). Local is huge right now because people are learning its advantages.

On the local front, MEC may not be able to keep local garment factories afloat all on its own but NOT supporting those same local producers does ZERO to ensure they survive at all. A certain amount of this is 'cart before the horse' or 'build it and they will come'. Consumers flocked to MEC back when most of what it sold was Canadian-made and they flock there now.

Why "Made in Canada?" Remember Cathy Lee Gifford and her sweatshop debacle? I know what side of history I'd want to be on when (and not if) MEC's lame Ethical Sourcing Policy is shown a fraud. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your work on improving the sourcing policy, I just want MEC to actually meet the standards you helped set out. For instance, I know for a fact that very affordable (maybe not "sweat shop affordable") high-quality waterproof cycling pants can be sourced from North American producers to replace the pants that used to be made in Canada and are now made in China. I know this for a fact (I know because I just bought some). MEC should live up to its own policy and if it doesn't, its board members, especially its senior members, should take the staff to task.

Its really that simple. MEC is not Patagonia nor North Face nor Icebreaker. It is a cooperative business with a vested interest in living up to the cooperative principles.

Kai

I am curious how many people who promote "ethical" sourcing policies like MEC's have you been to any of the factories in China and Thailand and elsewhere in Asia to see the working conditions that exist in the factories that MEC contracts with for goods? How many have seen the living conditions faced by the workers employed by these factories? Would they be surprised to learn that in most cases, workers have had no say in what industry they have available to them? That unlike us, they have no labor unions? That were they to in fact have a choice, they would prefer to spend their time working in industries that have a positive impact on their local communities rather than focused on solely exporting (what are locally mostly worthless) goods to the west?

I don't recall seeing "Fair Trade" tags hanging on any of the "imported" goods sold in MEC. This is whole problem with the "free" trade argument. That somehow these sources of goods are "developing" nations and that people in these countries are some how better off working in conditions that would be illegal here because at least its a way to make money. Because some of these countries are in the shape they are in - following centuries of meddling and domination by foreign super powers - makes it ok for us to now insist they work for pennies in inhumane factories doing jobs we used to do for much higher wages? That these people seemingly exist solely to labor for us doesn't bother those in favor of "imorted" goods? That these crappy, low paying jobs were foisted upon them without their consent nor with their input doesn't enrage all of us? That rather than having the support to be able to work the land like their forefathers and/or produce goods that they themselves need and could use, they must toil six days a week, 10 hours a day to make stuff they themselves can never afford on their paltry wages? Supporters of "free" trade think this is ok? This is ethical? This is moral? This really meets the goal of an "ethical" purchasing policy?

Why don't any of the "imported" goods in MEC sport "Fair Trade" tags? I wish they did, but they don't. They cannot because there is nothing "fair" about the trade that MEC supports. MEC, via its non-fair trade exploitative procurement policy, is complicit in a global trade system which rewards human rights abuses (China) and is clearly designed to keep poor people poor. How long will it take for "Made in Haiti" tags to start appearing sewn into goods sold by MEC? Hopefully never, since if left to their own devices, with support from their government and absent undue interference from outside forces, be they free trade agreements, puppet leaders, exploitative World Bank influence, etc., many of the people in the majority world, like those in Haiti, would rather spend their energy bettering their communities and supporting fair trade initiatives that keeps wealth in their local regions then slave away for us. Lets be clear that fair trade is not what MEC is engaged in in its dealing with the majority world. Anything less than fair trade is exploitative and wrong. Nothing can make that right. These are human beings with dreams and aspirations we're talking about. People just like you and me who happen to have been born in places far away from here. Lets support them instead of keeping them under our thumb. We have the opportunity to change the way MEC does business to improve its standing in the world. I really hope MEC takes advantage of the opportunities available to it to make the world a better place instead of continuing on with business as usual.

 HC

Hi Kai

Thanks for the post. As I've discussed every else on this site regarding sourcing abroad, I would like to re-emphasize the importance of global trade. We are an integrated world where our economies are linked by trade. Solving climate change and global poverty requires an united world which includes trade. Yes, in my mind, MEC ought to always buy a certain percentage Canadian but it must also be engaged with the world.
Again, thanks for writing.

 HC

Hi Kai,

Thanks for your thoughts. It's interesting to note that buying local for you includes the US. Why stop at N America. Why not buy from France, S Korea, Taiwan and the 50 other countries we source product from.

Cheers

 HC

Hi Kai,

Thanks for the comments. Fair trade is often associated with ensuring producers are paid a "fair" amount for the value of their labour/products. Fair trade is a great avenue to improve the lives of incumbents in the developing world.

We need to apply fair trade to the mass manufacturing sector, especially on non financial matters like improving working conditions.

thanks

Qube

Some of the critics on this thread would do well to temper their intolerant and hostile idealism with rationality and facts.
In most cases, the people employed in conditions that workers (in our lazy-ass culture of entitlement) judge as egregious, are a quantum leap in standard of living. Often they wouldn't even have a standard of living were it not for so-called western "exploitation".
They may have a sweatshop today, but even that is a foundation from which people can begin to understand and assert their rights as human beings, and make demands and plans for betterment tomorrow.
When you have nothing, you feel like nothing and have no voice.

Kai

To respond,

Buying locally dramtically reduces the economic and environmental cost of transporting goods across oceans and meaningfully supports our local economy at the same time. This fact alone is why I stop at North America. There is no good reason - other than sticker price - to source from the other side of the planet if the same thing can be had locally. And using sticker price as a reason for doing so avoids all of the other costs associated with a global supply chain. Watch the "Story of Stuff" for more on the externalization of costs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqZMTY4V7Ts

Lets keep talking about this! :)

Thanks.

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