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August 08, 2007


Marie-Eve Allaire

Hi Harvey

Did you know that the company Alcan is now paying money to families of people who worked in bad condition in thier factory in Quebec, (40 years ago). Similar situation: hot temperature, lots of dust a chemical product in the air, no protection for people. Lots of them had health problem, like cancer. I heard that they known about these potential health problems and did nothing. It seems like we were not so different many years ago... I hope they will learn quicly than we did.
What do you think the problem is here? They don't care about it or they are not really aware of the health problems that their employees could have?


Hi Marie-Eve,

I won't comment on Alcan and their management practices as I am not in a position to speak authoritatively.

I think industry and governmnets are slow to redress issues for a number of reasons, namely:

1. costs
2. waiting for conclusive evidence that there is merit to the claim
3. hoping that the issue will naturally go away

For example, my aunt was just compensated $20,000 from the Federal government for the $500 head tax her husband paid when he immigrated to Canada in the 1930's. This racist immigration policy has been dogging Ottawa for decades and it took an election year and the fear of being booted out to motivate the Liberals to admit fault. Did anyone notice that the Conservatives in the 1980's quickly compensated the WW2 interned Japanese of $20,00 only after the US governmnet did it first. Imagine, an US government acting more enlightened than a Canadian one.

Bottom line some organizations only act when cornered.

(These opinions are not a comment on Alcan).

Marie-Eve Allaire

Hi Harvey,

I'm sorry for the confusion., I was not clear on my last question. This question was about the factory conditions that you describe, not about Alcan. According with the contact that you have with this factory, do you think that managers don't care about these conditions or they are not really aware of the health problems that their employees could have? Can you comment that specific situation?


Hi Marie-Eve,

My gut feeling as to why some factories have poor or unacceptable working conditions is because of:

1. Lack of sophistication that often exists in developing economies. Developing societies are typically focused on meeting their primordial needs like food, shelter and security. In this quest, the quality of shelter, food or security is not as exacting as they are in developed economies. Hence, factories tend to have riskier work conditions. As societies mature, they become more rigid in terms of defining and enforcing quality of life, work and etc.,
2. Greed and corruption. Some factories just don't care and are soley motivated by profit. I don't believe we have any of these factories left in our supply chain.
3. Human error. The developing world is just that, in development. Regrettable things happens when laws are not enforced, governments are less than capable and checks and balances (eg. organized labour) are weak.

At some point we need to move beyond the simple explanation that poor working conditions are a function of greedy factory managers and corrupt despot regimes. It's way more complex than that.


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