Friday, December 16, 2005


I’m upset again.  Last week, the French CBC had a report on Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has everyday low prices.  We like the low prices. We also know how this is done.    

Our self-righteous Canadian social conscience does not support child labour.  We do not tolerate the fact that Wal-Mart disallows labour unions.  We get upset at their unethical business practices outlined in our news, but this last will be covered in another blog entry.

I’ll tackle the easiest first.  Unions.  They cost money to the worker and will cost money to the employer.  I’m not debating whether the stores should be unionized or not. I’m simply stating the fact that a union will raise the cost of operating the store.

We needed unions originally because employer abuse was running rampant.  Why not abuse the worker if it meant a better bottom line?  The only solution available to the working stiff was to stand up for himself and demand, sometimes quite violently like the teamsters, equitable treatment.  

It was a social change that was years in coming.  It was a self-induced social change.  In the normal development of a society such changes will take place.

It took guts and it took solidarity.  It was the realization that we needed something more, that fairness was left wanting.  Harshness of job, long hours, pitiful conditions, lousy compensation, the list goes on.

The risk faced by many of the first unions was straight up loss of job, revenue lost and inducing loss of lively hood.  But that’s what they were fighting for, since they could lose their job at a moments notice anyway!  Not good.

I sometimes ponder which of many factors induced an employer to randomly terminate positions.

In this case… consumers, or more precisely consumer pressure.

Which brings me to the second and most dramatic of observations.  In our indignation over child labour, we as a consumer group, apply pressure on Wal-Mart and others, to cease and desist from using foreign third-world factories operating with child labour.

Wal-Mart bows to this pressure and summarily terminates contracts with offending suppliers, thereby putting people, and their kids, out of work.

Bra – fucking – vo.

Where is their next meal coming from?  

So we have a choice, kids either working in factories or dying of malnutrition.  And in our great Canadian wisdom we choose what’s best for everyone. We have effectively handed these people a death sentence!

Don’t get me wrong theirs is a lousy situation.  Furthermore and I cannot condone child labour. But with our self-righteous attitude we’ve made it worse.  It’s one thing to apply this kind of pressure in your own back yard.  It’s quite another to decide that the world at large is wrong and should be following your rules.

If I remember correctly, my grandma was working as a weaver in a textile mill when she was 12 or 14.  I’m pretty sure that she never got fired on account of consumer pressure.  Furthermore, she became deaf because of it.

I’m fairly sure that parents all over the world would rather see their kids play than work in overheated factories.  Remember that if they so chose to let their children work, it’s probably because they genuinely had to, not because they need a second TV set.  Who are we to question that particular parent’s judgement?  A mile in their shoes and all that.

There will soon be revolts in countries like Bangladesh to fix these injustices.  Just like we did.  I pray there is a better way, since all revolutions of this type have casualties. I can hope but I don’t think so.  

This and only this, will put an end to child labour. People will eventually take control and responsibility of their own society.  This is not something we can do in their stead.  And sure as hell, taking food off their table is not going to help.   Although, for those of you who want to save a modicum of good conscience, you can always tell yourself that boycotts will accelerate the revolt.  


Post a Comment

<< Home