Bangladesh Tragedy

Galen Weston says that he is “shaken” by the building collapse in Bangladesh.  I am sure that he truly is and feels that an injustice has been perpetrated.  He has vowed to compensate the victims and increase the level of inspection and compliance with respect to his subcontractors.

Also, let me say that Loblaws/Joe Fresh are the victims of a public relations fiasco where they are getting a disproportionate share of the blame.  One of their labels was captured by the international press in a disaster where many, many, companies bear a portion of the responsibility.  This is not fair.  All the others are equally responsible.

Having said that, the Galen Weston lead Loblaw has been singularly focused on improving the bottom line without any real regard for the plight of workers.  Canada’s most successful retailer – highly profitable – has succumbed to “WalMart fright” and systematically participated in the quest for lower costs.  In Canada, Loblaw has converted Loblaws Stores – with decent middle class wages – into Loblaw Great Food outlets with much lower wages.  In at least one case, this transition was based on the addition of a Joe Fresh boutique in a corner of the same grocery store.

A weak and compliant union has gone along with this sellout of their membership.  Middle class Canadians have seen their wages slashed or seen their jobs replaced by people that make much less.  This is fundamentally wrong .  We need a middle class in Canada in order to have a successful society.  In the end, the greedy Loblaw Management will find that they cannot prosper when there are not enough middle class Canadians to shop at their store.

In Bangladesh, before the building fell down, non-unionised workers were paid as little as 15 cents per hour to make Joe Fresh clothes.  They worked 12.5 hours per day.  This is by any definition, a sweatshop.  Loblaw knew, or should have known, that they were exploiting human beings in order to maximise profits and lower their cost of doing business.  This is not morally defensible.

As I said, I am sure Galen Weston is truly upset by the collapse of the building.  However, he needs to dig deeper and understand that exploitation of human beings – in Canada and in Bangladesh – is fundamentally wrong.  By participating in the15 cents an hour marketplace for labour, a company is setting itself up for other exploitations, which may be against the “contract” they sign, but are common and inevitable.

If Galen is really “shaken: he needs to re-evaluate his values.  Pay Canadians a fair wage and in the third world, pay a living wage to all employees and guarantee them a 40 hour week.  A Bangladeshi woman paid $3 an hour for a 40 hour week would be in heaven.  This would still provide Loblaw with a reduced labour cost compared to Canada and would show true leadership.  Of course, it would still be necessary to have “feet on the ground” to ensure the $3 was not stolen and only 15 cents went to the workers.

How about it Galen.  Do you really care and are you ready to adjust your outlook.

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