Galen Weston anointed himself as the proverbial poster boy for everything that is wrong with the North American consumer system yesterday, from the greed that rules at the top right down to the uncaring selfishness of the average shopper. He shed some crocodile tears, pledged to make changes that amounted to nothing, and in the end confirmed that he and his company are still ready to exploit the most wretched people on earth just to make a few bucks.
To be fair, he did stand up and admit that yes, his Joe Fresh sweatshop clothing line is in fact produced in the factory that collapsed in Bangladesh last week. There are 28 other companies that are refusing to do even that small thing – if nothing else, at least Loblaw’s isn’t hiding behind a wall of denial. But sadly, any of the good that someone like Weston and his company could have brought out of this tragedy ended right there. Everything that came out of his mouth after that was nothing more that double-talk and an affirmation of money-grubbing avarice.
First he made a grand show and pledged a big fat nothing when he said that Loblaw’s would add building inspections to the company’s list of priorities. Great – except that collapsing buildings are far from the norm, even in hellholes like Bangladesh, and don’t even come close to counting as one of the everyday problems of the exploited workers in the evil human meat grinders where clothes like Joe Fresh are made.
With his big sound bite out of the way, Galen came to the meat of the matter: Loblaw’s will continue to make the Joe Fresh line in Bangladesh as long as “local labour laws are respected”. Which is a nice, media-friendly way of saying that they will keep making clothes for pennies in a country where it is legal to have 16 year-old girls working 60 hours a week for much less than a bare living wage. If they really wanted to change things, they would stop sourcing their junk from like this … either leave the country entirely or take a real stand and break the mold by paying these desperate workers a real wage, let them work real hours, and give them a real life. But that would cut into the startlingly obscene profits that can be made selling five dollar shirts and 10 dollar pants, and that hits just a little too close to home for a guy like Galen.
He’s got eight billion dollars. He couldn’t possibly commit to paying his cadre of seamstress slaves more than 4 dollars a week. Could he?
Listen. I know that Loblaw’s is trying to compete for the ever-growing market of low-class western consumers who want to buy disposable shit for no money. But there are real choices available. Cut into the profits by making a real change in the lives of the people you are exploiting. Reward a country that has made positive changed by moving there. Or take the high road and get out these ugly and distasteful retail spaces completely. Anything but wringing your hands and looking tragic while continuing to stand on the necks of the desperate and downtrodden.
Anything but that.