The lady was shopping for a cookware; which kind, I do not know. But from what I could overhear, she knew her husband was finicky and aimed to please him by getting details on the product in question.
“Ah, where was it made?” she asked the lady who was helping her. “I don’t mean to be picky; It’s just that my husband won’t accept anything made in China,” she says to soften the shock of the unusual question.
“Hmm! I don’t know,” responds the sales clerk. But in the silence, I imagine she was scouring the fine print and hoping for her register’s sake that it was made anywhere but China.
Eventually she exhaled, reprieved: “Wait, here, it says made in the U.K.”
Explaining a Boycott
As the conversation trails off, I try not to laugh at the obvious discomfort of explaining a boycott. But if it was only her husband’s idea and she didn’t agree, would she really insist on knowing the place of manufacture?
Explaining a boycott is understandably difficult when there isn’t an obvious or open movement. Had the media been covering citizen boycotts of Chinese products then it might have been easier for that shopper to leave her husband out of the explanation and simply say that she doesn’t purchase products from China, for one or various reasons.
Of course she could’ve boldly stated such reasons without being asked. There are so many reasons she could give. For example, the Toronto Star recently reported on the high lead levels in various toy and gift products available in Toronto stores and across Canada, including pacifiers and costume jewelry.
Lead, the article reminds readers, can result in lower IQ scores, physical illness, and in the worst cases, even death.
If that’s not enough, she could’ve explained that many lives (particularly those of young children) have been lost or put at risk because of melamine tainted products produced in China. The implicated Chinese dairies have triggered widespread worry about the safety of both human and pet foods especially due to reports that melamine usage is an open secret within the industry.
There are numerous reasons for her to choose from and some of which the store clerk is probably aware; but how many buyers are considering where their products are made before stocking their shelves?
More than that, if they choose not to sell products made in China, what do they do with the products that are already on the shelves? Currently, there might still be a buyer who doesn’t care where a product is made, but what if this movement gathers strength? Can these stores continue to stock products that won’t sell? If not, where will the alternate producers be found? And what is to prevent similar product contamination if cheap, unhealthy substitutes contribute nicely to the manufacturer’s bottom line?
Boycotts of Chinese products might not be common yet, but just imagine the damage that greed has caused. Also, imagine the changes that might come from this for the local food movement, never-mind the principles of supply.
Detailed Product Labelling
Some people are calling for more detailed product labelling so they can tell not just where a product was assembled but where the ingredients are from.
To bring consumers closer to that information, the Canadian government has announced the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) new Product of Canada labelling guidelines, which become effective December 31, 2008.
Under the new guidelines foods that are processed in Canada but contain imported ingredients can use voluntary labels such as “Made in Canada from imported ingredients,” or “Made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients,” whereas both the contents and the processing must be Canadian in order to use the “Product of Canada” label.
However, products with less than two per cent of the ingredients originating outside Canada will still be able to be use the Product of Canada label. So if insignificant amounts (less than two percent) of cinnamon from India, for example, were used to make a cake, that cake could still claim to be a Product of Canada.
Also, imported agricultural products such as seed, fertilizers, animal feed, and medications can still use the Product of Canada label.
For other consumer goods, the Competition Bureau of Canada requires that “the last substantial transformation of the goods must have occurred in Canada,” and that “at least 51 per cent of the total direct costs of producing or manufacturing the goods is Canadian.” Therefore, if a product is made from fabric produced in China but sewn in Canada, it can still be designated Made in Canada. Likewise, if the manufacturer incurs most of its production costs, including labour costs, in Canada.
The details of how much of a product is made in Canada might not concern the shopper with the finicky husband, but that husband might be dissatisfied to know that there’s more than meets the eye on product labels, particularly when it comes to a boycott of foreign-made goods. He might also be dissatisfied with the level of disclosure he’s paying for. But I suppose he simply has to communicate to the government his need for more product information or more regulation and see what happens.