Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Citizens, Not Consumers

Natalie Brender writes in The Toronto Star that, if disasters such as the factory collapse in Bangladesh are to be avoided in the future, we are going to have to stop acting as consumers and start acting as citizens. Private initiatives by non governmental agencies aren't enough:

As usual, the reason for this state of affairs is that things are complicated. The locations, actors, incentives and pressures involved in today’s global supply chains are so diverse and complex that uncoordinated action from any number of angles isn’t enough to make a major difference.

If private voluntary initiatives aren’t enough to produce consistent results, another solution is to weave them more closely together with governmental regulation. Getting government involved with buyers and suppliers across a given commercial field has the potential to ensure that all firms abide by common rules. Accordingly, new kinds of public-private partnerships are emerging. In some, national or regional governments work with the private sector to develop goals and metrics for compliance with environmental and labour standards. In other cases, a government might encourage corporate compliance with regulations by offering lighter penalties for violations in return for corporations’ transparency and disclosure.  

The assumption, of course, is that governments act not only in their own workers' interests, but in the interests of workers across the world. And the present Government of Canada is going to do no such thing. It has firmly planted its flag in the employers camp. Trade deals are written to protect international investors; and -- as far as the Harperites are concerned -- citizens are consumers.

Brender's colleague at the Star, Susan Delacourt, has done a lot of work lately documenting the Conservative take on citizenship. In the Harperian universe, everything -- including the self respect of the Conservative caucus -- is for sale. The workers of Bangladesh and other Third World nations will continue to suffer as long as the present Government of Canada remains in power.

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