Saturday, July 14, 2012

Globalization Blues

For all the current readers of Critics at Large, we've resurrected the Luna Sea Notes website to publish previous C @ L posts. The idea is to introduce readers to pieces they may have missed from earlier in our incarnation. Since we now have a huge body of work to draw from, the goal is to post articles that may also have some relevance to events of the day.

There's been a big controversy brewing in the United States over the fact that the U.S. Olympic Team's opening day clothing is made in China. Curiously, a similar tempest was stirred up during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver when the Hudson Bay Company came under the same scrutiny over the same issue with the Canadian Olympic Team which David Churchill addressed at the time.

Canada - Made in China

This is a slightly odd piece for Critics At Large, but I think it has relevance because what we are dealing with is the Vancouver Olympics and the promotion of Canadian patriotism through clothing. Except the things they want us to buy to make us feel good about ourselves and our country were not made here.

This issue began awhile ago with wine. Vincor, a major wine company that owns wineries such as Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs, became one of the corporate sponsors of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. They released their first commemorative Olympic wine about 18 months ago, and the shit immediately hit the fan.Instead of releasing a wine that was made with British Columbia grapes, they instead slapped the label on one of their "Cellared in Canada" wines. Cellared in Canada is a series of wines made by several Canadian wineries that allows them to import wines in bulk from countries such as Chile. The percentage can be anything from 70% in Ontario to 100% in BC. The only requirement is that the wines are indeed 'cellared in Canada', but contain little or no local wine. Long story short. When these commemorative wines were released, the wine press and regular media went into a frenzy, attacking Vincor for not releasing a VQA BC wine (VQA is Canada's appellation system that guarantees the wines come from the region stated) as their 'Olympic' wine instead.

This also hit the international media, with even Jancis Robinson, the pre-eminent British wine critic, weighing in. Vincor scrambled and within a few months, replaced the Cellared in Canada product with VQA BC wines (though they later claimed that was their intention all along). They were properly chastened and did the right thing. For something as important as this event, they should have released a VQA BC wine from the very beginning. Which brings me to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). As the official outfitter of the Canadian athletes and suppliers of clothing for the retail market, HBC has made a lot of money selling CANADA to the public in the lead up and during the Vancouver Olympics. There's only one problem. The vast majority of the product was made in China.

Perhaps if they had not made such a big deal about promoting the greatness of Canada through their wares, I'd not have such an issue with this. Representatives of HBC have come out and said 'they didn't see what the big deal was'. Tu Ly, designer of some of the fashions worn by the athletes, was even quoted in The Toronto Star saying, "I would like to challenge these politicians [who were unhappy the clothing wasn't made in Canada] to give up their cell phones made in China or their TVs, then maybe they'd really be on an even plane." This is comparing apples to oranges. The cell phones he talks about are not emblazoned with CANADA CANADA CANADA and are not being promoted as a patriotic nation builders. The Red Mittens are ubiquitous and THE symbol of Canadian patriotism, as are the jackets and toques all the athletes wear at the medal ceremonies, but they are all Chinese made.

Now today, most manufacturing of clothing, electronics, etc. are made overseas, but to my way of thinking, if there was ever an event where the companies should have taken the extra step of having the products made here, it was the Vancouver Olympics. I also don't buy the argument that they 'couldn't' get them made here. Quoting again from The Toronto Star article: "HBC spokesperson Hillary Marshall said Asia, and particularly China, is the only readily-available source for the specialty fabrics featured in the eco-friendly designs [they fail to mention the carbon footprint required to then ship these 'eco-friendly' products overseas for the Games and stores]. Meant to help athletes cope with Beijing's heat and humidity, the fabrics include bamboo, cocona and organic cotton. For the[2004 and 2006] Olympics, Roots Canada made the athletes' uniforms at home."

The real issue is this: it's far cheaper to make the clothing in China than it is here. Companies always claim it's the only way they can keep costs down and prices reasonable for consumers. Fine. But having seen the almost frenzied activity around the Olympic shops in HBC since the Games started, I think that people would be more than willing to pay anything reasonble. For example, the mittens retailed for $10. If they were made in Canada and cost $15, I think Canadians would still have clammered for them. HBC took the easy way out and, after initial grumbling by politicians in 2008, have been since given a free pass.

They shouldn't have.

- originally published on February 26, 2010 in Critics at Large.

-- David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is the author of the novel, The Empire of Death.

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