A lively debate took place at St. John Anglican Church on June 20.
It was about a resolution whether ‘Squamish residents should boycott Wal-Mart until it signs the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’.
Considering the often horrific working conditions many workers in ‘emerging economies’ have to endure a lot to produce the cheap goods and gadgets we love to consume, is it not almost callous to oppose a consumer boycott in that case?
As SFU Professor of Communications Bob Anderson and Hannah Rizun of HSS pointed out, there are several good reasons for opposing it: Firstly, garments are only a small part of Wal-Mart’s operations and the firm has a history of successfully resisting even the best organized attacks on its business model.
Secondly, could such a boycott be sustained in view of Wal-Mart’s catering to a large consumer segment dependent on the affordable goods it offers?
Thirdly, what about the impact on local employees, should Wal-Mart decide to fight rather than write?
Fourthly, how would a boycott, even in the unlikely event of success, impact Bangladeshi garment workers?
Instead, they suggested bearing pressure for change through NGOs and other trusted local agencies.
Proponents Ana Santos and Jama Hanson (HSS) drove home the point that consumer boycotts have proven effective in the past, because of their negative effect on corporate revenues and image.
That is why they both kept insisting that a boycott would be best, no matter what ‘short term pain’ it might inflict.
Challenged that not all past boycotts were successful, Jama replied that those took place before the internet, which presumably invalidates all precedents.
Ahh, the internet! But are the gadgets of that technology really so innocent as to get a free pass, the working conditions in their manufacture, their recycling?
A few months ago, Ana wrote in the ‘Chief’ pointedly about Apple’s transgressions, so why now single out Wal-Mart?
It was only a debate, and to my knowledge no one is going to act on it, but the question remains.
Here then is a different challenge, particularly to all of the boycott proponents: Return your smart phone or tablet at once to its manufacturer and accept it back only after you have received ironclad, verifiable, assurances of fair and squeaky clean supply and recycling chains.
Who is first to do it?