Made in Canada doesn't mean anything anymore

I.J. Samson Junior High
St. John's, Newfoundland

By Allison P. (Grade 9)

Did you ever wonder where your Nike sneakers or Gap sweater was made? Believe me, you don't want to know. But I did. So when my English class had a guest speaker, Mrs. Linda Ross, from Oxfam, I was all ears. After hearing what Mrs. Ross told us about the working conditions of some major companies such as Nike, Gap, Northern Reflections and Disney, I stopped complaining to my mother about having to clean my room and make my bed for an allowance of $10 a week.

These companies don't have one big factory in Toronto or Montreal where they safely and efficiently manufacture all their products, as you might think. What the heads of these companies do is find many different people (it doesn't matter from where) to send their materials to who will manufacture their products. It doesn't really matter what kinds of people they get to do the job. As long as you've got a factory and workers, you're in business. So, you've got workers, mostly women and children, who are happy to have any job and wouldn't quit no matter how you treated them. This means that the factory owners can, and do, treat them just about any way they want, with extremely low salaries, unreasonable hours, little or no health standards and infested work places. This is called sweatshop labour, and it's happening everywhere. How do they get away with it? Even though these people get paid approximately $1.10 a day, they can't quit or demand a raise for fear of being fired because it's the only money they have.

It is well-known that Nike, in particular, makes huge annual profits, and that celebrities are paid enormous amounts of money just to endorse these products. Workers are forced to work in 10-hour shifts with one-fifteen minute break to eat, use the washroom or relax. These employers know that, if one of their employees causes any trouble, they can fire them and easily find someone to do the job who is too desperate to complain. The scary thing is sweatshop labour isn't just happening in the poor countries. It's in Canada and the United States as well.

What my class decided to do was to write a letter, whether to Nike or Gap or Woolworths (Northern Reflections, Northern Getaway, etc.), protesting their way of manufacturing clothes. Now, I'm smart enough to know that a major company like the ones listed above aren't about to clean up their act overnight because some junior high student like me decides to write a letter. But it may pay attention to close to 40 letters coming from my class. And, if my entire school of 550 students decided to write letters, then we'd get some attention. In the letters that my class sent to these companies, we suggested many things that Nike could do to help clean up its act. Some of my classmates suggested that, if a "code of conduct" were established, then they would be forced to treat their workers fairly. But, then again, Nike claims to inspect its factories. After a fair warning, of course. Some of us also said, that if these companies put less of their income towards endorsements, then the people who actually make the products would get paid fairly.

Hopefully, these companies will respond to our letters, understanding that we are the ones who wear Nike clothes. We are the ones shopping at the Gap. We have to let them know that their top consumers know what they're up to and that we want them to change.

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