Thursday, July 29, 2004

Ethics in the Hat Business

Last thursday during lunch, my coworker was walking around the lunchroom when she noticed our production manager fiddling with material out on the production table. (this is quite unusual, considering the fact that she refuses to handle material --or actually do anything requiring manual labour, for that matter -- during the normal work day, let alone work during her lunch break. Naturally, this arose my coworker's suspisions, so she called me over and together we watched our manager unroll about ten metres of fabric, cut it off, stuff it into a bag and then hide it in her office. Later that afternoon, we convinced our supervisor to look in her office for it, and sure enough, the material was stuffed into a back cupboard behind her purse and bag. None of the owners were around that afternoon, so there was nothing that we could do. This isn't the first time that she's stolen from the company, I'm told, but it is actually the first time that she has been seen blantantly cutting material during the work day. So what do I do with this information? I asked the supervisor for the type of fabric and approximately how much she took, so that when I leave I will leave a letter with the owners telling them what I saw.
Why do I not tell them right away? Well, I'm told that the owners have a knack for taking her side, even when she's completely in the wrong. She's higher up on the chain of command, and they either are quite naieve, or they want to save face by covering for her.
The owners I have issue with in their own right. They have made the decision to send out over fifty percent of production to China-- something which I don't agree with at all. As it is, while the hats are being produced in Hamilton, each homeworker that sews a hat gets anywhere from $1.50-$3.00 per hat. There is only one style of hat on which they can actually make time, and all other hats take a couple of hours each to sew. It is a rather pitiful amount that they are investing in each hat, and to think that it is cheaper for them to send the material to China, have the hats sewn there and shipped back to Hamilton-- it just blows my mind that they're ok with paying someone pennies for these hats that they turn around and sell for $16-48 to companies like The Bay and Sears!
So what can I do about this? I'm doing my best to leave the company, if I can actually find another job to go to. I suppose that the ethically heroic thing to do would be to quit, regarless of having another job to turn to or not. However, can I afford to be ethically heroic while a student of Redeemer? One would think that because I am a student of Redeemer, I would therefore not think twice about it. But it's one thing arguing about fair wages and labour laws and another thing doing something about it that's skin off my own back. Argh.

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