It was May Day when a leaked copy of the Retail Council of Canada's master plan to eliminate sweatshops came through my fax machine. London was rioting, two million people were protesting in Japan, and workers were smashing rice bowls in Hong Kong. As I read this feather-light document, designed, it proudly states, to assure "customers that the goods they buy are not produced under exploitative, inhumane or illegal working conditions," all I could do was laugh. Unlike tougher codes in Europe, and even the one just adopted by the University of Toronto, it said nothing about transparency, independent monitoring, or a living wage.
The retailers of Canada, it seems, are going to stop the sweatshop epidemic with nothing but bad blood and good intentions.
In June, 1998, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy was presented with a petition signed by 30,000 Canadians. It demanded that he convene a task force, much as the Clinton administration had done in the United States, to address the rise of sweatshop abuses in Canada and overseas.
Railing against the flawed methodology of polls published on the front page of The National Post is a little like pointing out that Leonardo DiCaprio's interview with Bill Clinton wasn't the proudest moment in journalistic history. True enough, sure, but must we really stare in gape-mouthed amazement at the obvious? And yet, last Thursday, my jaw went slack on me. "WTO protests fail to sway Canadians," read the banner headline in the Post. "Most support free trade talks, federal poll finds."
It wasn't just that the Angus Reid poll in question proved no such thing. It wasn't even that the research was conducted last December. It was that the day before the Post published that old poll, the same agency released the results of a brand new poll, and its very different findings went entirely unmentioned. This new Angus Reid poll, based on interviews conducted in February, showed that Canadians are split down the middle in their support for unregulated free trade and that "opposition to [the] World Trade Organization may be hardening."
My friend Mez is getting on a bus to Washington, D.C., on Saturday. I asked him why, and he said with all this intensity: "Look, I missed Seattle. There's no way I'm missing Washington."
I've seen people speak with that kind of unrestrained longing before, but the object of their affection was usually a muddy music festival where Beck shares a stage with the Beastie Boys, or a short-run New York play such as The Vagina Monologues.
I've never heard anyone talk that way about a political protest. Especially not a protest against groaner bureaucracies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And certainly not when they are being called on the carpet for nothing sexier than a decades-old loan policy called "structural adjustment."
Follow the logo.
If there is a guiding principle in the current wave of student activism, that is it.
At the University of Toronto, students are following their school's logo from T-shirts and sweatshirts to contract garment factories in Asia and Latin America. Last week, after a nine-day sit-in, students and administrators finally hammered out a strong code of conduct for the university's products. If it is approved by the U of T's governing council next month, the companies that license the school's insignia will have to pay their workers not only the legal minimum wage, but a living wage.
As I write this, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are closing in on your position. Maybe you are already behind bars, imprisoned for crimes against Yahoo. They say you had something to do with the rash of attacks that crippled some of the most powerful commercial sites on the Net this month. They overheard you bragging about your exploits in an online chatroom: "U just pin em so hard they can't even redirect," you wrote, calling yourself "mafiaboy." They're still not sure who you are exactly, but they have a few hunches: You are based in my hometown (Toronto), you are 15 years old and you have a preoccupation with Satanism.
Nice cover. I know better, of course. Like so many who have secretly cheered your exploits (if indeed they are your exploits), I can see through the nihilistic pranksterism to another kind of Mafiaboy. My mythic Mafiaboy isn't a vandal but an anticorporate freedom fighter for the e-commerce age.