Icebreaker's Jeremy Moon Responds To Barbara Sumner Burstyn: Buy Kiwi-Made
Correspondence of Barbara Sumner Burstyn & Jeremy Moon
EMAIL FROM Jeremy Moon:
In response to Barbara Sumner Burstyn: Buy Kiwi-Made
Your piece is based on an untrue assumption and an untrue association.
The 3 factories we work with all have water purification units that output drinking water quality, pay 10-30% above average wages, feed and house all staff, and have nil pollution output as they are all based on electricity, and are extremely energy efficient. All suppliers meet ISO14001 environmental standard (internationally highest standard) and the fabrics meet ECOTEX1 European environmental standard. Almost everything is recycled and reused where possible. They are 'brand new' and look like a university campus.
The spinners are German, the wool blenders are French, and they all run 'western style' factories, that happen to be based in Shanghai because it's a technology hub for textiles.
I agree there's lots of bad stuff in China, same as in NZ if you look for it but a diff scale, but there's also good stuff. Look at the factories under the new strict environmental laws, not just the old ones. I have spent time at every one of our suppliers and the 'cleanest' are in China. So what you say is true about the old China, but not true about Icebreaker suppliers.
By Icebreaker only supporting the 'new' China we are encouraging a positive change within a country that needs it.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to reply on this. Please do not slander me with untruths.
EMAIL REPLY from Barbara Sumner Burstyn:
30 August 2006
Thanks for taking the time to phone me personally and to reply in writing to my article on outsourcing pollution and the ‘buy kiwi made’ campaign. I have no doubt that you believe you are doing the best: for your shareholders, your customers and the environment and you certainly convinced me of your sincerity in our phone conversation.
However I wonder if you would take a moment to consider the possibility that choosing to manufacture in China comes loaded with circumstances and consequences that are irreconcilable with your marketing proposition of a clean, natural product.
While you may be satisfied with the environmental sustainability of your contractors operations, they and by definition Icebreaker, are still working within the envelope of an extremely low wage / low cost environment. The textile hub you extol exists in Shanghai because of this equation. While your wages may be 10-30% above ‘average,’ the real issue is how that low cost/low wage environment is maintained.
At the same time you are laudably filtering your factory water, millions of Chinese people are without drinkable water, almost exclusively because of industrial pollution and industrial demand on ever-scarcer water supplies. Icebreaker shares responsibility for that unsustainable demand.
You mention proudly that your factories run on electricity. As we discussed on the phone, over 70% of China’s electricity is generated by coal. China is obviously not a signatory to Kyoto and even an hour spent in a coal-fired power plant town is an agony to the lungs and eyes. Imagine being one of the millions who live there. And remember, because of the way Chinese society is structured the elements of ‘choice’ that are analogous with capitalism in the West are largely absent in China. So the decision to build a nuclear, coal or hydro powered plant is devoid of compassion or consideration for the people most affected.
A visit to the Three Gorges Dam would be a profound example of this. To understand the enormity of social and environmental destruction this project embodies it would be good to access the works of the great Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. The best of his work on China can be viewed in this book:
As one reviewer said: "Burtynsky has gained rare access to the extreme expressions of Chinese industry, creating images that are at once arresting and unsettling. These photographs afford us a privileged glimpse of the vast social and economic transformations currently underway in China."
You comment that Icebreaker is contributing to positive change in China. You believe you are part of the ‘new’ China, whereas the world we observed was the ‘old’ China.
Jeremy there is no old or new China. There is only the People’s Republic, a country that last month bought in new, incredibly draconian policies, restricting all reporting of environmental destruction. Here’s an interesting report on that situation:
In addition, as you’ll see here, China has more journalists in jail than any other country:
Your ‘new’ China has a shiny, Western style PR face, it makes environmentally friendly noises and some small efforts to quell the conscience of skittish companies like Icebreaker, but beneath that façade the control, the censorship the heavy-handed human rights abuses and the destruction of the natural world to fuel unlimited growth (in a finite world) continues apace. May I suggest next time you are in China you wear a t-shirt with the words ‘Support Fulong Gong’ or ‘Free Tibet’ written in Chinese characters across your chest and see how the ‘new’ China responds.
While you are justifiably proud of the support you have given to the wool growing industry of New Zealand, your choice to manufacture in China is contributing to the destruction of farmland and farmer livelihoods in that country. It is worth reading up on this as it will deeply impact on China’s ability to feed itself in the very near future. This article: ‘China's Economic Miracle Comes at Great Cost to Farmers, Environment; Unrest Looms,’ is worth reading.
You commented on the life your workers enjoy. We have seen many of these ‘factory compounds,’ across China. Some are like university campuses as you have described while others are certainly not. But the one thing they all have in common is control. In return for a repressive form of job security workers must give up many freedoms we would take for granted. Perhaps one salient point is that the people who make the clothes for Icebreaker will never have access to the lifestyle that your clothes embody – no matter how positively the economic miracle is portrayed.
To get a broader understanding on how your choice to manufacture in China and the concomitant environmental load your company contributes you might like to read about how particulate from coal burning power plants in China is ending up in the air in California. Here is a very frightening article from the New York Times:
Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow:
Jeremy, Icebreaker is contributing to the ‘transformation’ of China. When you look just a little beneath the surface, beneath the words that keep your shareholders and customers happy you discover that your success and that of your company comes at a very high price.
For me, that price is too high. So that while I think the design and quality of your products are fantastic I would never buy a garment from Icebreaker. I believe, as an individual attempting to make ethical decisions wherever I can, that I am not alone in this position.
Bottom line – Icebreaker is manufactured in a country that quashes all dissent, that controls information, that jails environmentalists, the hides their environmental mess, that is teetering on the very brink of catastrophe that will impact unimaginably on the entire planet. This is not the ‘relationship with nature’ that Icebreaker proclaims to be so proud of.
Jeremy, please understand I am not slandering you personally nor am I criticizing the quality of your products. I am suggesting that your marketing is rather disingenuous and inconsistent with the broader consequences of choosing to manufacture in China. I would encourage you investigate alternatives – such as those practiced by real New Zealand manufacturer, Norsewear.
Barbara Sumner Burstyn
Before forced evacuation…
P.S Jeremy – the above photographs show the city of Wushan just before and after it was forcibly evacuated & demolished to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. A dam that is needed to provide the electricity to fuel factories just likes yours.
Here’s a rang of articles on environmental issues in China:
…and here’s a Edward Burtynsky shot of a modern factory in China.
...and where the workers live
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