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Chickens To China and Back Again: Capitalism 1.0

In a splendid example of globalization, America’s (seemingly corporate owned) U.S.D.A. has green-lighted a plan to send American chickens to China for processing and then back to America for consuming.

Chickens to China: Factory Farms are deadlyThat’s a poultry, er, paltry 14,000 mile round-trip ticket from the (American) factory farm to your American kitchen table – assuming you still buy factory farmed chickens of course. Hint: You shouldn’t. Ever. Shop locally and eat fresh.

Why would we send Chickens to China to be sliced up when we have both the facilities and the out-of-work workers in America to do the slicing? Profit.

Capitalism 1.0 – Profits Above Poultry

It seems that U.S. chicken manufacturers (we can no longer legitimately call them “farmers”) are forced to pay American chicken-cutter-uppers at least $11/hour. In China (not known for it’s love of workers) pays them only $1-$2/hour. Think of the savings! By the way, neither rates are living wages in either countries, but that’s another story.

I probably don’t need to point out the inherent dangers and idiocy of shipping chickens to the other side of the world and back, but I will anyway…

Hate your job? So does everybody!Last time you had a minimum-wage job, how seriously did you take it? I would cut corners, be lazy, not always wash my hands, and didn’t really care about the future of the company, because, frankly, $3.85/hour (the minimum wage in Ontario when I joined the work force) wasn’t enough to care, quite frankly.

Do the Chinese workers, working at $1/hour, worry about the safety of Americans or their food supply?? Will they wash their hands and ensure quality standards as high as we expect?

As a friend recently pointed out, there are more Chinese people than Chinese jobs, so their work ethic (if they can find work) is likely higher than mine was, so perhaps this is an invalid argument. I’m No Expert on foreign job markets, but low wages and high competition doesn’t sound like a reliable combination to me, especially when food standards and worker safety are at stake.

Furthermore, in the interests of keeping costs “competitive”, would the owners of the Chinese company (oh, wait, that’s their government) spend money on wash basins, safety lessons, clean workstations etc? In the interest of profit, how many corners are cut?

Considering the state of some of North America’s factory farms, where minimizing costs has an inverse relationship to safety and cleanliness, how could China possibly meet the standards that our corporations continually lobby against? According to NationOfChange.org:

Not a great record.

All this to say, the only logical reason I can see for sending American chickens to China is to lower costs. Period.

Factory farmed chickens are bad enough without an over sea voyage

Factory farmed chickens are bad enough without an over sea voyage

Corporations in North America, thanks to our pesky regulations and safety standards, not only have to pay their employees too much money, they ALSO have to ensure the safety of the workplace, cleanliness of the abattoirs, and meet labeling and shipping standards that don’t exist in China. Shipping chickens to China is a win all around for corporations bent on maximizing profits!

But is any of this new?  Nope. China already processes America’s seafood at a significant cost-savings. According to ecowatch.com:

“There are 36 pin bones in a salmon and the best way to remove them is by hand,” said Charles Bundrant, founder of Trident, which ships about 30 million pounds of its 1.2 billion-pound annual harvest to China for processing. “Something that would cost us $1 per pound labor here, they get it done for 20 cents in China.”

Precedent has been set, and the American public didn’t complain then, why would they now?

Mind you, what could the American people legally complain about, even if they were paying attention?  Nothing. Maximizing profits is a legal requirement for all U.S. (and Canadian) public corporations.  They must, by law, do everything they can to maximize returns for their shareholders.  Did you know that?

One of the shittiest issues of the new, secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP), a “trade” agreement being written and negotiated in secret from public review, allows corporations to sue governments if we get in the way of future corporate profits.  For example, if the American people learn that their seafood and chicken is unnecessarily tainted with risk because of the freezing, shipping, processing, re-freezing, re-shipping agreement, and IF the American people got off their asses to complain about it and demand the American companies return the processing to American workers, the corporation could sue the U.S. government, or any other body attempting to “tell them how to do their jobs”.  This lawsuit would happen in a secret International tribunal, with non-elected judges, and the outcome of the case would also be kept secret. Secret!?! How much money the government had to pay the corporation to “compensate them for lost profits” would also be a secret!?!  That’s tax-payers money by the way – and the trade agreement states that we aren’t allowed to know anything about it until everything has been settled!

From Wikileaks.org (who are offering a $10,000 reward to anyone that leaks this secret TPP agreement to the public):

“These investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals are designed to overrule the national court systems. ISDS tribunals introduce a mechanism by which multinational corporations can force governments to pay compensation if the tribunal states that a country’s laws or policies affect the company’s claimed future profits.”

FYI, thanks to Harper, the ISDS already exists in Canada when he ratified FIPA (the “Foreign Investment Promotion & Protection” Agreement) last September.

Let’s re-visit this:

An American corporation can fire American workers and shut down American processing plants to ship dead carcasses to the other side of the world for processing to lower costs. These cost savings are not passed on to the customer but are used to maximize profits for the corporation’s executives and shareholders.  IF Americans complain, and IF their government listens, and IF the government then passes laws preventing this absurd and unfair (to the people) practice, the American corporation can then sue Americans, in secret, for undisclosed amounts paid for by the tax payers the government is trying to protect in the first place!

– Take a moment to let that sink in if this is news to you –

So far most of tribunal cases have favoured the corporations (I wonder who can afford to pay off the judges) and thus American tax-payers pay for the settlement they didn’t know about for a total sum (usually in the multi-millions) which they don’t know about with what’s left of their taxes after the U.S. military has taken their share! Insane, isn’t it?

This is Globalization.

Chickens To China is about Profit

A typical shipping vessel carrying chickens to china

A typical shipping vessel carrying chickens to china

Now, I’m No Expert, but this doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of the customer, or the workers, here or abroad. Sending Chickens to China isn’t about helping employ the world, connect communities, or create global employment standards. Globalization is about maximizing profits at the expense of every worker involved. Americans loose their jobs while Chinese workers continue to be exploited by their government and our corporations.

This is Capitalism 1.0 – profit above all other considerations, and it has to stop.

In a Capitalism 2.0 world, profits would come third after our eco-system (Peace and a balanced eco-system go hand-in-hand) and the corporation’s social mission – which ideally would at least be to treat their employees with respect.  Would an employee-owned co-operative abattoir ship their chickens to China? Nope, they’d keep the work, product, safety and freshness local because the quality of the meat and the reputation of the co-operative would their primary concern.

Capitalism 2.0 prioritizes the Planet over profits, so we would look at the entire, whole product cost of processing chickens. When you add in the environmental cost of burning all that oil to ship the chickens 14,000 miles, the cost “efficiency” disappears. Keeping the chickens (and the workers) local would cut down on pollution AND allow the meat to be sold fresh. Today of course, globalized corporations only pay for the diesel and not the damage.

Capitalism 2.0 also prioritizes People above profits, so IF we shipped Chickens to China, Chinese workers would be earning a living wage, protected by safety standards, and given a decent work environment. These additional costs of course would keep Chinese chickens in China, and American chickens in America because costs would dictate the logic of keeping things local.

By looking at this story purely from the corporation’s (legal) requirement to maximize profits, we simplify the idiocy of these arrangements and see the priorities more clearly. We see that corporations care nothing for their workers, and especially nothing for the Chinese workers.

Profit is King, and the King is a delusional, short-sighted, greedy man detached from his people.Profit is King, and the King is a delusional, short-sighted, greedy man detached from his people.

How long, I wonder, can he remain on the throne?

One comment

  1. Great expose of the ridiculous situation that is the chicken industry. The TPP is horrendous and none of us will benefit, only corporations.

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