Usually my first important answer of the day is found in a cup of coffee. But recently it was actually on a coffee cup. There, printed on the mug, was a Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Since writing my last column on fair trade, I have had a few encounters with several people, each wanting to share their “world is not fair” story with me. And, for the most part, I agree with their views and can sympathize. That is, of course, until I find out that they’re not doing anything about it.
There are two things that I am reasonably sure of (other than that the world is not fair). The first is that our world is constantly changing. The second is that change comes with both challenges and opportunities. Not doing anything, or simply just complaining about it, means that you are only seeing the challenges and not seeking out the associated opportunities.
As I write this column, I (along with 10 other volunteers on the London Region Manufacturing Council) am preparing for several events that are designed to help educate, inform or remind our local politicians and civic leaders of the important contribution that manufacturing makes to our nation’s and community’s economic well-being. It is not an easy task since the common opinion seems to be that manufacturing is blue collar and our society’s hope lies with knowledge-based industries. The truth is that so many of the jobs in manufacturing companies are highly knowledge-based, and that wages in our sector are still 22 per cent higher than the overall average wages paid in Canada. The government’s failure to acknowledge the important role that the manufacturing industry plays in the Canadian economy is a huge problem. Yet some company leaders in our industry choose to do nothing but ignore the problem or complain about it.
This surprises me. From my experience, manufacturers are doers. That’s the way we are wired. The truth is, we are really only truly content when we are actually succeeding in what we are doing, and can measure our progress against our target or objective in tactile ways. Getting involved in community, provincial or federal government politics is something we have little stomach for, likely because any efforts we might make seem to have little, if any, positive effect, and we like to see effects right away.
Another reason some manufacturers may fail to get involved is the energy and time that would get diverted away from their business. There is already a relentless demand on your time, and any time you might be able to give to these non-business-critical endeavors would likely have to be carved out of your personal life. But the issues before the manufacturing sector are too important and critical for us to let others naively, or intentionally, compound previous bad policy decisions with even more bad ones. So, what to do?
One option is to put your support behind an association that shares your concerns. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association (CME) are two examples of associations that try to put forward the concerns and interests of the companies and industries they represent. There is a small financial cost to this, but it makes little demand on your time.
Another option is to speak up. Be politely persistent with your opinions and share them with elected people whenever possible. Grass roots opinions carry more weight than we sometimes realize. Common themes and messages that come from multiple individual sources frequently carry a lot more weight than the ones delivered by the professional advocates.
Although we expect our governments to lead, they generally follow the trends they sense in society. Take the environment as an example. Although there have been a lot of policies and declarations made about being environmentally friendly over the last decade, any real steps forward have only been taken by our government when they sense it has become important to the average person. Conversely, Canadian industry leads the way in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, having reduced total emissions 7.4 per cent below 1990 levels. (If you hear anyone suggest that industry is part of the GHG problem, correct them and tell them industry is leading the way, and is in fact part of the solution. It is the only sector in our society currently headed in the right direction).
The same is true with employment standards and human rights in developing nations. While many are pressuring or encouraging our governments to legislate ways to discourage trade with nations with unfair labour practices, an increasing number of individual companies now require appropriate assurances in their purchasing contracts with companies from these regions. If the number of “homemade remedies” continues to grow, you can be certain that our government leaders will soon follow. Persistent grass roots movements work because they cannot be denied; sooner or later they carry the day.
These are times of great change for manufacturers, and they are also times of great opportunity. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard, encouraging our political leaders to help us face the challenges we face together, and when appropriate, to follow our example. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. and chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information about the LRMC, visit www.manufacturinglondon.com.