Poppy drama

All hell has broken loose in New Zealand, due to the decision by the RSA (the New Zealand version of the Royal British Legion) to take production of its poppies off-shore (for non British or Kiwi readers who may not know what I’m on about: replica poppies are sold every year, to raise money to support war veterans).

The reason for the strong negative reaction is the news that the local production was undertaken by a Christchurch-based organisation called Kilmarnock Enterprises, which made 1.3 million poppies every year and which provided training and work for people with intellectual disabilities – they made the poppies.

The whole issue is making me really cross, for two reasons.

Firstly: the RSA is totally within its rights to do this, and I think that it’s making a good decision.  The RSA, like every charity, should have only one objective: to do its best to support its beneficiaries.  By shifting the poppy production off-shore, it will reduce the production costs by NZ$150,000 each year; money which will it will use to offer a greater level of support to veterans.   By failing to acknowledge this, I think that the New Zealand public has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of the role of charities.

Of course, it is a terrible shame that the training and work opportunities of intellectually disabled adults will be affected by the RSA’s decision.  However, this isn’t the RSA’s problem.  The solution, as I see it, is for somebody to recognise the value of the work and subsidise Kilmarnock Enterprises, to enable it to reduce its cost to the RSA and retain the contract.  But the two issues are totally separate: the provision of training and work for intellectually disabled adults; and the provision of support and services for veterans.  The latter issue is the RSA’s responsibility; the former issue is not.

Secondly: I think that the public reaction and threats of boycotting future ANZAC Day poppy sales are hypocritical in the extreme.  As is common in most first world countries in recent times, the manufacturing sector has been severely affected by the decision to send production off-shore.  In New Zealand, the discount store The Warehouse is one of the most successful brands, and you can rest assured that virtually everything for sale there is produced abroad.  The same is true of a whole range of brands.  Glassons doesn’t sell its clothes so cheaply because of amazing management practices; it does so because it produces everything elsewhere, in countries where labour costs are lower.

Now, the New Zealand public is perfectly happy to stomach this kind of thing for the most part, when it means that they can buy what they want at a reasonable price.  People in New Zealand lose jobs because of it, but it doesn’t result in boycotts of The Warehouse, or Glassons.  The companies in question send their production off-shore solely to reduce production costs and increase profit margins, and everybody is fine about it.

The RSA is trying to reduce its production costs for a far more altruistic reason: to increase the amount of money available to support people in need.  This should be applauded, not criticised.  The New Zealand public should be celebrating the fact that a charity is looking to run itself as efficiently as possible.  Instead, they’re happily putting up with off-shore manufacturing in order to make money for company shareholders, but are not willing to put up with it when the outcome will be increased support for veterans.  And these are the same people who claim that, through its decision, the RSA is somehow ‘betraying’ New Zealand values.  Unbelievable. 

And like I said earlier, there’s nothing stopping anybody from setting up a charity to support the provision of work and training for the affected adults, thus enabling them to compete with the off-shore producers and retain the contract. Of all the incensed New Zealanders who claim that they will now boycott an amazing cause, I wonder how many will have the gumption and dedication to set up or financially support that charity?  Indeed, I wonder how much money they currently donate to support employability skills training for disabled people?  Or how stringently they insist on only buying New Zealand Made products in every other areas of their lives?

2 Responses to Poppy drama

  1. Jackie D says:

    All criticisms of off-shoring are based on the fixed quantity of labor fallacy. The idea that there are only so many jobs in the world is an annoying cousin of the fixed quantity of wealth fallacy, which holds that there’s only so much money to go round. (The “if you have something it’s because you took from someone else” mindset being worryingly mainstream in the UK and poisonous pockets of the US.) Not to mention that it disgusts me when people object to human beings “over there” making a living and having opportunities where before there were none. Seriously, aren’t they ashamed of such stinginess?

    Thanks for standing up for common sense!

    • exilednzer says:

      Heh – you’re welcome! I am always keen to ensure that the cost savings made by producing off-shore are not at the expense of exploitative labour practices in other countries, but beyond that, I can’t get too excited about the whole ‘don’t send work abroad’ issue. And I think that people who do worry about such things should apply their values consistently, which is rarely the case. I won’t buy from places like Primark because I have no confidence that somebody isn’t getting screwed over, but a lot of manufacturers have worked very hard to ensure that developing world producers are treating their workers fairly. They should be supported.

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