Take a close look at the cheery little gift we received recently. That comical little coffee table decoration was chosen by our friends because it reflected our interest in canoeing and animals. After examining it carefully, I began think about its provenance.
These are some of the questions about it I asked myself.
Where did it come from? Probably some Third World country where cheap labour is readily available. It bears no country of origin marking. no company name, no toll-free number, no company website.
What was it made of? The exterior of the hull was covered in scraps of birch bark. The gunwales seem to be of some coarse fibre, sewn to the hull using some sort of non-synthetic twine. The oar shafts are made of twigs. The oar blades are of some sort of coarse fabric, perhaps burlap. looking carefully, I noticed that the basis of the canoe hull is molded Styrofoam, as is the body’s core. The core of whatever animal it is supposed to be (Hedgehog? Muskrat? Panda?) is also molded Styrofoam. Hard plastic eyes and nose. The cargo of six pumpkins, apples or tomatoes are also hard plastic. The soft ‘fur’ is some sort of synthetic fibre. The oar locks are made of little hoops of wire. Some sort of paper that is printed to look like birch bark is what the real birch bark is pasted onto.
Who made it? The project design originated from a person who’s never used a canoe. (Canoes aren’t rowed with oars, they’re propelled by paddles). That same person has little knowledge of any wild animals and is not too familiar with the colour scheme of vegetables or fruit. The real birch bark was gleaned from a local forest. A young child could do that. The synthetic components could have been made by semi-skilled machine-operator labourers. I’m guessing that the person who used all those materials to assemble the canoe, rower and cargo was a skilled seamstress of sorts, able to follow Ikea kind of drawn instructions.
Under what conditions was it created? Our current minimum hourly wage of $15 is quite likely what the piece-worker would have been delighted to receive for a whole day’s work. The assembler probably worked out of their shack-like home.
Who gets what slice of the $15.00 retail price of the pie’? The project instigator gets paid. So does the provider of natural and synthetic materials. Sea transportation costs, trucking costs, wholesaler fees and retail workers must also be covered.
Yes, everyone gets a piece of the pie, but most barely get crumbs.