Toronto Action for Social Change
Building Community Through Non-Violent Action
P.O. Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. W
Toronto, ON M6C 1C0
March 6, 1998
Dear Susan Cox,
Our apologies for not getting back to you sooner. We wanted to discuss as thoroughly as possible the contents of your letter, and to respond in as honest a fashion as possible.
First off, we want to assure you that we respect the difficult position you find yourself in. In an age where governments have absolved themselves of responsibilities, and where corporate support for anything other than bottom lines has dried up, the task you have undertaken to feed the hungry is quite Herculean.
It is a position we do not envy, and one which we in no way seek to make even more difficult. Indeed, at every leaflet we have held at Loblaws, we encourage people to support the food drive and the work of Daily Bread. And although we have our own differences about the role and practices of food banks and look forward to the day they are no longer needed, it is not our purpose to be bad-mouthing them. Food banks did not elect Mike Harris. Food banks are not greedy corporations which don't pay their fair share of taxes. And we are more than certain that when your salary is revealed to the public, it will not be in the same league as the Cleghorns, Barretts and Curries of the corporate world.
That said, we also do not wish the dialogue which you have started with us to be on the level of enmity and fear. As you state, our larger objectives are similar. We just have a different point of view which, we believe, strengthens the hand of those seeking creative solutions to ending hunger.
Before addressing specific points in your letter, though, we ask you to pause for a moment, and dare to imagine what many would deem impossible, impractical, and naive.
Imagine what would happen if Richard J. Currie, the multi-millionaire running the ship at Loblaws, held a press conference apologizing for supporting the Tories, andcalling on Harris to end and reverse the cuts. Imagine him taking a salary that exists in the universe most of us live in. Imagine him paying the millions in deferred taxes owed by Loblaws, and shaming his friends in similar positions to do the same. This is serious change which would help eliminate some of the economic disparities which cause hunger, not a cosmetic bandaid. The weight of these characters is sufficient that all political parties would suddenly discover the need to provide people with an adequate level of assistance and to create jobs.
It's not going to happen, is it? Of course not, it's too impossible, impractical, and naive. Ending hunger is also impossible, impractical, and naive. But that's why we're involved in this struggle. If we don't raise the impossible, impractical, and naive, we're not going to see any of the serious changes needed to fix our society.
Last year, TASC organized a 220-mile march against hunger and homelessness. Everywhere we went on the march, we saw increasing misery, food banks straining for assistance, people giving up. Every paper we picked up, we read of rising corporate profits.
It is incredible that corporations can consciously support a platform designed to hurt people on social assistance and then treat the issue of hunger as if it were something that is placed here at night by evil martians. There is a linear connection that has to be made between one group's greed and another's need.
This connection is one which we have tried to make with our corporate hypocrite pickets at Shoppers Drug Mart, Hudson's Bay, Canadian Tire, the banks, and Loblaws. The Loblaws pickets started in 1995, when dozens of corporations featured on the Loblaws food drive materials congratulated themselves on their "spirit of sharing." We found this outrageous, considering most of them had donated to the Tories campaign fund, fully knowing of the Harris policies which many of us predicted at the time would lead to an explosion in hunger and homelessness. Additionally, all of them, including Loblaws, had deferred hundreds of millions of taxes. This is greed, not sharing, something for which none have shown any regret.
Loblaws, as you point out, has done much to help Daily Bread. Yes, the intent is good, but it is built on a faulty foundation. Naming a problem is the first step in resolving it. Loblaws and Weston Industries must acknowledge their role in the hunger crisis if they ever hope to end it. To do this, they have to examine the issues we raise in our flyers.
Just as it is hypocritical for men who batter women to wear white ribbons, it is hypocritical for corporations to say they are helping to end hunger when everything about their day-to-day operations contributes to the inequalities which produce hunger in the first place.
Harris did not cut social assistance rates in a vacuum. He had the support of just about every corporation involved in the food drive; we cannot ignore this support, nor the silence which has echoed through corporate coorridors in response to the suffering wrought by this government.
Do you know we have written two open letters to Richard Currie, President of Loblaws, expressing our concerns regarding his corporation's support for the Tories, its refusal to pay its fair share of taxes, and the outrageous sums paid to its executives? It has always been our contention that to end hunger, we must end greed. Unfortunately, no one from Loblaws has responded. Ironically, we believe, the only response defending Loblaws comes from yourself (and more recently from Second Harvest, whose spirited tribute to its benefactor rings hollow when we consider that Second Harvest's vice-president is a Loblaws executive!)
We also wonder if you know that our peaceful leafletters have been harassed by Loblaws management, threatened with slander, intimidated by plain-clothed individuals videotaping our every move and the licence plates of our cars, and arrested by Metro police simply for handing out thoughtful flyers which speak of going beyond the charity model to end hunger. This is hardly the behaviour, it would seem to us, of a benign corporate entity.
If this were not bad enough, it has also come to our attention that Weston has heavy investments in aquaculture in Chile and Ecuador, a practice which has proved devastating to the local economies, pushing already poor farmers off their land, increasing repression to "protect" the fish farms, and, after six or seven years, rendering the land useless for any form of agriculture. This is an indefensible profit-making practice which only serves to undergird the inequality of our much-vaunted global economy. And it is something which Loblaws customers must know about; the poor and hungry of Chile and Ecuador suffer the pain of going without meals just as surely as Canadians do.
TASC is not a group whose raison d'etre is the making of "at any cost" political points. We have no staff, no office, no funding, no newspaper to sell, no "political line" that is our mantra, and hence no stake in doing something which has value only to ourselves. The fact that we question the role of corporations should not in any way hamper a corporation's "good deeds." Indeed, if they truly believe in the importance of giving, they will give.
But just as men should not be congratulated for speaking out to end male violence -- it's something which they should do automatically, not for kissing points -- corporations are not like little children who need patting on the head every time they do something charitable. They should do it simply because it's right. The fact that they don't is symptomatic of the larger problem: they won't do anything unless they get something out of it.
Our concern is that they get so much good press for doing so little, and for contributing to the very conditions that require charity in the first place. When we bend over backwards to celebrate the generosity of their crumbs, we only perpetuate the exploitative relationship.
Granted, Loblaws has done for you some very good things, but ultimately, it does nothing to eliminate the sources of poverty. This is what is missing from the whole food drive, and hence, the reason why food banks have become entrenched institutions. It plays to our sense of charity, not outrage, and the more entrenched you become, the more conservative your message.
Indeed, we were shocked to see in your last food drive a flyer which pointed out that 71% of food bank recipients are Canadian citizens. This seems to us a myopic play on the innate racism of our society -- what does it matter than non-citizens (refugees and recent immigrants, presumably) need help? Are their lives not as worthy as "full-blooded" citizens? This is the kind of subtle, right-wing approach that comes from playing the middle.
Nowhere in your letter -- and to the best of our knowledge, your public statements -- is there even a hint of outrage at the corporate greed which has driven this agenda. Nowhere do you mention Mike Harris by name, or the relationship of your patron to Mr. Harris. Do you honestly believe Loblaws would continue supporting Daily Bread if you came right out and attacked the corporations who will not pay their fair share of taxes? Of course not. You are held hostage by Loblaws, and the belief that you have the freedom to do and say anything you like is belied by your silence on these issues.
In terms of your specific points:
We will no longer state that Loblaws has an exclusive agreement with you on the food drive. However, given the absence in food drive promotional materials of any other corporate food chain, I'm sure you can understand how that impression is made.
If Loblaws does not make a profit off the food drive (what with the myriad of deductions they must make for donations to you), they must be really bad corporate managers. The food drive, you must admit, is set up so that we, the customers, are relied upon to make the donations by purchasing Loblaws products. When food drives fall short because we ourselves cannot buy enough products, we have yet to see the gallant Loblaws coming to the rescue. Where are Mr. Currie's $15 million in stock options at these crucial moments? Going to buy food for the hungry? We find it hard to believe that, especially after corporate write-offs for donations, Loblaws loses anything on the food drive. For Loblaws to go against the very grain of corporate culture and take a significant loss, we feel, is a gamble with shareholders' money they would certainly not take.
You state our leaflets are resulting in declining public contributions because people are misled and confused. Contributions are declining because hunger is no longer an outrage, it is an institution like cancer or Remembrance Day.
Contributions are also declining because we have lost the capacity as a society to explore why it exists in the first place, and to offer people practical things they can do to push the system closer to a sense of social responsibility. People contributing year after year and seeing no dent in hunger -- and therefore figuring it doesn't matter one way or the other -- are the real reason for declining contributions, not a group which is offering suggestions on tackling the roots of the problem.
Our activities, you say, jeopardize your relationship with Loblaws. The real danger is not that TASC's actions will cause you to lose your relationship with Loblaws. The real danger is that the ties between TASC and Daily Bread will worsen because of Loblaws' refusal to honestly acknowledge its role in the perpetuation of hunger. At no time have we asked people not to participate. In fact, we encourage people to donate to the food drive, and to go beyond philanthropy to asking why hunger exists and to look at this model corporate citizen's hypocrisy.
In conclusion, we are deeply saddened that you would choose to attack us in such a vigorous manner, and provide such a spirited defence to a corporation which helped elect the Tories and, as far as we know (for we have not heard otherwise), will help re-elect them. TASC is a tiny group of concerned individuals who have often taken personal risks to try and seek solutions to the crisis of hunger in Ontario. We would have hoped that as someone who testified at a trial where 16 of us faced potentially serious prison time for planting vegetable gardens that you could have a bit more respect for the dedication and commitment of the group's membership.
You no doubt know as well that three of our members were arrested over Christmas at Loblaws, and face a trial in July. In the spirit of solidarity, the least you could have mentioned in your letter was a statement of support to anti-hunger activists who face penalties for exercising free speech. The trauma of a young girl watching her father and her friends hauled off by a battalion of cops (seven squad cars!!!) was a significant one. The trauma of experiencing the strong-arm tactics of an allegedly good corporate citizen showed us Loblaws is not interested in dialogue, in change, or an end to hunger. Indeed, we left the store premises with an agreement that we could flyer at the store's entrance, pledging to stay only an additional half hour. This deal was violated within minutes by Loblaws.
If you sincerely believe that our 4-5 leaflets each year will hurt your relationship to Loblaws, then your relationship is obviously not as cosy as you make it out to be.
Loblaws could do so much more, but it won't, unless they are prodded. The Daily Bread, it seems, is unwilling to do the prodding; therefore, it must be left to concerned citizens who will. We would prefer that we could proceed as allies working to push Loblaws to show true community responsibility; for you to be part of the marginalization of our efforts means, ultimately, that Loblaws does not have to seriously assess its actions or practices, and can continue to sail on its reputation of philanthropist all the way to the bank.
As such, we plan to continue our corporate hypocrite pickets, including at Loblaws, where we will again be holding an Easter leaflet. In the meantime, we hope to hear some sort of response from Loblaws itself.
We recognize this is not the response either Daily Bread or Loblaws wishes to hear. We appreciate you had the courtesy to write to us, even though we wrote to Loblaws and not Daily Bread. And ultimately, we trust that you will be able to respect our motivations and our commitment to ending hunger -- both symptoms and causes -- in Ontario.
Building Community Through Non-Violent Action
P.O. Box 73620, 509 St Clair Ave. West
Toronto, Ontario M6C 1C0
(416) 651-5800; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
May 11, 1998
Zoe Cormack Jones
Executive Director, Second Harvest
I am writing to you in response to the letter you sent to Toronto Action for Social Change, supporting Loblaws and criticizing our efforts to raise issues around their practices.
First of all, we find it interesting that, despite letters from us to Loblaws outlining our concerns we have had no response from them. Perhaps you can assist us in obtaining replies to our correspondence, copies of which are attached.
We are focusing on Loblaws' hypocrisy because we feel it actually helps to feed the problem you are trying to overcome through your efforts. Through tax deferral;s of some $56 million, for example, Loblaws is helping to undermine the ability of the government to ensure that there is an adequate social safety net so that people do not have to depend on charity for something as basic as food. Through donations to political parties that cut social services, Weston Industries and Loblaws are supporting government policies that create hunger in our society.
If Loblaws were truly concerned about the poor and the hungry in our society, they would apologize for helping to elect Mike Harris and publicly work to eliminate the policies which lead to hunger in Ontario, such as cuts to welfare, attacks on labour rights, removing employment equity, implementing workfare and abolishing social housing programmes. Instead, they support Harris and his agenda, driving up the demand for private charity which we all know cannot possibly meet the need. Then, after helping to contribute to the problem of hunger in society, Loblaws gets to be the corporate good guy by being heavily involved in food charities.
Loblaws' corporate practices his society in other ways. We see this every time they close a unionized store and convert it to a No Frills or other discount franchise which helps lower the wages and weaken employment conditions in this province. We see this when they open superstores that destroy neighbourhood stores, helping to take money out of the community and strengthening their control over the food distribution industry.
We share with your agency a concern for the fact that there are hungry people in our society. We support, in principle, what you are doing to ensure that the surplus of our society is shared. We do not agree with you that corporations that support the Harris agenda should not be held publicly accountable for their actions.
We are more than willing to stop protesting at Loblaws. All they have to do is give up their tax deferrals, stop donating to political parties that have a programme of cutting social services, stop paying their executives gross amounts of compensation, and become a good and compassionate corporate citizen.
Toronto Action for Social Change
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