Made where?

It’s getting harder to figure out where products are made. And that’s exactly what corporations are counting on.

Kirk Winter Headshot

By Kirk Winter

Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.

My long-time preference for Levi Strauss jeans is at least partially inspired by their nearly century-long cooperative relationship with their mostly unionized workforce that has kept thousand of middle-class jobs in Canada and the United States.

There are many different considerations that go into purchasing something, at least for most people. The decisions include whether the product meets my needs, if it is affordable, and whether the manufacturer is known for making a product that will last and if they’ll stand behind it.

I would like to suggest we should also be conscious of what kind of regime we are supporting as consumers by buying products made in that nation.

My wife, for example, will buy nothing made in either Bangladesh or Cambodia because of their well-publicized mistreatment of employees and their continued opposition to workers organizing for better pay and improved working conditions.

It is tough enough to balance all those competing forces when one goes shopping, and some manufacturers only make it more difficult by intentionally or unintentionally obfuscating where they do business.

I had this happen to me over Christmas. On the recommendation of my foot doctor, I decided to look for a casual slip-on boot. After standing on cement floors for more than 30 years and running up and down soccer fields in cleats likely too narrow for my feet, my feet are a painful mess. As I age, laced shoes in particular aggravate my plantar fasciitis and cost me many hours of interrupted sleep. A slip-on boot with fewer pressure points seemed like something worth investigating.

Upon arrival at a big box store in Peterborough, it was clear that this style of boot is dominated by two companies both based in the land of vegemite and Paul Hogan.

The first pair of boots that I tried on, proudly advertised with multiple labels that they were made in the “Land Downunder” and always would be. Unfortunately, my stupidly high insteps made their fit untenable.

The second pair of boots I tried on fit much better than the first, and a brief glance at the box said in no fewer than four places that the company is also based in the southernmost region of the southernmost inhabited continent on Earth. The brochure inside spoke of the company’s long roots in that nation stretching back to 1850. A cursory glance at the boots indicated nothing that would contradict what I wanted to believe — that these boots were made in a nation where pay is compensatory and working conditions are safe.

I purchased the boots and brought them home where my wife inspected them more closely, only to discover a tag the size of my baby fingernail that indicated the boots were made in Mexico. I was gobsmacked.

Later I learned of the company’s decision in 2007 to abandon their home to manufacture their boots in places like Thailand, India and Mexico. That decision cost close to 360 highly skilled bootmakers their jobs and earned the company the wrath of organized labour in their country of origin who organized a boycott of the company’s products later that year that continued for sometime.

If the boots were not a part of a possible treatment for a worsening health issue, they would have gone back.

Discussions with friends since this incident have led to many shared conversations about disingenuous labelling and packaging. As a young adult, I remember the powerful “Look for the Union Label” advertisements sponsored by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union that flooded prime time American television programming in the late 1970s as that union and others fought desperately to stop needlework jobs from being sent to low wage countries.

My long-time preference for Levi Strauss jeans is at least partially inspired by their nearly century-long cooperative relationship with their mostly unionized workforce that has kept thousand of middle-class jobs in Canada and the United States. Levi Strauss still proudly displays the union label on their products assuring buyers of who made their pants and where they were made. Both our vehicles feature a UAW sticker front and centre in the window leaving little doubt of their place of manufacture or the pride in which they were assembled with parts manufactured in Canada and the United States.

Of late, I have noticed that many packages gracing our store shelves are full of weasel words that do not necessarily make it easy to be a fully informed consumer. A stroll of the aisles in one large hardware store found “designed in,” “engineered in,” and “inspired by,” or “assembled in” that allowed one nation’s flag to be featured prominently on the box while the actual place of manufacture is discretely tucked away elsewhere.

In my experience, even if you find the true place of manufacture you might need a political atlas to decipher what that country is. When people didn’t want to support apartheid in South Africa, oranges arrived in Canada labelled “Product of RSA” (Republic of South Africa.)

I want to be a responsible consumer. My wife wants to be a responsible consumer. It is becoming increasingly difficult to do that. When we are shopping for things we need, too often there isn’t an option that is manufactured in Canada or any other environmentally and socially responsible nation. Manufacturers seem to be going out of their way to make that even more difficult with sketchy labelling that only benefits them in the long run.

We will continue to be vigilant when we’re shopping — and we’ll also be looking for the union label as an added bonus.


  1. Dolores says:

    I agree that it is extremely difficult to determine where products are made. I do my best to “buy Canadian” but here again is the difficulty of finding products manufactured in Canada. I realize that each product (particularly food) needs to identify the particulars of the content, safety etc but it drives me absolutely nuts that the information is so small that you can’t read it without a magnifying glass. 😇😇😇

  2. Ken Hale says:

    Well written article. Very difficult to locate location of manufacturers on any you buy. Why would any Canadian want to support a country like that undermines our future. Long overdue to bring manufacturing back to Canada.

  3. Dave Valentine says:

    I strongly agree with Mr. Winter.

    His mention of South Africa and apartheid reminded me of many years ago returning a little swedesaw I’d picked up at Canadian Tire in Lindsay (seems to me at what became White’s Economy Store) because returning home I found it came from South Africa. The clerk seemed somewhat amused, but accepted the return.

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