Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ikea - What Is My problem?


The great irony of this post is that I am writing it while sitting on an Ikea Chair.  That's because I am married to a furniture maker and one day there will be four, beyond perfect, kitchen chairs in our house, but unless I wanted to sit on the floor for the next 20 years, Ikea was the best intermediary option.

A couple of days ago, the great announcement was made by Halifax's Mayor, Mike Savage, that Ikea would once again be gracing Nova Scotia with its presence.  There was dancing in the streets and free meatballs for everybody.  Twitter and Facebook, all the local radio stations and our union hating newspaper were abuzz with the news.  Even all my fellow tree hugging, local loving friends have been gleeful. Ikea is coming, Ikea is coming!  So why, I ask myself, when 300 jobs will be coming to Nova Scotia, from a company that wants to power itself with solar energy, do I feel so bloody contemptuous. I mean, granted, they have been known to use slave labour; they are masters at tax evasion by calling themselves a charity;  (the premise is they teach millions of people to build furniture) and they do use 1% of the world's wood supply, but, still, they are better than a lot of other big box stores, right?  So, as my brother used to like to say, Anna, what is your problem?

Well, if I had to distill it down, I'd say that first of all, it's just plain gross.  Anything that is that cheap comes with a big price tag.  There is no way on earth that you can buy a chair for $25 without acknowledging that somewhere on earth, someone is paying the true cost of that chair. Ikea already apologized for using political prisoners in East Germany for assembling their products, so, maybe we should just let bygones be bygones.  They say they are better now.  The thing is, they never directly ordered political prisoners to assemble boxes, they just had the work done in a country with questionable ethics where they were not able to properly oversee the work.   Which brings us to China, where most of the parts are made.  When products are made in China, a country not known for human rights, you can be sure that someone is leading a sucky life in the name of "common sense".  But what about those yummy meatballs and the fifty cent hot dogs?  Well, O.K, I love horses as much as the next guy,  I'd rather just be told if I was eating them.

However, none of the above is the real reason that Ikea sends me into a mild depression.  All of the above is the world we live in, and the chair I am sitting on is a testament to that fact.  The thing that really gets me are "the jobs".  Ikea, over the years,  has put thousands of small, local Mom and Pop businesses out of business.  Local businesses with character and unique identities that made up small towns and big cities. These little furniture shops or kitchen stores or carpenter shops are what makes each of our towns unique and special.  It is so hard for local businesses to compete with massive companies like Ikea who, above all else, are devoted to cheap.  These little local businesses pour their money back into their communities.  Can the same be said for Ikea?  Will they use local accountants, local printers and local food suppliers?  What about local taxes?  Big box stores are infamous for receiving huge tax breaks that none of the local businesses enjoy.

So, while Nova Scotians jump up and down for the  300 (mostly minimum wage) jobs coming to town, I feel sad about the carpenters in four provinces that might have been asked to build a kitchen, but lost that job to Ikea and I feel sad for the small furniture store that might lose a sale because of a trip to Ikea and I feel sad for the small housewares shop, struggling to keep their head above water, that just lost one customer because of Ikea.  I'd love to say that there's room for everyone, but there really isn't.  Especially when it comes to Ikea because Ikea markets to the same person that might ordinarily support a local business.  They market themselves on groovy wholesomeness and it's often the same person that shops at the local farmers market that gets lured in by Ikea's ingenuity.

So, I confess, I'm way more excited about supporting 300 local people in their efforts to run their own unique businesses that keep our communities vibrant and unique than by the prospect of 300 people losing their dreams to the mass cuture that is Ikea and then, later, getting hired to be an Ikea "co-worker".

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