Published on: August 21, 2015
Yesterday, MNB took note of a Fortune
report that "three California law firms have filed a class-action lawsuit against Costco and CP Foods, its Thai seafood supplier, and are seeking an injunction to stop the company from selling shrimp unless it is labeled as a product of slavery." The lawsuit is related to an investigation last year that discovered "horrific conditions" connected to the farmed shrimp industry, and the story says that "the plaintiff in the class action suit is Monica Sud, a resident of California who had purchased shrimp from Costco without knowing that she had essentially been supporting slavery."
I commented:The original investigation, according to the story, defined "horrific conditions" as including "20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings."
Which some would argue is only marginally worse than the conditions at Amazon.
Of course, when opposing such treatment, one then has to ask an existential question - if you had to give up one thing, would you rather give up shrimp or Amazon Prime?
There were MNB readers who felt this was not my best moment.
MNB reader Gail Graham wrote:I am a regular reader and I enjoy your commentary and your humor. But this time I thought your flippant comment about the “horrific conditions” at the Thai shrimp farms being only marginally worse than at Amazon, inappropriately makes light of a very real human rights issue. The United States 2014 “Trafficking in Persons Report” relegates Thailand to the lowest category among 188 examined and the report estimates that more than half of the Burmese workers in one Thai port reported experiencing slave conditions.
I think today’s consumer does care about the source of their food and the conditions under which it is produced—including the treatment of the people doing the work. And while the recent articles about Amazon paint a picture of a less than idyllic workplace—and perhaps will cause some people to ask “At what cost is my convenience?- the conditions are a far cry from what is happening at fish farms in Thailand. I think your jibes at Amazon serve to divert attention from a serious issue in our food supply chain.
From another reader:Perhaps the Amazon jests were a bit a poor judgement call with respect to those allegations of some serious suffering on the part of those Thai shrimp industry workers? I know the quips were hard to resists, but ask yourself if they were Virginia workers, would you take that tone?
Maybe. To be honest, I did sort of think twice about that joke after I wrote it ... though, obviously, I decided to go with it.
It is fair to accuse me of making light of human trafficking ... which actually was not my intention. if anything, I was making light of the accusations about the toughness of the Amazon workplace. Sure, it can be punishing ... but those folks tend to be making good money, and they're living in Seattle, they can leave for other jobs, and life could be much worse. So while the Amazon issues are serious, they have to be kept in perspective.
Besides ... my general impulse is to make fun of pretty much everything. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, but I think in general it serves me pretty well.
We wrote yesterday about a Milwaukee Business Journal
report that a Wisconsin law form has filed five complaints against Meijer Inc., accusing the retailer of selling products below cost, which would be a violation of the state's Unfair Sales Act.
I commented:Silly law. Companies ought to be able to sell stuff for whatever price they want. Mandating certain margins seems anti-capitalism to me.
Again, not everyone agreed. One MNB reader wrote:While I’m no fan of minimum mark-up laws (and am actually undecided on laws regulated sales below cost), to flippantly suggest it’s a silly law is off base. It’s only anti-capitalism in the same sense of anti-monopoly laws or other consumer protections.
With sales below cost, companies with deep pockets can price to a level independents can’t afford to match. These laws protect small business and eventually consumers because prices will only rise with competition eliminated.
Maybe this sort of protection is going too far and is part of fair completion, but clearly there are reasonable positions on both side of the law and it can’t be dismissed as silly.
I guess my "flippant" quotient was a little high yesterday.
However, there were those who agreed with me.
One MNB reader put the law into context:There are a handful of states with such laws. I am pretty sure that California and Louisiana still have laws that forbid the sale of numerous dairy products (milk, cheese etc.) below cost. The company I worked for was on the wrong end of a California State complaint many years ago. A major hurdle is calculating "cost". That often depends on how you allocate fixed costs like overhead. Fortunately California had over reached in my case - their law applied to pasteurized process cheese but not to pasteurized process cheese food (example Kraft Singles) so I was able to easily dispose of that complaint. A number of state set minimum prices on certain dairy products, e.g. Pennsylvania. Others do not allow manufacturer's coupons on such dairy products.
However, most of the states that have these laws no longer enforce them. Other items where some states restrict pricing are gasoline and alcoholic beverages. Ohio has minimum markups on beer and wine. On wine the distributor must mark it up a minimum of 33% and a retailer 50%. So a $3 bottle of wine is sold by the distributor for $4 to a retailer, and the retailer then has to sell that for no less than $6. Retailers are permitted to offer a 10% case discount, mix or match, making the net $5.40.
MNB reader Steve Traun wrote:Meijer couldn’t buy better advertising…
From another reader:What a gift a competitor has given Meijer in free publicity about its low pricing. We all should be so lucky as to have news stories about being lower priced than our competitors. The consumers don’t care if a product is below cost, and everyone appreciates a bargain—and now they know where to get them.
And another:If there really is such a dumb law in Wisconsin it's a cinch Governor Scott Walker doesn't know about it. And if he doesn't, he probably will know now. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he jumps in to propose legislation. This seems like just the kind of protectionist nanny-ism that the GOP typically rails against.
Unless proposing such legislation is not seen as ultimately helping a his presidential aspirations.
MNB reader Daniel Hogan wrote:I agree with you that this law is ridiculous and anti-capitalistic. The term “loss leader” exists for a reason.
Finally, on another subject ...
We wrote yesterday that he founder of the Fresh Market supermarket chain has acquired a Park Avenue penthouse in New York City for for $21.4 million, in a transaction described by the New York Times
as "the most expensive closed sale of the week."
The reason it is noteworthy? Ray D. Berry bought the apartment - which also has carrying charges of $16,272 a month
- from Donald Trump.
I commented:In this case, I guess Trump did not consult his "The Art of the Deal." The penthouse originally was on the market for almost $25 million.
But one MNB reader made a good observation:Maybe Ray D. Berry read Trump's book?