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Pulling Back the Curtain of Production Concealment

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Concealment.

This is primary benefit of outsourcing work and supplies from the United States. That goods are produced far, far away from the eyes of consumers benefits the corporations tremendously. It means that when the Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Bangladesh collapses, no Americans see the deaths that result from a system that provides them cheap clothing at Wal-Mart, Gap, and other retailers. That’s very different from the Triangle Fire, when New Yorkers were outraged when they personally saw the deaths of the women who made their clothing. They acted and conditions in the textile factories improved. Today, most of us have absolutely no idea what the conditions of work are in the places that make our clothing, that grow our food, that produce our paint and glass and steel and auto parts. That’s exactly how companies want it. When it comes to meat production, you have states like Idaho passing ag-gag bills, making it a crime to document what happens in a meat production factory. Knowledge is indeed power and the meat producers want to make sure that you have none of it so they have all the power.

One of the complexities of modern capitalism though is that American business don’t just want to outsource production. They also want to open up new markets for their products. That’s certainly true for fast food corporations, who have vastly expanded around the world over the past two decades. This means that in at least some places, production and consumption takes place in the same country and thus when the supply chain system inevitably fails as the big corporations want to push down costs and the suppliers respond through cutting corners on safety, outrage results:

The Chinese outlets of McDonald’s and KFC have stopped using meat from a Shanghai company after a local television news program accused the supplier of using chicken and beef past their expiration dates, setting off an investigation by food-safety officials.

The program, broadcast Sunday evening on Dragon TV, showed hidden-camera footage of workers at a meat-processing plant operated by Shanghai Husi Food using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products for McDonald’s and KFC. In some cases, workers were shown scooping up meat that had fallen onto the assembly line floor and throwing it back into a processing machine.

In response, the Chinese units of McDonald’s and KFC said in news releases posted from their official Sina Weibo social-media accounts that they had halted use of all products from Shanghai Husi, which is owned by the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill. Starbucks also said it had pulled sandwiches with chicken from Shanghai Husi from the shelves of its stores in China. Starbucks said a supplier for the sandwiches had used the meat.

When people see footage of horrors they act. That is what has happened in China. It’s what happened at Triangle and when the Cuyahoga River burned and during the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. Thus, the corporate strategy becomes making sure you see nothing. In this case, the curtain was pulled back, but just in one factory. McDonald’s and KFC have no intention of running a tighter ship with their meat suppliers and they certainly don’t want to run their own meat production sites, although this is an entirely reasonable solution for them. Rather, they want the problem to go away. Such disgusting conditions could be taking place in 100 Chinese meat production factories, just as they could be (and are) in the United States meat industry. It is precisely this kind of information getting out that leads to ag-gag bills here and I’d be shocking if the fast food companies aren’t having behind the scenes talks with Chinese authorities to clamp down on such information becoming public there. That this production facility is owned by an company based in the United States should remind you that there’s no reason to think what you eat is safer, not in a system dominated by exploitative New Gilded Age era capitalism without proper regulatory frameworks and vastly underfunded inspection agencies.

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