While this might seem like a given, as an International Relations and Political Science major, I can tell you that it’s a very complicated question that whole courses were devoted to determining. A great video by C.G.P. Grey attempts to address the issue in under five minutes (I recommend you check out his many other enlightening videos).
In a world where around 870 million people suffer from chronic malnourishment — and tens of millions more come very close — wasting food would be a significant moral calamity. Unfortunately, as the Washington Post’s Brad Plummer reported on his WonkBlog, it’s also a disturbingly common and large scale problem, one that is hardly limited to privileged first-worlders living in abundance (although that’s a big part of it).
Between 30 and 50 percent of all the food that’s produced on the planet is lost and wasted without ever reaching human stomachs. That’s the stunning takeaway from a new report (pdf) from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
We’ve covered food waste before on this blog, but those figures seemed staggering to the point of absurdity. So I thought I’d comb through the report and pull out some of the concrete details that help illustrate just how the world can actually waste this much food. A sampling:
- “A [survey] in India showed that at least 40% of all its fruit and vegetables is lost between grower and consumer due to lack of refrigerated transport, poor roads, inclement weather and corruption.”
- “In mature, developed economies such as the UK and USA … entire crops, or portions of crops, can be rejected prior to harvest on the grounds of physical appearance. As a result of these factors, up to 30% of the UK vegetable crop is never harvested.”
- “Grain wastage in store varies widely with the type of crop and the region. In a developed country such as Australia, wastage of 0.75% in stored grain is at the upper end of acceptability … [In] Pakistan, losses amount to about 16% of production, or 3.2 million tonnes annually, where inadequate storage infrastructure leads to widespread rodent infestation problems.”
- “Many of the grain stores in the former Soviet Republics were engineered and constructed in the 1930s, and cold-storage warehouses and food processing facilities date back to the 1950s. As a result they are inefficient by modern engineering standards, and frequently both insanitary and unsafe.”
- “[M]any less-developed nations are located in the warmer, hotter regions of the world, such as India and Africa where post harvest losses of fruit and vegetables can range between 35–50% annually, and these countries lack the engineered infrastructure required to facilitate such post-harvest cooling.”
Note that the U.S. alone wastes $165 billion in food each year, which amounts to perhaps 40 percent of our domestic supply — a staggering number in a country with a fairly high percentage of impoverished and food-insecure people. Not only is wasting food on this scale a tragedy in its own right, but it also puts pressure on our already-strained resources, namely water, land, and energy.
Thankfully, like most such social issues, there are reasonable and plausible solutions — albeit ones requiring a tremendous amount of financial and political investment.
For poorer countries, simply building better food-storage buildings could cut down massively on waste in places like Pakistan or Ghana (which lost 50 percent of its stored maize in 2008). Better harvesting technology and techniques could also help, although the report suggests that some nations like India will need more sweeping societal and political changes to cut down on waste.
Meanwhile, wealthier regions like the United States and Europe will need to think harder about not throwing out so much perfectly good food — see this old post for more on that. One small step, which Britain has been exploring of late, is to rethink their use of food labels, which often encourage supermarkets to toss out food long before it actually goes bad.
Furthermore, time is of the essence, as other global problems are exacerbating the issue:
That may not seem like a pressing task right this second, but these issues are likely to get more attention in the years ahead. Scientists say it’s going to be a challenge feeding the world as the population soars past 7 billion and climate change deals a blow to crop yields in the decades ahead. Apart from advanced farming techniques and better land management, we’ll also need to figure out how to tamp down on food waste.
Again, this would require a significant amount of political and economic capital, from both the private and public sectors. The public needs to become more aware of this issue and put pressure on politicians and companies alike to take action. It will require a significant multidimensional approach, which is no easy task given all the other complex national and global problems occupying most societies. Of course, the consequences of inaction will be far more difficult to deal with.
To learn more about the big picture regarding this topic, read this PDF essay by the University of Minnesota’s Jonathan Foley.
There’s a widespread misconception — bolstered by news media and political rhetoric — that the U.S. is enduring a flood of migrants from Mexico. On the contrary, both legal and illegal immigration from south of the border has declined by 80 percent since 2007, the lowest at any point since 1991. The number of Mexicans returning home outnumbered those leaving the country — in fact, more Americans have left for Mexico than the other way around, with the number surging since 2005. Subsequently, our southern neighbor hosts over one million U.S. citizens, more than any other country in the world.
Furthermore, this trend is likely to be permanent, because Mexico is actually doing far better than most people realize. Since the recession, it’s economy has grown twice as fast as America’s (albeit from a much lower base). Depending on how you measure it, Mexico has the 11th to 14th largest economy in the world, with some sources predicting that it will grow to become the fifth or seventh largest by 2050 (around the level that France, the UK, and Germany are today). A few scholars even believe that Mexico could become an influential global power, which isn’t far fetched when you consider that in some areas, it’s comparable or superior to China, India, Russia, and other emerging powers.
Since the mid-1990s, the majority of Mexicans have become part of the rapidly growing middle-class, with the country recently being classified as a newly-industrialized nation. Mexico’s average life expectancy and poverty rate is comparable to the U.S. (thanks in part to its universal healthcare system), while one-third of Mexican states have a crime rate equal to or less than America’s. While the country is still enduring many problems — including one of the worst rates of violence and income inequality in the world — it’s not the dystopia that popular culture and news media make it out to be.
Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks in the title role, was recently released in theaters with much critical and financial success. I haven’t seen the film myself, although I had heard vaguely about incident on which it was based. Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the film hardly reflects reality, mischaracterizing the titular captain as being far more heroic than he really was, and taking considerable liberty with how the whole event played out.
All that aside, the more unfortunate misconception will not be about Captain Phillips’s character, but about the background and circumstances around the hijacking. Given that the film is intended to be a fast-paced thriller, there wasn’t much effort to provide a context for why piracy is endemic in that part of the world — which for the sake of entertainment, would be an acceptable omission to make, were it not for the fact that most Americans learn about other parts of the world through the variable perspectives of filmmakers (Indeed, given how much our society consumes entertainment media, it’s usually the dominant influence on all sorts of ideas and values.)
As an article in Slate noted, piracy off the coast of Somalia stems from a number of factors, many of which are the responsibility of the outside world:
For instance: In the film, Muse [the pirate captain] briefly mentions foreign vessels coming to take away the fish off the Somali coast. Viewers new to the subject may not know what to make of these remarks, but they refer to what many observers believe was a precipitating cause of the uptick in Somali piracy roughly 20 years ago. When the regime of longtime Somali dictator Siad Barre collapsed in 1991, the country was plunged into ongoing violence between rival armed groups and left without a central government capable of defending the country’s economic interests—including the “exclusive economic zone” off the Somali coast. Fleets from Europe and Asia quickly moved in, depleting the supply of fish.
As an African Development Bank report from 2011 put it, “Fishermen, dismayed at the inability of the central government to protect their country’s EEZ, and at the number of foreign fishing vessels illegally exploiting their traditional fisheries, took matters into their own hands. Initially arming themselves to chase off the illegal foreign fishing vessels, they quickly realized that robbing the vessels was a lucrative way to make up for lost income. Seeing their success, land based warlords co-opted some of the new pirates, organizing them into increasingly sophisticated gangs.” (There have also been periodic reports of toxic waste being dumped off Somalia’s shores, including by the Italian mafia.
Unlike pirates in most parts of the world, who specialize in stealing goods on board ships, Somali pirates nearly always hold ships for ransom, sometimes for months at a time. (The Maersk Alabama incident depicted in Captain Phillips was unusual in that the crew fought off the pirates after they had already boarded.) Shipping companies were generally willing to write off pirate ransoms as the cost of doing business. This ransoms could reach as high as $9.5 million though they were generally around half of that. So it’s not surprising that the pirates in the movie aren’t impressed by Phillips’ offer of the $30,000 in the ship’s safe.
In other words, piracy is driven by a combination of political instability, economic collapse, and sheer desperation, all of which have been compounded by the external plundering of one of the last major sources of food and income.
None of this justifies piracy of course, but it does highlight the nuance and moral complexity of these sorts of phenomena — as in most issues in international relations, the causes and motivations are rarely clear cut or black and white. Piracy thrives largely in impoverished and lawless areas for a reason. Lacking any sort of opportunity, many Somalis simply don’t have a choice.
From what I’ve read, Captain Phillips does make an effort to show some of this nuance, and apparently portrays the pirates’ plight somewhat sympathetically. Regardless, my issues is less with the movie and more with how portrayals of the outside world in entertainment media is so often taken at face value…an issue for another day.
It’s self-evident that the internet has done much to bring different cultures together, helping to facilitate or event create trends that transcend boundaries and languages. This is especially the case with social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, through which people can access each other’s posts, videos, music, and other outputs freely and easily.
In order to better understand this cultural globalization, the MIT Center for Civic Media that has launched What We Watch, a website which tracks global video watching trends based on collected public data from YouTube’s Trends Dashboard. Through its neat interactive map, you can view how culture spreads through YouTube videos, and can even pinpoint where a particular video is trending and which countries and regions tend to share the most similar tastes.
Foreign Policy has an article on the project that includes a few interesting case studies — for example, some videos (such as Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball”) seemed to be popular across many different countries, while others were limited mostly to those with shared languages and cultures. The results are pretty interesting:
While Argentines, Colombians, Mexicans, and Peruvians tend to watch the same videos as one another, Portuguese-speaking Brazilians are outliers in Latin America, having more in common — at least when it comes to YouTube — with Australia, Canada, and Sweden, among others (though not, it seems, Portugal).
Turkey — that bridge between East and West — favors popular videos in Europe, like this One Direction video, to those in the Middle East, which include several clips from Arab Idol and a music video by Elissa, which was trending in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, among others. (Admittedly, language likely plays a significant role here.)
The project is in part a way to find videos you might not have come across in your own country. But the map’s creators also want it to capture how culture spreads: Which videos blow up, and what paths do they take? Just how did the Dutch start watching a video by Alfaaz featuring Yo!Yo! Honey Singh, for instance? Why do some videos, like this ridiculous British ad for cereal, never win over a global audience,while this very sweet ad for Google Hangouts has garnered widespread global popularity — except in the United States, which appears to be its intended target?
Two countries that could serve as bridges, researchers found, are the United Arab Emirates and Singapore – both notable as small countries that share a lot of content with a wide range of nations. Both have large expatriate populations as well as large numbers of “guest workers.” “We can imagine a video popular in India making its way to Yemen through the United Arab Emirates,” researcher Ethan Zuckerman wrote.
It’s pretty neat stuff, and definitely worth checking out. You’ll also get to view these most popular videos yourself, so you can better see what your fellow global citizens are into — and whether you can relate!
According to a comprehensive new report issued by the Walk Free Foundation of Australia, there are nearly 30 million slaves in the world right now, including forced laborers, forced prostitutes, child soldiers, and child brides in forced marriages. Slaves were found to be living in all 162 countries that were investigated, including in the United States, which hosts around 60,000. Read more about this issue here.
As the Washington Post reports, there’s quite a bit of evidence that the food labels we all rely on — including the expiration and sell-by dates — are almost totally unreliable:
In fact, the whole labeling system is a total mess, argues a new report (pdf) from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. Date labels are often so inscrutable and differ so widely from state to state that they’re essentially worthless as information. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a whole page straining to make sense of the whole muddle.)
And, the report argues, those labels may be leading Americans to throw out tons and tons of perfectly good food each year — one reason why the United States rubbishes about 40 percent of the food it produces, or $165 billion in wasted food each year.
It may be hard to believe that something this ubiquitous and routine could be so incredibly flawed (though many people hav elong suspected it). But it’s not entirely surprising when you look at the history of food labels (which despite being treated as a given, are a fairly recent development):
Back in the 1970s, urban shoppers wanted to know whether their food was fresh. So, in response, dozens state governments began passing a patchwork of different labeling laws.
At this point, Leib writes, Congress could have stepped in to pass a uniform national standard. But that never happened — and hasn’t to this day. The result was the “uneven and piecemeal creation of an American date labeling regime” that now looks like this:
Those dates on grocery packaging can mean wildly different things in different states. Some producers include a “sell by” date that’s largely meant for use by retailers. Other packages show a “best if used by” date targeted at the consumer. But there are also “freeze by” or “best if enjoyed by” labels that mean something entirely different again.
Indeed, take a look at the following map to see just how variable it all is:
This isn’t just an inconvenience: in the aggregate, this convoluted system has significant humanitarian and even environmental consequences:
It’s likely that perplexing date labels are one reason why Americans throw out so much perfectly good food. Although this hasn’t been measured directly, studies in Europe and Britain suggest that befuddlement over date labeling accounts for 20 percent of avoidable food waste. Seeing as how the United States wastes some $165 billion worth of food each year — to say nothing of the water and energy used to grow it — that’s significant.
Andrew Breiner of Climate Progress, who wrote about the labeling study first, also notes a recent U.N. report finding that we emit about 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases each year in the course of producing wasted food. That’s about twice the annual emissions of India. So there’s a climate-change angle here, too.
As for solutions to this disconcerting issue, there isn’t anything solid, although the suggestions are fairly simple:
The report ends with a chapter on recommendations to tidy up the labeling mess. Leib argues that “sell-by” dates — which are mainly intended for use by manufacturers and retailers — should be invisible to the consumer. And, the report notes, it ought to be replaced with a simpler standard to communicate quality and safety more clearly.
Leib has a few suggestions along these lines, although they’re hardly definitive. Perhaps something like “Peak quality (or freshness) guaranteed before [Date]” might be clearer. There’s also some evidence that relying on “freeze by” dates for certain foods could lead to less waste. But, Leib says, it’s worth trying to figure out what the most effective system actually is here.
Now all we need is the political will to execute new policies and standards…which, given the current circumstances, is sadly not very encouraging.
Nowadays, most people feel that they’re working harder and longer than ever — and with a lot less to show for it. There’s certainly a degree of truth to this, as real wages and incomes have remained stagnant despite rising productivity.
But according to research by the OECD, an association comprising most of the world’s richest nations, average working hours have actually declined for most developed economies over the last two decades, as the following graph from The Economist shows:
Understandably, many people might be skeptical of this finding, given what we’ve all seen and experienced in this miserable economy: people having to pull in two jobs or work overtime just to barely scrape by, all the while contending with a greater workload and less (if any) compensation. Indeed, The Economist article also notes some caveats:
The Greeks are some of the most hardworking in the OECD, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But German productivity is about 70% higher.
One important question concerns whether appetite for work actually diminishes as people earn more. There are countervailing effects. On the one hand, a higher wage raises the opportunity cost of leisure time and should lead people to work more. On the other hand, a higher income should lead a worker to consume more of the stuff he or she enjoys, which presumably includes leisure.
In other words, how much you work is a separate matter from how hard your work, even the two are often seen as one in the same. Of course, working longer hours still means you’re spending less time doing leisurely things; conversely, someone who works hard may nonetheless end up with more time for themselves to enjoy (though some word argue that you may also become too burned out to actually enjoy most of that extra free time). But wait, there’s more:
Some research shows that higher pay does not, on net, lead workers to do more. Rather, they may work less. A famous study by Colin Camerer and colleagues, which looked at taxi drivers, reached a controversial conclusion. The authors suggested that taxi drivers had a daily income “target”, and that:
“When wages are high, drivers will reach their target more quickly and quit early; on low-wage days they will drive longer hours to reach the target.”
This may very well explain why so many companies seem intent on paying their workers as little as possible, despite nonetheless demanding more from them. Of course, there’s also research suggesting that higher pay boosts productivity — and corporate profits — by leading workers to be more invested in their jobs. This improves morale, reduces turnover, and minimizes the likelihood of cutting corners or stealing from the company. Basically, if people are treated better, they’ll work better.
Anyway, there’s more to how we look at work:
Alternatively, the graph above might suggest that people who work fewer hours are more productive. This idea is not new. Adam Smith reckoned that
“[T]he man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly, not only preserves his health the longest, but in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of works.”
There are aberrations, of course. Americans are relatively productive and work relatively long hours. And within the American labour force hours worked among the rich have risen while those of the poor have fallen. But a paper released yesterday by the New Zealand Productivity Commission showed that even if you work more hours, you do not necessarily work better. The paper made envious comparisons between Kiwis and Australians—the latter group has more efficient workers.
Pretty complex stuff, to say the least. Clearly, there’s more to take into account than just how hard you work, for how long, and for what amount of compensation. What is certain is that humans value their free time as well as the material and monetary means to use it. I suspect that if you pay people better and give them fewer hours, they’ll generally work harder.
Otherwise, the next best thing might be to just make their work experience more pleasant; too many companies have skimped on perks that used to make our jobs a little more enjoyable. Company trips and parties have been cut, break times shortened, schedules less reliable and flexible — for too many people, work is simply too miserable. If we’re going to spend so much of our waking life working, it should at least be fulfilling, enjoyable, or at the very least well-paying. Indeed, as the great Bertrand Russell observed many decades ago:
So maybe we should be more self-critical about how much we work. Working less may make us more productive. And, as Russell argued, working less will guarantee “happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia”.
Speaking from experience, I can certainly attest to my quality of life improving since getting a job that treats me better and compensates me more. Frankly, even when I was making less money working a part-time job before that, I still enjoyed my life more given the greater leisure time I had. What about you guys? What are your thoughts and concerns?
Several months after a horrific factory collapse killed over 1,000 Bangladeshi laborers – exposing the callous and pervasive disregard for workers in that country’s biggest industry — there has still been little change in businesses practices in one of the world’s poorest nations. A recent investigation by Richard Bilton of the BBC uncovered yet another disturbing practice: forcing already-low paid and neglected employees to remain at work for nearly 20 hours.
We’ve been told this factory — Ha Meem Sportswear — works incredible hours; we’re hiding in the shadows to get the proof.
There’s a guard sitting in front of the main gate. He hasn’t spotted us.
He’s about to do something shockingly dangerous.
At 01.15 – with workers still busy inside – he locks the main factory gate and wanders away.This place had a fire a few weeks ago and they’re commonplace in the industry. If anything goes wrong tonight, the workers are trapped inside.
The shift finally ends at 02.30. That’s a nineteen and a half hour day.
One worker agrees to talk. He earned about £2 for the shift and he’s exhausted. He has to be back at work again for 07:00.
He says: “My feelings are bad and my health is too. In the last two weeks, approximately, it has been like this for eight nights.”
Two days later, I return to Ha Meem Sportswear. I am going undercover as a buyer from a fake British clothing company.
I want to hear what the factory owners say about shifts.
We are shown around. The factory is old and cramped. One woman is working under a table.
The managers show us the order they’re working on: 150,000 pairs of jeans and dungarees for the discount supermarket Lidl.
I ask about working hours and I’m assured the factory closes at 17:30.
I ask about whether gates are ever locked: they say they are always open.
It’s clear the buyer is told what he wants to hear.
They even provided timesheets for the night I watched the factory. They say the shift ended at 17:30.
The paperwork looks convincing. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I would never know that workers were being forced to work such long days.
Ha Meem Sportswear is far from the only clothing manufacturer pulling this trick.
Kalpona Akter, from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, says many factories hide the truth about working hours from Western retailers.
“The factory owners, they keep two different books. So one they show to the buyers, the other they show to the worker. These retailers’ so-called audits really don’t work.”
It’s practices like this — common throughout the third world — that make me cynical about industry opposition to regulation and unionization. If this is the sort thing they do in the absence of any sort of oversight or check on their power, why should we give them more freedom? If firms don’t want labor movements or the state coercing them to be ethical, then they should be setting the example by treating their employees better on their own.
Indeed, there has already been significant pushback against this widespread abuse, as thousands of garment workers have gone on strike to demand an ultimately modest rise in their pay.
More than 100 Bangladeshi garment factories were forced to shut on Monday as thousands of workers protested to demand a $100 a month minimum wage and about 50 people were injured in clashes, police and witnesses said.
Garments are a vital sector for Bangladesh and its low wages and duty-free access to Western markets have helped make it the world’s second-largest apparel exporter after China.
But the $20 billion industry, which supplies many Western brands, has been under a spotlight after a series of deadly incidents including the collapse of a building housing factories in April that killed more than 1,130 people.
Workers took to the streets for a third day on Monday, blocking major roads and attacking some vehicles in the Gazipur and Savar industrial zones, on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka.
At least 50 people, including some policemen, were injured, witnesses and police said, as police fired teargas and rubber bullets, and workers responded by throwing broken bricks.
Some workers also vandalised factories, witnesses said.
“We had to take harsh actions to restore order as the defiant workers would not stop the violence,” an Gazipur police officer said.
The monthly minimum wage in Bangladesh is $38, half what Cambodian garment workers earn.
The government is in talks with unions and factory owners on a new minimum wage.
Bangladesh last increased its minimum garment-worker pay in late 2010 in response to months of street protests, almost doubling the lowest pay.
Recently, factory owners offered a 20 percent pay rise which workers refused, calling it “inhuman and humiliating”.
“We work to survive but we can’t even cover our basic needs,” said a protesting woman worker.
The fact that a billion dollar industry is reluctant to pay people a mere $100 a month — not including any benefits of perks — speaks volumes about the culture of greed and elitism that has taken hold of many corporations. It also says a lot about the sort of environment such firms would rather operate in, and what their vision of America would be like were they given the chance to implement.
You don’t have to be a fellow Canada lover to appreciate that nation’s tremendous success in creating a prosperous and democratic society that is nonetheless one of the most immigrant-friendly and multicultural in the world. As Toronto- based Al Jazeera columnist Murtaza Hussain notes in a recent piece, the country has excelled not only in integrating its foreign-born population, but also in promoting acceptance and even pride among all Canadians towards immigrants and their cultures:
In major cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, roughly half the population consists of visible minorities, yet the type of social segregation and alienation prevalent in Europe is nonetheless conspicuously absent.
While immigrants tend to settle in the same neighbourhoods upon arrival, they also partake in Canadian society to a far greater degree than their European counterparts. Immigrants to Canada tend to achieve economic success, high levels of education, and social integration at a level unseen in European societies. Correspondingly, Canadians also tend to have a much more positive opinion of immigration than Europeans. In a 2006 poll asking what made them “proud to be Canadian”, multiculturalism ranked second place, behind only the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Furthermore, while immigration from Muslim-majority countries has become an increasingly contentious issue in many Western countries, the experience of Canadian Muslims defies many of the stereotypes promulgated about this community. In his book, Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism, the Canadian author Michael Adams conducted one of the broadest studies of the Canadian Muslim population ever, and found a community which strongly identified with the country and its institutions. To this end, a 2007 CBC News poll concluded that “Canadian Muslims appear to be the most contented, moderate and, well, Canadian, in the developed world.”
Thus, if multiculturalism has failed, one would be forgiven for being oblivious to this as a Canadian, where it is widely considered one of the nation’s most cherished attributes.
Indeed, Canada has long had the highest per-capita immigration rate in the world, a status that hasn’t changed despite the global recession and the coming to power of the Conservatives in 2006. Uniquely, multiculturalism pervades Canadians of almost every background and political persuasion, as demonstrated fairly recently:
This multicultural attitude recently appeared to come under siege when French-separatist politicians in Quebec – mimicking their ideology counterparts in Europe – caused a stir by introducing laws to ban hijabs and other religious attire in their province.
The feeling of dread amongst many immigrant Canadians – especially Muslims – that they were about to become the target of politically-charged xenophobia during an election season began to rise; but what was most telling was the reaction of the rest of Canada to these moves. Instead of winning support, the Parti Quebecois has come under fire while the rights of minorities have been overwhelmingly defended.
Politicians across the political spectrum spoke out to denounce the crude – and, significantly, un-Canadian – attitude taken in these proposed laws. Incredibly, newspaper ads were even taken out in other provinces welcoming Muslim women with the message: “We don’t care what’s on your head, we care what’s in it“. This is a sentiment which strikes to the core of what most people understand a multicultural Canada represents, and it is thus unsurprising to see why Muslim-Canadians identify so strongly with their country.
Indeed, both Canadian-born and foreign-born citizens shared similarly positive sentiments regarding immigration, integration, and cultural pluralism, as evidenced by a 2012 poll undertaken by five nation organizations. As CBC News reported:
When asked what makes a good citizen, the top five responses were: obeying laws, actively participating in the community, helping other people, being tolerant of others and sharing or adopting Canadian values.
But when asked to list what they did to be good citizens, respondents cited volunteer work, being kind/generous to others, paying taxes, obeying laws and voting.
The survey suggests Canadians have a broad, inclusive view of citizenship and see immigrants as their equals: nearly 9 out of every 10 respondents agreed that a person born outside Canada is just as likely to be a good citizen as someone born here.
“There’s no real evidence of people feeling threatened or a sense that, ‘Well, people can come live here from other countries, but they’re not quite the same,’” said Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute.
When it comes to immigration and citizenship, the views of the majority of Canadians born in the country and the 20 per cent born outside it are largely aligned. Canadian-born and foreign-born respondents were equally likely to feel fully like citizens (78 percent versus 75 percent).”
So what accounts for this remarkably amiable relationship? Well, much of it seems to be the product of a positive feedback loop triggered by Canada’s own deliberate promotion of the benefits of immigration, which included the constitutional recognition of multiculturalism as an inherent Canadian values — an officiation that few other countries have done.
Usha George, dean of Ryerson University’s Faculty of Community Services, says the survey’s findings confirm a lot of what those working with new Canadians know already.
The willingness of Canadians to not view a person’s foreign background as an impediment to citizenship is a product of the country’s multicultural policies and the visible effect of immigrants on the economy, George said.
Integration of immigrants has worked in Canada because the government has funded programs that teach immigrants about Canadian values and society has adapted its institutions to accommodate diversity.
“The mutual recognition that we should be respectful to each other and celebrate diversity in a genuine way, those values permeate the whole society,” said George, whose faculty trains many of those who provide social and other services to new immigrants.
Whatever Canada is doing, it seems to be positively influencing immigrants’ views of the country, the survey suggests: 88 per cent of respondents who were born outside Canada said they were very proud to be Canadian, compared with 81 per cent of those born here.
Vikram Kewalramani immigrated to Canada from India in 2006 and is now a Canadian citizen living in Toronto. (Roma Andrusiak/CBC)
“Canadians who were not born in Canada are more proud than naturally born Canadians simply because we had the choice of being Canadian,” said Vikram Kewalramani, who immigrated to Canada in 2006 from India. “It wasn’t something that, literally, was a birthright. We consider it a privilege.”
For Amal Ibrahim, a Palestinian who became a citizen last year along with her two children, Canadian citizenship is primarily about respecting differences.
“It’s a great diverse culture where people learn how to live in harmony with each other while they have different ideas, different religions and different backgrounds,” she said.
As with most sociocultural developments, I imagine a big part of this sentiment also has to do with Canada’s historical and geographical character: the immense country — the second largest in the world — has always been sparsely populated, relying on a hodgepodge of different groups to settle its vulnerable and difficult frontier against the much larger neighbor to the south. This is most exemplified by the centuries of cohabitation and compromise between the distinct English and French communities, which precipitated a tradition of mutual acceptance, cultural tolerance, and cooperation (however begrudging).
As a “new” country composed of disparate settler groups, Canada also had less cultural and traditional baggage than the longer-established nations of Europe (and to a degree the United States), and thus was formed through the various waves of different immigrants that have come through during its brief history. Canadian readers can feel free to enlighten me, as my time is too short to explore the topic further.
In any case, the combination of practical and idealistic views towards immigration have created a surprising amount of consensus and cohesion among this diverse nation, one that is based largely on mutually-beneficial sociopolitical values:
Tolerance of others who are different was among the top five behaviours survey respondents considered a “very important” part of being a good citizen. Others were:
- Treating men and women equally (95 per cent ranked this ”very important”).
- Following Canada’s laws (89 per cent).
- Voting in elections (82 per cent – the same as tolerance of others).
- Protecting the environment (80 per cent).
Immigrants’ views of what makes a good citizen were strikingly similar to those of native-born Canadians, said Neuman. In the majority of cases, the responses of the two groups varied at most by only a few percentage points.
“People might think … that newcomers are coming [into] this country … with their own sense of what it means to be a citizen, and they don’t really buy into the same perspective that native-born Canadians have,” he said.
“And this research pretty clearly suggests that they’re largely the same perspective, and the more somebody is in this country, the more immigrants buy into the native-born view.”
Thus, as Canadians accept and accommodate their immigrants, so too do those immigrants “return the favor”, so to speak, by being productive, law abiding, and dedicated citizens. Hussain wraps up his article with a seemingly simple formula for how it all works:
Herein lies the great success of Canadian multiculturalism; a society which integrates newcomers not by force but through generosity, benevolence, and sincerity to its values and principles. Given such a national character it is unsurprising why Canadian immigrants of all backgrounds tend to become “Canadian” so enthusiastically -i and it is for this reason that Canada has become an exemplar of social cohesion in an increasingly globalised world.
I would love to see how this compares to Canada’s southern neighbor. The US tends to be very accommodating of a variety of immigrants as well, albeit with a much greater emphasis on assimilation and a much stronger undercurrent of anti-immigration sentiment. I imagine we’re somewhere between Canada and Europe in this regard, but that’s a topic for another day perhaps.
Of course, I have no delusions about Canadian society being some multicultural paradise on Earth; obviously, racism and discrimination still exist, as do issues of integration. But by global standards, Canada has come much farther than most nations, and could probably serve as a vital example of how to create a diverse nation that is nonetheless fairly cohesive, stable, and prosperous.
As always, I welcome all readers — especially Canadians — to weigh in. I wrote all this quite quickly, so forgive me if I missed anything.