The “Pink Tax” Under Fire: Free Market Practice or Gender Discrimination?
When we filed the pink tax class action lawsuit on February 14, 2017, the media response was immediate. My colleague Michael Simkin and I, along with the class representative, Aviva Maxwell, were interviewed by every major media outlet in Montreal within a couple of days, not to mention radio and television stations from our neighbours in Ontario and as far as Alberta. What happened next was beyond our modest expectations.
Barely minutes after the first interview aired, messages started pouring into our website from women all over Quebec denouncing the pink tax and thankful that somebody was fighting for the right to equity. Nearly every one of the hundreds of submissions that came in was accompanied by a story of specific products women have been paying for, all the while feeling powerless at the surcharge on those products compared to similar products for men. We also received messages from leading women and women’s organizations offering their support for the cause.
But all the pink tax buzz wasn’t without its critics.
During my interview on BNN, I was grilled about a very important question:
Is the so-called “pink tax” a form of systemic gender-based discrimination that violates the charter, or is it merely an expression of the free market in which companies are free to charge whatever they wish?
It’s an excellent question, and one that deserves reflection.
We live in a free-market economy in which everyone has the right to take advantage of economic opportunities, hang out their shingle and essentially run their business how they wish, within the limits of the law of course. That is a Canadian privilege that we cherish and, for the most part, is not a freedom we want to relinquish, unless of course a certain practice violates consumer rights. In this economy, businesses use a number of factors to determine what to charge and they have the right to raise or lower prices and compete freely in the marketplace.
But imagine if cosmetic products were priced equally for men and women, but that certain ethnic groups, religions, or those of a certain sexual orientation had to pay more.
There would be outrage at such blatant discrimination!
The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms forbids any form of discrimination based on:
“… race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age… religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.”
So if we would never accept systematic price differences for any of the above groups, why would it be ok for women based on gender alone?
For many women, paying higher prices has become something they are used to and no longer question. But the “pink tax” has become a cultural phenomenon and the subject of endless articles, news stories and investigative reports from nearly every media outlet in North America. Just type pink tax into Google and you get 82,700,000 results. All that attention has finally brought the pink tax to a turning point.
Is it a form of gender discrimination, or rather an expression of the free market and the right of businesses to charge what they wish? In Quebec, the courts will soon decide.