It’s not the Golden Rule anymore

There are two popular axioms when you hear somebody use the phrase “Golden Rule”. The sincerely more charitable one is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The second less charitable one is, “He who has the Gold, makes the rules.”

Applied to what businesses are being subjected to in their supply chains nowadays, it feels like the treatment companies are getting with the second one will come back in spades to the people applying the treatment in the first one.

Or, maybe we just send it back for a rewrite: “He who has the Assets, makes the rules.”

Ocean carriers are on pace for a record 2021, just ask Maersk. From some air freight origins, rates are sky-high. Because of delays by ocean and rail, scarce trucking is being driven to levels previously unthought and unseen. And don’t get us started talking about the railroads, especially as KC Southern shareholders brace for a mammoth payday regardless of which Canadian suitor they select.

It seems the only people who have no voice in this are the shippers themselves paying the prevailing rate to get their goods to market, or to pay prices to charter vessels to ensure they have goods to sell in their stores.

Who wins? Not the businesses who have been there with cargo year in and year out. Not the freight forwarders who have contracted and brought business to carriers they didn’t have to find on their own – or was too small or inconsequential to want to bother with. Not the customs brokers writing checks four and five times as large as they ever have, not to mention the ones for storage, detention, demurrage or per diem.

“They” do – and while we’re loath to pit “us” versus “them” because we still have to work with all of these people on our customers’ behalf, it is more than a little disheartening when we find ourselves powerless to effect immediate change.

For us and for our customers, change is the action the FMC is taking in demanding answers from carriers. Change is potential legislation before Congress to change the Ocean Shipping Reform Act in favor of shippers, not carriers. Change is brave public action by industry peers we respect like Mohawk, challenging MSC at the FMC when $20,000+ worth of demurrage and detention accrued for not properly sending an arrival notice to the person named on the bill of lading.

At Camelot, each and every one of our employees expends exponentially more time and energy on shipments than we ever have. This isn’t because our processes have grown irrelevant or outdated – it is because the companies who used to communicate with us have ceased to do so and have grown more isolated and belligerent as the morass continues.

We have always been respectful customers to everyone we work with, sharing the belief we were working collaboratively on behalf of the shipper with the opportunity to earn future business based on how we performed. Today, the gulf has widened between “us” and “them”, and the people with the ships, the trains, the containers and the fenced and razor-wired gates have decided that in their bull market, they’re going to take as much for them as they can and will deal with “us” when the tables have turned.

Trust us when we say we’ll have memories that will last for years and no amount of apologizing, capitulating or cajoling will erase this past year and a half – and likely the next year – from our minds.

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