It took the threat of an embarrassing Super Bowl ad, but Hershey is finally starting to act like it gives a damn about forced child labor being a major ingredient in its cocoa.
The company recently announced it would start buying only Rainforest Alliance-certified cocoa for its Bliss Chocolate products starting later this year. The Rainforest Alliance is a reputable nonprofit whose certification system will help ensure that the cocoa is grown sustainably, which includes the monitoring of forced and child labor.
Coincidentally, Hershey's change of heart (after a decade of foot dragging) came a week after Raise the Bar campaign partner the International Labor Rights Forum announced its intention to broadcast a JumboTron ad critical of Hershey's cocoa supply chain outside the Indianapolis stadium where the Super Bowl took place.
But hey, sometimes it takes a stick rather than a carrot. I just hope the company quickly moves to certify the cocoa for its regular bars, not to mention its other brands, like Reese's, KitKat, and Almond Joy.
In other positive Hershey news, GreenBiz.com reports that the chocolate maker has achieved zero waste at four of its Pennsylvania facilities. However, I'd be more impressed if they weren't incinerating the 10 percent of their waste that is organic. Why not go for industrial composting?
I rarely buy Hershey's chocolate, as I prefer the really dark stuff (which Hershey's doesn't make). But a bigger-picture reason to not give the storied American brand your money is that it sources much of its cocoa from Ivory Coast, where forced child labor is rampant in that industry. Hershey's, which commands 42.5 percent of the U.S. chocolate market, isn't doing a very good job, compared with its competitors (such as Cadbury/Kraft, Mars, and Nestle), of tracing cocoa purchasing and implementing labor rights standards in its supply chain. In fact, it's doing next to nothing.
Which is why it's the target of the "Raise the Bar, Hershey!" campaign, sponsored by nonprofits Green America, Global Exchange, and the International Labor Rights Forum. I've always been a sucker for culture jamming, so I was pleased to see that a central part of the campaign was a "brand-jamming" contest.
The winners were announced a couple days ago. I rather like Jason Pearson's winning entries in the "overall brand jam" (video below) and print ad (above) categories. Enjoy! And if you'd like to send Hershey's a message yourself, you can do so here (via Change.org).
I recently wrote about an investigation revealing that Energy Star was giving its well-respected certification to undeserving products. Now, it seems, it's making efforts to shine more light into the dark corners, including a requirement that all manufacturers use independent testing and provide the lab results. Well done! [Link]
Two stories recently landed at Wallet Mouth H.Q. that I wish I could say were jokes.
First, the Washington Postreports that a couple of high schoolers in New York discovered, through DNA tests, that 11 out of 66 food products they'd bought from an assortment of Manhattan markets had been fraudulently mislabeled, with "sheep's milk" cheese turning out to be from a cow and "sturgeon caviar" being revealed as Mississippi
Then, undercover Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators succeed in getting Energy Star certification for 15 bogus products, such as an "air cleaner" consisting of a space heater with fly strips and a duster adhered to it. (Here's the link.)
The food-fraud story wasn't a complete surprise. After all, as I noted last year, a vendor at my local farmers' market clued me in to the fact that lots of supposedly 100% extra-virgin olive oil not only isn't extra-virgin but also is adulterated with other, cheaper oils. I also have friends who work for a company that provides "traceability services," helping food-industry clients ensure that their offerings are on the straight and narrow.
But until I read Sarah Lutz's story about the Energy Star kerfuffle, I didn't realize that products bearing the highly regarded blue-and-white logo are not tested before they go to market (merely "some" are scrutinized after they are on the market). The ersatz air cleaner even lacked a required disclaimer and safety-standard number... and still got certified. All GAO investigators had to do was tell the authorities in an email that the product met the standards.
This is a pretty big blow to what I had always considered a credible certification system. People can get tax credits with certain Energy Star purchases, fer cryin' out loud. I can only hope that "Energy Star-Gate" will help the system grow some teeth.
And if it doesn't, we can take heart in the fact that the growing field of smart appliances will shine light into the dark crevices of mislabeled appliances, eventually rendering energy-efficiency fraud a thing of the past.
As for the food scams, that's a tough one, seeing as how the FDA can barely keep up with contamination issues, and better funding for the agency seems unlikely in this economy. But is it really so unreasonable to hope that the FDA could integrate traceability systems like the kind offered by my friends' company into its workings?
At the very least, the feds should approve food-category-specific standards (mentioned in the Washington Post story), such as those petitioned for by honey and olive-oil groups (the latter has been waiting nearly 20 years!), so that companies would be able to sue competitors suspected of selling impure products.
Creative Commons-licensed tarot image by Flickr user Maitri.
SC Johnson, the corporate dynasty behind such well-known brands as Shout, Windex, and Ziploc, has done something a bit radical: it has set up a website called What's Inside that lists the ingredients, and the purpose of said ingredients, in its home-cleaning and air-freshening products.
According to GreenBiz.com, the site came about after cleaning-industry companies came up
with a voluntary initiative in late 2008 to disclose their ingredients
via websites, toll-free numbers, and labels. Currently there is no legal requirement for products to list ingredients that
may cause harm over time, only immediately hazardous
ones, so it's kind of a big deal.
But only kind of, because What's Inside doesn't tell you what's inside preservatives and fragrances. Indeed, a quick glance at the Glade products in the "Air Care"
section (a term that makes me chuckle—let's care for the air by
spraying stuff into it!) revealed a message that "Fragrance information will be added soon." According to the GreenBiz.com story, "soon" is about two years from now.
The lack of labeling requirements could change if legislation introduced by Sen. Al Franken becomes law. The Household Product Labeling Act would require household cleaning products "and similar products" to completely and accurately state
on their labels all of their ingredients. I don't know what the chances are of such a bill actually passing—big corporations generally wail, "But we'll go out of business if we have to share our proprietary secrets!" and then the case is closed—but if mainstream giants like SC Johnson are voluntarily listing ingredients (albeit sluggishly for some important ones) and not going out of business, that's a major positive step.
I've got nothing against the occasional sugary-cereal splurge, but if you saw an official-looking seal on the front of a box of Fruit Loops that said, "Smart Choice," wouldn't you find that a bit ... loopy? Me too. That's why I was happy to hear, via Change.org, that the FDA recently wised up to the so-called Smart Choices labeling scheme and slapped it upside the head before the program's doublespeak could gain much traction.
The initiative—sponsored by such food-industry giants as ConAgra, Kellogg's, Kraft Foods, and PepsiCo—characterized high-sugar, high-fat processed products (and possibly some foods that are actually healthy to eat) as "smarter" choices. "Smarter than what?" one must ask. Dining on day-old éclairs tossed in pork fat and served on a bed of fresh cotton candy? Well, OK.
Thankfully, after the FDA sent a letter to the big guys saying it would begin cracking down on inaccurate food labeling, the companies voluntarily suspended the program.
I was talking to the olive-oil guy at the farmers market the other day, and he told me something shocking: that just because a bottle of the green stuff says "extra virgin" doesn't mean it's even pure olive oil. What?! He said regulations are in the works but that currently it's a labeling free-for-all.
Then comes this post from Grist. Apparently olive oil production is big business in southern Europe (makes sense, given how popular it is), and that it's "drawing down the water table, squeezing out
biodiversity, and drenching the earth in chemicals." Meanwhile, the small-scale artisans responsible for the world's embrace of olive oil in the first place are getting their prices undercut by the big bad guys.
The piece goes on to echo what my local olive-oil maker told me: that a huge percentage of the product that
appears on our supermarket shelves as extra-virgin olive oil "is
actually cut with cheap sunflower and hazelnut oil, as this 2007 New Yorker exposé shows. These counterfeit oils, too, are no doubt grown under ecologically devastating circumstances."
When the professional namers come in, you know you're in trouble. That's the angle a recent Washington Poststory took to cover a research article in the July 31 issue of Science on efforts to rebuild global fisheries.
It's a phenomenon suffered by numerous species—including the slimehead, a.k.a. orange roughy (left), and the toothfish, a.k.a. Chilean sea bass (which isn't even a sea bass at all)—that have been given new, hipper names by seafood marketers forced to champion erstwhile "trash fish" because what used to be mainstays of restaurant menus are being fished to death. Then, of course, the pattern is repeated.
The Science article isn't all gloom and doom. Apparently the average exploitation rate has declined in some ecosystems, and, as the abstract notes, "increasing efforts to restore marine ecosystems and rebuild fisheries are under way."
The topic of sustainable seafood is endlessly fascinating—and complicated by the fact that oftentimes we don't know what we're buying, thanks to the naming issue. One of the people I find most articulate in this area is Casson Trenor, who has written a book on sustainable sushi and who is currently in Vietnam taking part in a standards-setting process on catfish, a.k.a. delacata. (Read his interesting blog post about it here.)
The catfish dialogue is part of the creation of a new aquaculture certification body set to be up and running in 2011, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, whose aim is to serve as a credible environmental and social standards maker for seafood. According to the FAQ on the ASC (which lives on the website of the World Wildlife Federation, one of its funders), most existing certification programs in this area "are not effective at making the aquaculture industry more
sustainable." ASC says its standards will "be
measurable, based on sound science, created by a broad and diverse
group of stakeholders, and developed through a transparent process."
I'll be interested to learn more about the process—and about what's wrong with the current certifications—as it develops. Hopefully the ASC will help consumers see through the murky waters of confusion as to what constitutes sustainable seafood.
Perhaps I should have read Joel Makower's post on Wal-Mart's new green labeling system before blogging about it last week, as he knows far more about it than the Wall Street Journal does, having seen early versions of it and talked to many parties involved with the effort.
The two big letdowns for me are (1) that the labels will address only product manufacturers, not specific products, and (2) that Wal-Mart isn't actually rating anyone (companies or
products), because it hasn't set any performance benchmarks.
Which is not to say that the whole thing is crap, but... You can read his post in full here.
Thanks to SmartBrief for giving me the heads-up on this one:
America's retailasaurus rex today told its suppliers to start providing it with the full environmental costs associated with making their products, so that Wal-Mart can start putting "Nutrition Facts"–style labels that give sustainability ratings on all of the products it sells. (Read the full story in the Wall Street Journalhere.)
The company says it will take about five years to construct the ratings system and distill all the information from companies into a format consumers will find useful.
I've talked to many individuals who have had this idea and even taken a stab at it (but are often stymied by a lack of financial resources). A multitude of certifications and eco-labels exist, and there are companies such as Patagonia that have come up with their own labels, but this is by far the largest effort in the green labeling arena that I've heard of, and it has the potential to set the template for how future such labels emerge, at least in the U.S.
The devil will be in the details, of course. Standards makers are the new diplomats in today's globalized world. How trustworthy will the data be? Will there be an auditing process to ensure that suppliers are honest?
I will be watching this development with great interest!
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).