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).
Not that anyone's about to curl up in an armchair and read this thing cover to cover, but pages 37 through 44 of the U.S. Department of Labor's recently issued report on child labor and forced labor could make for some interesting browsing. That's the product-by-product list of which countries use which of the two types of labor.
Change.org (which pointed me to the report) highlights some of the worst offenders here, and notes the need for more analysis. To whit, what specific companies source problematic goods and sell them in the U.S.?
A couple months ago, I blogged about Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles site, which lets consumers see the path taken by five of the company’s products, from origin to distribution center. A new story on Fast Company’s website delves into how the project has “put the company’s design and manufacturing process under the
It’s an interesting piece, but I found it odd that the opening description—of Patagonia environmental analysis director Jill Dumain “investigating,” camera in hand, one of the company’s T-shirt suppliers—was never followed up on to reveal what the investigation was for. Had the Footprint Chronicles found a supplier with dirt on its shoes?
Nope, Dumain just told me. The supplier, Nature USA, is a good company. Patagonia is “looking at the impact of a variety of our garments, and the T-shirts made by Nature USA are on the list for next fall. It was just their turn.”
Oh well, no juicy skullduggery to report. But it’s good to know they’re on the lookout.
Last week I stumbled upon a fascinating story in The Independent about a man’s search for the origin of his “Made in Bangladesh”-tagged denims.
I expected Fred Pearce’s account of his Dhaka visit to include Dickensian details about penurious wages and abusive management, and it did—but there were also a couple surprises. Pearce had this to say about three workers he talked to:
[They] all came from
villages around Dhaka. Akhi had seven brothers and sisters. Back home
there wasn’t enough land, and certainly not enough work, to support so
many. So the families sent their young women to find jobs in Dhaka.
Aisha and Miriam, sisters-in-law, together sent home 4,000 taka a month
(about £30). The alarming truth was that these women, for all their
pitiful surroundings, were the rich ones in their families.
It reminded me of something I heard China Road author Rob Gifford say on NPR last year: that while the conditions in Chinese factories are often deplorable to Western eyes, many workers there are content to toil for long hours under harsh conditions, because their jobs represent the key to economic salvation. As peasants in the countryside, their prospects were far worse.
Later in Pearce’s story, he describes how the founder of a Bangladeshi advocacy organization supporting the rights of garment workers looks at the situation: “The jobs, poor as many were, empowered women. Western
consumers, she said, should be demanding better conditions for the
women of Dhaka, and above all should be willing to pay higher prices.
And retailers should stop competing on price. But please, she said,
‘don't stop buying’.”
It’s a great point, but how can we consumers send the message that we’re willing to pay more? Write to the big brands, I suppose, and support certification systems with labels that give consumers assurance about how wares are produced.
Of course, many manufacturers already have their own production standards and codes of conduct in place, but there’s often a disconnect between the standards and reality. Pearce’s story provides yet another example:
The buyers—the brands’ representatives in Bangladesh—make regular
inspections of the factory, the women said. But “they always inform the
owners first. Before they come, the managers come through the factory
with megaphones. We are told to prepare the factory, to clean up. And
they instruct us what to say about working hours and holidays and
conditions. We have to lie about holidays especially.”
I was excited to learn that the article is an extract from a book by Pearce: Confessions of an Eco Sinner: Travels to Find Where My Stuff Comes From. I’m adding it, and China Road, to my reading list.
In another rendition of “Look how much farther ahead of us the U.K. is,” Tesco, the world’s third-largest retailer, will no longer sell items containing cotton from Uzbekistan. The reason? Forced child labor. According to this article from the Environmental Justice Foundation, tens of thousands of Uzbek children are withdrawn from
school to pick the cotton that funds President Karimov’s government.
Tesco is also starting to track the carbon footprint of 30 of its private-label products, using a draft standard developed by the Carbon Trust, in an effort to provide labels that will better inform consumers about the CO2 outputs of different items.
I’d heard of blood diamonds before, but I’d never given much thought to the ethics of the wider jewelry industry
until the other day, when a friend told me about a local shop that’s working to further the cause of nonexploitative jewelry.
Lori Bonn Design, in Oakland, Calif., has spearheaded an effort to develop an industry-wide standard for ethically made jewelry called Clear Conscience. It’s a multiyear process involving lots of meetings at industry conferences, Lori Bonn co-owner Bill Gallagher told me, and it sounds like it may be a couple of years before anything final is hammered out. But it’s something to look forward to. “Consumers want to know that they didn’t harm the environment or people with this pretty thing they’re wearing,” Gallagher said.
What does that harm look like, and how does it take place? One biggie is the extraction of the metals used in jewelry. You can read all about the horrors of acid leaching, air pollution, and the exploitation of indigenous peoples associated with mining on the No Dirty Gold campaign’s website. Another good source of information is Ethical Metalsmiths, which works to stimulate demand for responsibly sourced materials.
Then there are the gemstones. The Kimberly Process was designed to address concerns about blood diamonds, but it doesn’t cover other gems. “We buy from apparently honest, ethical people, but there’s a whole progression of things before the stones get to the dealers that we don’t know about, and until there’s a standard, there’s no independent way to know,” Gallagher said. He added that “there are beginning to be sources of gemstones whose path can be verified,” such as Columbia Gem House, which Lori Bonn is starting to use as a source for its offerings.
Finally, there are the working conditions of the actual jewelry makers to consider. Lori Bonn has its designs executed by facilities in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Gallagher said that when checking out possible factories to work with, “we go there to see what it looks like and smells like, and we follow our gut. We know that our workers generally can afford an above-average standard of living, and their kids are in school.”
An argument can be made that having any jewelry made outside of the first world is necessarily exploitative. Gallagher counters that it’s not so simple. “If you just
source from developed countries, you’re taking away the livelihood
potential from poor countries that are deeply dependent on this work,” he said. Furthermore, he added, “there’s a level of craft,
detail, and workmanship that’s not available on any kind of scale in
the U.S. It’s inherent in other cultures, and I think it should be
One thing is clear: momentum for responsible jewelry is building. Twenty-six companies, including Tiffany & Co. and Wal-Mart, have signed on to No Dirty Gold’s Golden Rules protocol. The Fair Trade Jewelry blog hums with news. And last year saw the creation of the Madison Dialogue, an initiative for businesses and interested parties to encourage verified sources of responsible metals and gems. Next month the Madison Dialogue will hold the Ethical Jewelry Summit in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the Clear Conscience program will gain some traction there.
It’s only a matter of time before ethical jewelry hits the mainstream. Already, retailers like Brilliant Earth are responding to demand for conflict-free diamonds and renewed metals. That’s great, but I look forward to the day when consumers can depend on a recognizable label or logo to assure us that, whether it’s a diamond engagement ring or a pair of casual earrings that we’re after, we can have a clear conscience about buying it.
I learned about Fair Trade Sports, Inc. the other day, when founder Scott James commented on my previous post, and it’s so cool I just have to blog about it. Who knew there was such a thing as a fair-trade pigskin? I certainly didn’t, until now.
James’s company, which was started about a year ago, is the first in the U.S. to sell fair-trade sports balls—for football, futsal (indoor soccer), rugby, soccer, and volleyball—as well as sweatshop-free sports apparel. And if that weren’t enough, it donates all after-tax profits to domestic and international children’s charities.
It’s worth checking out the site, which contains lots of interesting articles and links. I particularly liked the explanation of where FTS balls are made and by whom.
When I first learned about World of Good, I was pretty excited about it. Unlike other web retailers of housewares, accessories, and gifts, it peddles only fair-trade, sustainably made products. It also actively supports worldwide community-development projects through its nonprofit arm.
Granted, World of Good’s selection is somewhat limited, but that’s because of the stringent process it follows to choose its vendors, most of whom are small groups of artisans. All are affiliated with social and economic development programs, and each product is screened in regards to its environmental footprint, production process, and community benefit.
All very cool.
But what got me really excited was talking with World of Good’s global marketing associate Matt Levinthal about an upcoming project: a joint effort by World of Good and eBay to create a large online marketplace for ethically made artisanal products. The platform itself doesn’t have a name yet, but the initiative to develop it is called Project Good. The goal is to launch before the holidays.
Levinthal says the site will feature multiple sellers (including World of Good), thousands of products, and, most important, about 25 different “trust providers”—independent, mission-driven verifying organizations with clear sets of standards—to give users the type of information that is so sorely lacking in most shopping environments: details on sustainability, labor conditions, etc.
“People really want to make good choices, but it’s just not easy for them to do it,” Levinthal says.
Don’t expect to be able to buy any type of product on the site. It’ll be a source for things like handmade jewelry, apparel, home furnishings, and chocolate, not DVDs and lawn mowers.
But the important thing about this project is that it will advance the notion of social responsibility as an in-demand product attribute—as well as the idea that we consumers have a right to know what goes into the making of all the stuff we buy. If this initiative takes off, there will be a demand for similar enterprises that cover even more product categories. (The closest thing I can think of that currently exists is Alonovo, which I’ve blogged about before, but for it to reach the next level, it needs to provide ratings for far more goods than it is currently able to.)
“Access to information enables consumers to make good choices,” Levinthal says. “Companies will have to follow. That whole idea of a third-party
verifier, trade organization, or some other body that provides approval will
become the only thing that people trust, and will become the norm, we
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).