There were several labor-rights related news items this month. Check out the stories below and some actions you can take to help combat labor abuses and human trafficking.
On the eve of Labor Day weekend, it is only fitting to remember the workers around the world who suffer as modern-day slaves. An estimated 27 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking, either in the realms of forced labor or the sex trade. These individuals are forced to work for little or no pay under unsafe, coercive conditions, without the freedom to leave, organize, or stand up for themselves without the threat of violence.
One tragedy of modern-day slavery is that so many victims are ensnared while attempting to find legitimate work to support themselves and their family. Traffickers prey on the poor and the naive, offering well-paying jobs in a neighboring city or overseas. Instead of connecting people with real jobs, traffickers force them to work without pay in conditions that we would never accept if we saw them in the light of day.
Imagine working 14-, 16-, 18-hour days in a brick kiln or garment factory. The work is repetitive and physically demanding. Your bathroom breaks are timed, and you are not free to converse with your fellow workers. Those who step out of line are beaten or subjected to verbal abuse. At the end of the day, your paycheck is too small to buy enough food to feed your hungry family. Or, your employer informs you that he is applying your paycheck toward your outstanding debt (which is often inflated or completely fabricated), so you have nothing to show for your day of work.
This is reality for far too many people in the world. On this Labor Day, let’s remember the workers around the world who do not enjoy the amazing freedoms we take for granted. The freedom to talk with fellow workers and hold organized meetings. The freedom to go to the restroom at will. Freedom from discrimination, racism, and sexism at the workplace. Of course these freedoms are not respected 100% of the time, but in the U.S. we at least have well-enforced laws to protect the basic rights of workers. Until all workers around the world have their rights protected as well, it is our responsibility to support businesses that treat their workers with respect, and to speak out against businesses that practice exploitation.
Tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy my freedom to kick off work a little early the Friday before a holiday weekend. But when I walk out of my comfortable, air-conditioned office building, I’ll be thinking of the workers in sweltering sweatshops and back-breaking quarries and how much work there is still left to do.
Two new websites that focus on ethical shopping recently launched. While these sites do not necessarily follow all of the Fair for All guide’s principles, they offer alternative ways for consumers to find products that align with their values. Both sites require an email address and some other personal information to sign up for a free membership.
Ethical Ocean offers users the option of filtering products by three dimensions: Good for People, Good for Animals, and Good for the Earth Offerings include clothing and shoes for men, women, and kids; accessories; home décor; gifts; beauty and health products; toys; and a random grab bag of other interesting items. Each product page describes how the product qualifies for one or more of the ethical dimensions.
Fashioning Change offers two approaches to ethical shopping. Their “Wear This, Not That” feature matches the styles of specific items at traditional retailers to their ethical counterparts. In love with a shirt from Old Navy? Fashioning Change may list an ethical alternative that looks very similar. This is a great way to demonstrate that fairly-made apparel can be just as fashionable as what you find at the mall. Fashioning Change also offers a more traditional online shopping experience with huge number of filters, including style, price, country of origin, brand, color, and ethical cause. This site focuses on offering clothing, shoes, and accessories for men and women.
Both sites have been added to our Resources page.
We’re excited to add a new entry to the Fair for All guide: NationWares! Based in Ontario, NationWares offers a wide variety of accessories and jewelry, plus several other products. Their products are colorful and made of natural materials like leather, “veggie ivory,” and recycled paper. They ship to the United States, so check them out today!
Have you ever wondered where the money in your 401(k) or retirement plan is being invested? More and more investors are becoming concerned with this question, leading to a rise in socially responsible investing, or SRI.
SRI generally means investing in companies that benefit society or the environment. However, there is no broad, across-the-board definition of SRI. Different financial service providers use different filters to decide what companies qualify as “socially responsible.” Some common issues that are considered when screening companies are their impact on the environment, labor practices, and any involvement in weapons production.
According to US SIF, an organization that promotes and researches SRI, assets involved in SRI investments increased 13% from 2007 to 2009, even while the economy was struggling. Despite economic uncertainty, people are becoming more committed to investing their money in companies that meet certain standards or uphold certain values.
There is a clear parallel between SRI in the financial sector and ethical consumerism in the retail sector. Just as consumers are beginning to question the ethics of their purchases, individuals are questioning the ethics of their investments as well. When people begin to direct their money to companies that create positive change in the world, and away from those companies that hinder it, we will all reap the benefits.
Do you participate in socially responsible investing? Learn more about SRI and find out how you can get started at US SIF’s resource page for individual investors.
June 12 was the World Day Against Child Labor, an initiative by the International Labor Organization to draw attention to the global problem of exploitative child labor. The ILO estimates that 215 million children worldwide are involved in child labor. Over half of those children are working in the “worst forms” of child labor, which include prostitution and pornography, drug trafficking, dangerous/harmful work, and work done under the conditions of slavery or debt bondage.
According to the ILO, the international community has adopted a road map that outlines steps for ending the worst forms of child labor by the year 2016. The number of children laboring worldwide has declined, but the rate of decline has slowed in recent years in conjunction with lagging economic conditions. Check out the video below from the ILO about the current state of child labor and progress being made to end it. (The ILO has a series of videos about child labor available on their YouTube channel, ILOTV.)
Fair Trade USA, the certifying body which since 1998 has sported the black-and-white-basket-carrier logo, has updated its look. Along with the new look comes a clarification of their “Fair Trade Certified” vs. “Fair Trade Certified Ingredients” policy. When introduced, the policy had come under fire from other fair trade groups, but it is now more robust and requires products bearing the label to have a higher percentage of Fair Trade ingredients. Read more about the changes and see the new logo at New Hope 360.
The Fair for All Shopping Guide is now officially launched! We hope you will find this resource useful as you shop for gifts and everyday needs.
The guide is a work in progress. As we continue to research, we will share our findings with you, continuously recommending new online retailers who meet our ethical standards.
The industry of Fair Trade or ethically-made products is evolving, growing, and spreading daily. Also, human trafficking—often a factor in poor labor conditions—is gaining notoriety as a major social issue. Here we will share with you stories and updates related to Fair Trade, social justice, and anti-trafficking groups and movements.