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August 20, 2014 / Green America

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: Project Compost, University of California—Davis

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from August 14th through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

ProjectCompost3

The Project Compost student staff members pick up compost from around campus in an electric vehicle known as “Cyclops.”

Passionate students at UC Davis are helping their school meet its ambitious goal of being zero-waste by the year 2020. Project Compost, a student-run group, keeps an average of 2,358 pounds of organic waste—such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and laboratory plants—out of landfills each week.

In many spots on campus, students sort their organic waste into special bins, and the university sends the compostables to a private industrial composting facility located 40 minutes from campus. But several campus cafes, plant laboratories, and living communities do not benefit from this service, so Project Compost diverts these venues’ organic waste away from landfills. Project Compost’s founders established the group as an official unit of the student government, so it receives funds from the university.

“The composting that we do on campus is very small-scale compared to the amount of industrial-scale composting that the university already organizes…[but] is sort of an educational way for students to see how the process works, and it also [provides mulch], the finished product, at the end,” says Noelle Patterson, the Student Unit Director of Project Compost. “A lot of the places that we divert from would not have composting if it weren’t for our services.”

Both Project Compost and UC Davis keep substantial quantities of organic waste out of landfills each year—the former collects more than a ton of waste, and the latter diverts over 100 tons.

Project Compost’s 25 student volunteers use an electric vehicle—donated by the campus coffeehouse, their largest pickup location—to carry the organic waste to a 60-foot-long compost pile. A tractor turns the entire compost pile, adding oxygen, which the microorganism decomposers need. After four to six months, the finished compost is ready to use as organic fertilizer. Project Compost distributes the compost to community members and uses some in its own vegetable garden, in which interns grow radishes, carrots, melons, and strawberries, among other plants.

This past year, Project Compost also organized 12 workshops to educate students and community members about composting and vermicomposting, which involves the decomposition of organic matter using worms. The group encourages students to try vermicomposting, which can be done in closed containers on a small scale, making it conducive to apartments and dorm rooms.

“I think that our strongest suit is in the education and awareness we bring to students and the community,” says Patterson.

Patterson also has a favorable view of the direction in which her school is headed.

“I see more compost bins popping up around campus, so UC Davis is making a lot of great strides. I think that Project Compost always has potential to expand… I would love to see the group grow.”

Sari Amiel

August 19, 2014 / Elizabeth

If you like shrimp, choose wisely

Shrimp Image for Slider

Image credit: NOAA

If you like shrimp but don’t want to put your money towards a product that was caught or grown under abusive conditions, the below guide will helpful to consider the next time you go to the grocery store or order an appetizer at your favorite seafood restaurant.

A recent six-month investigation by the Guardian found slaves working for no pay on Thai fishing boats, catching fish that is used as feed on shrimp farms. Workers who managed to escape from these boats spoke of 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture, and execution-style killings. Some were given methamphetamines to keep them going.

Beyond these human rights concern, there are a number of environmental problems that effect fish farms, including the waste generated on them and resulting run-off, as well as the wide use of antibiotics.

The NRDC put together a helpful list to decrease the impact of your shrimp consumption:

  • Eat less shrimp! The Worldwatch Institute estimates that for every 1,000 people who stop eating shrimp, we can save more than 5.4 tons of sea life per year.
  • Replace your industrial shrimp purchases withHenry & Lisa’s Natural Seafood (Ecofish’s retail brand) available at 3500 stores nationwide, including Whole Foods and Target Superstores.
  • Seek out the blueMarine Stewardship Council ecolabel, which indicates sustainable practices, when shopping or dining out. Here’s a list of stores and restaurants that stock MSC-certified products.
  • When buying wild-caught shrimp, look for varieties from the Pacific coast, particularly Oregon and British Columbia.
  • Ask your favorite restaurants and stores what kind of shrimp they are stocking, and if you’re not satisfied with their answer, let them know!

Read NRDC’s complete “Shopping Wise” article here>>

Take action to improve conditions for workers in the Thai fishing sector>>

August 18, 2014 / Green America

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: Cornell University’s Dump and Run program

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from now through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

Cornell's "Dump and Run" program gets items that students would normally throw away at the end of the school year into the hands of people who can use them.

Cornell’s “Dump and Run” program gets items that students would normally throw away at the end of the school year into the hands of people who can use them.

 

As each year of college draws to a close, students have to face a reality that, for months, they been avoiding—the amount of stuff that has accumulated in their rooms. With time and space in short supply, students will often throw away many still-useful items. That’s why Cornell University gives its students the ability to “Dump and Run.”

Since 2003, Cornell’s Dump and Run program has decreased its move-out waste stream by collecting unwanted items at the end of each school year and re-selling things that are still usable at the start of the next year.

“[This program is] really good in terms of keeping as much as we possibly can out of the landfill,” says Karen Brown, Cornell’s Director of Campus Life Marketing and Communications, who oversees the Dump and Run program. “And I think it’s very effective in terms of our relationship with the Ithaca community.”

Before Cornell’s residence halls close for the summer, the Campus Life office reminds students to place their unwanted items in collection boxes, which are situated in several residence halls, sororities, and fraternities around campus.  In the late spring and summer, those living in off-campus residences and homes in the community can also call Brown’s office to request pickups of their donations.

Dump and Run commonly receives refrigerators, clothing, lamps, and storage containers. Many of the donated items still contain tags, says Brown. In the past few years, she has seen a life-size inflatable palm tree, Halloween costumes, aquariums, Christmas trees, and a $700 pair of Jimmy Choo shoes.

Volunteers from local nonprofits, along with a few student volunteers, spend the summer in a 3,500-square-foot storage unit, sorting through the collection of college artifacts to separate still-usable items from things that are clearly at the end of their lives and need to be disposed of.

“We try to recycle everything that we can,” says Brown. “I’m pleasantly surprised [by] how little ends up in the landfill.”

The vast majority of the items are sold at the campus Dump and Run sale on the Saturday after freshmen move-in day. This sale is open to Cornell students and staff, as well as the general public. It’s so popular that, although the sale starts at 8:30 a.m., townspeople start arriving at 5:30 a.m. By the time the doors open, there are usually about 100 people lined up outside.

“I think this program has done a lot to help with our relationship with our surrounding town…because they really appreciate it,” says Brown. “It’s a great way to convince people to clean out their basements and garages.”

After the sale, Brown says the program distributes leftover items to nearby nonprofits that might be able to use them. Dump and Run volunteers give leftover clothes to a local women’s center, send blankets and towels to animal shelters, and donate nonperishable food to food pantries.

However, Cornell does manage to sell most of the donations it receives. It gives almost 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale to the local nonprofits that send volunteers to help with the Dump and Run program. The fraction of the sales revenue that each nonprofit receives is proportional to the number of hours that its volunteers spent working with Dump and Run. Cops, Kids & Toys, the group that helps Dump and Run the most, volunteered more than 3,000 hours last year.

One of these nonprofit groups is a student-run organization. According to former co-Chair Christina Roberti, Cornell’s Student United Way chapter uses its share of the sale revenue to fund its Summers of Service program. Summers of Service provides financially constrained high school students with a stipend so that they can afford to accept unpaid summer internships at nonprofits.

Cornell’s Campus Life office presently stores items in facilities donated by the Cornell Veterinary School. However, a lack of storage space is the largest constraint that Dump and Run faces, so students still end up throwing some still-usable items out at the end of the year.

“When we see things end up in the dumpsters and we know we can’t go get it, it’s disheartening,” says Brown. “I think if we had twice the warehouse space, we would fill it.”

From a student perspective, Roberti really appreciates the Dump and Run program.

“From my point of view, it saves a lot of waste,” says Roberti. “I just moved out of a 14-person house… Anything that wasn’t trash we donated to Dump and Run, but we probably would have thrown it out had it not been for the sale.”

—Sari Amiel

August 15, 2014 / Elizabeth

Health and Safety Findings at Quanta, Mac and iPod Manufacturer

FLA Report

FLA’s Assessment of Quanta Shanghai and Changshu, both first-tier Apple factories

Last August the Fair Labor Association (FLA) conducted audits in two of Apple’s final assembly plants in China. These factories are both owned by Quanta–Tech-Com in Shanghai manufactures Mac computers and employs roughly 32,000 people and Tech-Full in Changshu manufactures iPods and employs nearly 5,000 people.

The findings from these audits were released today, one day after Apple’s announcement to ban benzene and n-hexane from final assembly or “first-tier” suppliers. Putting aside these two chemicals, the audit findings bring to light a number of other serious health and safety concerns that exist in the Chinese mega-factories in which Apple manufactures its products. While Apple has spent the past year putting “corrective action plans” in place for the findings, a number of major issues, particularly concerning worker hours, worker compensation, worker representation on environmental health and safety (EHS) committees, and chemical risk remain issues in these factories.

To read the Executive Summary of FLA’s findings as well as the detailed reports for each Quanta factory please see FLA’s website.

Here is a summary of some of the Health and Safety findings:

Tech-Com (Quanta Shanghai)

No. 68, Sanzhuang Rd., Songjiang Export Processing Zone, Shanghai, China

Poor Air Quality
The scope of indoor air quality testing was not compliant with the local authority’s requirements. The testing scope missed several significant occupational hazards. Additionally, while isopropyl alcohol was widely in use, there was not an exhaust ventilation system provided. Finally, there was no extraction system provided for the heat seal packaging machines, which adversely effects the air quality in the working environment.

Insufficient Protective Gear
Most of the protective masks currently in use were not certified, as per legal requirements, and were not assessed for their effectiveness against VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Additionally, the emergency shower and eyewash in the chemical warehouse were not designed for easy access and use in case of emergency.

Insufficient Chemical Safety Information
50% of the MSDS (material safety data sheets) for chemical substances in use were incomplete or had unreliable information about chemicals, ingredients, and chemical composition.

Improper Storage of Hazardous Materials
The chemical storage sections in production areas are not totally isolated from offices and rest areas. Additionally, some flammable/toxic substances were stored under chairs, on desk, and under assembly lines.

Incomplete Information
Auditors were not granted access to the entire site; therefor the risk assessment for occupational hazard control was not completed in all labs and buildings.

Tech-Full (Quanta ChangShu)

No. 8, JinZhou Rd., Hightech Industrial park, Changshu Economic Development Zone, Changshu, Jiangsu, China

Insufficient Chemical Safety Information & Monitoring
The factory was adequately monitoring occupation hazard risks in the following instances:

  1. Only 9 major chemicals were included in this assessment. Several significant occupational hazards were not identified in the risk assessment for occupational hazard control (e.g., organic tin, methanol);
  2. 16 out of 25 chemicals with significant occupational hazards were not included in the risk assessment scope;
  3. There was no lab analysis of chemical ingredients, especially volatile organic compounds (VOCs), to determine the scope of occupational hazards when Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) were incomplete.
  4. 80% of the MSDS for chemical substances in use were incomplete or had unreliable information about chemicals, ingredients, or the chemical composition of the contents.
  5. Only dust, isopropyl alcohol (IPA), cyclohexane, xylene were identified as occupational hazards and measured annually. The other 10+ occupational hazards were not monitored or measured (e.g. organic tin, methanol).

Poor Air Quality
The local exhaust ventilation pipes were not used or maintained properly. This has an adverse effect on indoor air quality. Additionally, the scope of indoor air quality testing was not compliant with local authority’s requirements. The testing scope missed several significant occupational hazards and the report does not include important information (product, number/type of machines running during the test, raw material detail, etc.) that may have a direct effect on test results.

Incomplete Information
FLA auditors were not granted access to conduct an assessment for occupational hazard control in Buildings C1 and C2.

To read the detailed assessments for each Quanta factory please see FLA’s website.

 

August 14, 2014 / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

VICTORY: Apple to Remove Two Potent Toxins from Supplier Factories

Green America campaigns director (right) joins representatives from China Labor Watch for our April 25th joint protest at Apple's flagship New York City store.

Green America campaigns director Elizabeth O’Connell (right) joins representatives from China Labor Watch for our April 25th joint protest at Apple’s flagship New York City store.

This spring, Green America’s End Smartphone Sweatshops campaign, in partnership with China Labor Watch (CLW), called on Apple to remove toxic chemicals including benzene and n-hexane from its supplier factories in China. Only five months into the campaign, Apple announced in August that it would “explicitly prohibit the use of benzene and n-hexane” at 22 of its final-assembly supplier factories.

“If you’ve ever wondered if signing a petition can really make a difference, now you know. With 23,000 signatures since March of 2014, we’ve been able to push one of the biggest companies in the world to change its practices,” says Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America’s campaigns director.

A known carcinogen, benzene can cause leukemia, a blood cancer, and leukopenia, a dangerously low white blood cell count.The chemical n-hexane is a neurotoxicant that can cause nerve damage and paralysis after long-term exposure. As reported in the April/May Green American, workers in electronics supplier factories—including those making Apple products—use both chemicals to clean touch screens. Undercover CLW representatives have found such workers using little to no protective equipment, with inadequate safety training.

In a statement released August 13th, Lisa Jackson, former EPA Secretary and current Apple vice-president of environmental affairs, stated that Apple had investigated 22 final-assembly supplier factories that make iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Mac computers, “and found no evidence of workers’ health being put at risk from exposure to [benzene and n-hexane].”

O’Connell, however, says the campaign’s work is not over. “Benzene and n-hexane are still allowed in factories that produce the components for iPhones and iPads,” she sas. “Beyond benzene and n-hexane, there are thousands of chemicals used in electronics manufacturing—some which are largely untested—and many chemicals used by Apple suppliers remain undisclosed. Apple needs to do more to protect workers.”

With production set to ramp up this fall with the release of the iPhone 6, Green America and CLW are now calling on Apple to extend the chemical ban to substances other than benzene and n-hexane, and to all of its supplier factories, including early-production facilities where chemical usage and safety measures are less controlled.

In July, the campaign also began targeting Samsung, after news broke that five children below the age of 16 and many minors between 16 and 18 were found working in Shinyang Electronics Co., Ltd., one of its Chinese suppliers. Workers are also exposed in Samsung’s factories to toxins like benzene and n-hexane.

Sign our new petition to Apple, as well as our petition to Samsung and demand they take action to protect all workers across their supply chains.

August 14, 2014 / Sam Catherman

CEVBs at the Congressional Renewable Energy Expo

This July, Green America attended the Congressional Renewable Energy Expo on Capitol Hill to tell policy makers and clean energy industry leaders all about the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014. The bill, which has been introduced to the House of Representatives by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), seeks to provide new financing for clean energy projects including wind, solar, and geothermal, as well as home and commercial energy efficiency technologies. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) stopped by our booth to ask us a few questions about CEVBs. Watch their interview below, read more about the bill here, and contact your Representative and urge him or her to support clean energy in the US.

August 14, 2014 / Green America

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: The Oberlin College Ecolympics

Oberlin students take "shots" of a locally grown salad at a 2014 Ecolympics event.

Oberlin students take “shots” of a locally grown salad at a 2014 Ecolympics event.

As students get ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from now through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

At Oberlin College, April brings warm breezes, vibrant flowers, and golden sunlight—as well as a spirited contest that pits one dorm against another to see which can use the fewest resources.  The Oberlin Ecolympics compares dorm-wide reductions in electricity and water use, with the most eco-savvy dorms winning prizes that include ice cream socials and infrastructure improvements, such as the installation of water refill stations.

“Ultimately, becoming sustainable will involve significant lifestyle changes on behalf of pretty much everyone,” says Oberlin Ecolympics Intern Abraham Rowe. “It’s important to have people actually attempt to make some sort of changes to their lifestyle, and then [see] what it feels like to live like that.”

Started in 2002, when several Oberlin students invented a building “dashboard” to monitor their energy and water use, the campus-wide contest takes place over three weeks. The contest is still guided by an online dashboard similar to the 2002 prototype, which monitors buildings and informs residents about their resource use. The contests also uses physical displays to keep the spirit of competition high.

Oberlin’s Office of Environmental Sustainability advertises, plans, and oversees the coordination, planning, and marketing of the campus’s Ecolympics efforts, which also involve educational events. In 2014, Oberlin’s 36 Ecolympics events included movie screenings, a local arboretum cleanup, a visit from animal rights activist Gene Bauer, and a workshop and concert hosted by a band that uses only vegetable oil to power its truck.The Office of Environmental Sustainability incentivized student attendance by rewarding the dorm that had the highest percentage of resident participation at the events.

Sustainability Coordinator Bridget Flynn says that the Ecolympics is an “extremely meaningful” competition, due to its student engagement and its tangible results: In 2014, Oberlin trimmed its electricity use during the event by 13,182 kWh, which saved $1,054, and the campus reduced its overall water use by 55,889 gallons, or $559. Rowe values Ecolympics because, once the contest is over, electricity and water use continue to decrease across campus, he says.

In addition, the competition has infected the city of Oberlin, whose public schools held their first resource reduction in conjunction with Ecolympics in 2014. One public school reduced its electricity use by 36.7 percent, an impressive feat given that only 50 to 60 percent of average US building’s electricity use is discretionary, or under the control of the building’s occupants.

Ecolympics is no longer confined to Oberlin’s borders. The students who first invented the Ecolympics dashboard went on to found the Lucid Design Group, which develops resource-monitoring building software for small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike. In 2010, Lucid helped make this contest national. Called the Campus Conservation Nationals competition, it runs every spring at 119 colleges and universities across the country. Oberlin participates each year, and simultaneously continues to run its dorm-wide contest. Last year, the Campus Conservation Nationals judges ranked Oberlin as a “top-five water reducer.”

Both Rowe and Flynn advise schools that are interested in Ecolympics to check out the many resources that Campus Conservation Nationals offers. Environmental Dashboard Project Leader Danny Rosenberg, a 2012 Oberlin graduate, stresses the importance of involving the entire student body in the competition. “Try to tie [the competition] in with a broader effort to engage the college community on sustainability,” says Rosenberg.  “Try to really build a culture around sustainability.”

—Sari Amiel

August 13, 2014 / alisagravitz

Food for Thought: The Tide is Turning Against Fossil Fuels

 

Green America President/CEO Alisa Gravitz

Green America President/CEO Alisa Gravitz

Food for Thought is a new series of blogs written by Green America President/CEO Alisa Gravitz discussing trending green economy topics, innovative ideas in the environmental sphere, and more.

Two articles I  read this summer show major shifts in the investor world against fossil fuels and for renewable energy. The first is a momentous article published in July in The Telegraph.

In brief, it says that fossil fuels are the new sub-prime threat to the global economy, comparing them to the bad real-estate investments that led to the economic crisis of 2008.

“The epicentre of irrational behaviour across global markets has moved to the fossil fuel complex of oil, gas and coal. This is where investors have been throwing the most good money after bad,” writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

Evans-Pritchard asserts that fossil fuel investments are heading for mass stranding, billions of dollars of past investments are heading for write-offs, and there are significantly fewer potential future investments that will break even, much less turn a profit.

He points out that “a large chunk of US investment” is supporting “shale gas ventures,” otherwise known as fracking operations, “that are underwater or barely breaking even” because they’ve created a “supply glut.” He does note that the industry could stabilize in five years or so and then turn a profit for investors once more.

However, he goes on to say that a solar revolution is rushing up on us under the radar, harbinger of a transformative green industrial revolution that can no longer be avoided.  World leaders, including President Barack Obama, are pledging to cut their country’s greenhouse gas emissions to combat the climate crisis. Meanwhile, “staggering gains in solar power—and soon battery storage as well—threatens to undercut the oil industry with lightning speed.”

“Once the crossover point is reached—and photovoltaic energy already competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies—it must surely turn into a stampede,” writes Evans-Pritchard, who predicts that “the world energy landscape will already look radically different in the early 2020s.”

Authored by the international business editor of the UK Conservative party’s newspaper of choice, this article will most definitely be read by the UK Prime Minister, the Chancellor, and many of their advisors as they consider fracking in the UK and a whole set of national energy policies. No doubt the piece will give them pause about the typical conservative view of energy policy. Hopefully it will also be a harbinger of thinking that will come “across the pond” to the conservative end of the political spectrum here in the US.

The second piece offering similar thinking is a June blog by one of Green America’s colleagues, Jeremy Leggett, who is the founder and chair of Solar City, a solar company; a founder and chair of Carbon Tracker, a carbon policy NGO; and founder and chair of Solar Aid, an NGO helping get solar into the lowest income communities in Africa.

“Those of us with a belief system tuned to a bit of science know that the global community has to get rid of most carbon fuel use, maybe all, by 2050, maybe earlier,” to avoid the worst effects of climate change, Leggett writes. “This will be some journey. Where might we take a first step? Where is there any evidence that we could eliminate an entire category of carbon fuel use?”

Leggett’s answer is that SolarAid’s breakthrough in replacing kerosene lighting with solar lighting provides a prime example of a bite-sized first step to replacing other entire categories of fossil-fuel use.

Leggett’s charity, Solar Aid, has sold a million affordable solar lights in Africa in the past four years, 650,000 in the last year alone.

“In doing so, we are wiping kerosene out, creating a cascade of social good ranging from education (kids have a lot more time to study at night), through development (deferred kerosene costs create a staggering average increase in annual household income of some 20 per cent), to global warming abatement (a kerosene lantern emits an average of fully a tonne of greenhouse gas over its lifetime),” he writes.

Leggett writes that such a process can realistically be accelerated in these days of investors beginning to wake up to the potential risk of wasting capital expenditure in an expanding carbon bubble.

“Every step carbon fuel abolitionists take forward is likely to become easier in the future,” he writes. “This is because carbon fuels, on the whole, will become more expensive to extract over time, and the increasingly enormous amounts of cash needed to access them become ever harder to justify.”

Taken together, the two articles from Evans-Pritchard and Leggett give hope that people across the whole political spectrum are getting ready to do what must be done for the future of the planet and its people.

Green America is a leading voice in promoting solar technology, green investing, and fossil-fuel divesting. It’s great to be part of a team working to turn the tide.

Alisa Gravitz

August 4, 2014 / Elizabeth

The Blame Game

Preventable Factory Fire in China Once Again Not Prevented

Co-written by Joey Friedman

75 Chinese workers at the Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Production Co.  perished in a factory explosion on Saturday, August 2nd. Zhongrong makes automotive parts for General Motors Co. and other auto makers. Dense with dust, its believed the unfiltered air combusted upon contact with a heat source. Like many unfortunate factory fires, this could have been prevented by installing a simple ventilation system.

In an attempt to avoid responsibility, few head employees were willing to speak or take action after the explosion. Factory Chairman Wu Ji-tao was not found within reach for comment. The factory’s online contact, Zhang Ying refused to answer any questions regarding the blast. According to a report by The New York Times, China’s top work-safety agency pointed to local government to take on responsibility for the tragic event. Government officials are currently refusing to comment. Citic Dicastal Wheel Manufacturing Co., wheel-makers that subcontract orders to Zhongrong is also not available for comment.

General Motors deflects its relationship with the factory, making clear that is sources its parts through Citic Dicastal, its tier 1 supplier, and has no direct relationship with Zhongrong, this tier 2 supplier.

Of the more than 260 people onsite at the time of the explosion on early Saturday morning, 75 have died and nearly 200 are injured.

Combustible dust is a widely known manufacturing hazard. As a metal polishing plant, Zhongrong should have had a ventilation system in place before becoming operational.  As the Wall Street Journal reported, without a ventilation system these explosions can happen without warning. ]

This incident helps to bring greater attention to the problem of poor ventilation systems and insufficient safety trainings in Chinese factories. It took two disasters within Apple supplier factories in China for Apple to finally “order” the factories to adopt new and safer techniques to prevent metal combustion fires, in 2012. The order would seem more sufficient if Chinese factories weren’t so well known for their questionable enforcement.

Apple is nearing its launch of the new iPhone 6, a product heavily in demand and gaining high expectations. Sources revealed that the crave for the new product is resulting in a rush to hire new factory employees, extend work hours, and increase of hazardous exposure for workers. Do our gadget-grubbing demands influence the unsafe conditions and harsh treatment of overseas factory workers?

Take action by signing a petition to Apple, to protect workers making the anticipated iPhone 6.

 

 

July 24, 2014 / Sam Catherman

Citigroup Reaches $7 Billion Settlement with Justice Department, but What’s Really Been Settled?

On Monday, July 14, Citibank agreed to pay a $7 billion settlement related to sub-prime mortgage-backed securities sold to investors during the lead up to the financial crisis of 2008. The settlement results from a Justice Department effort to crack down on the complex and risky behaviors that led Wall Street to the brink of collapse in 2008. While the overwhelming majority of Americans want to hold bankers accountable for gambling on peoples’ livelihoods, the recent settlements don’t represent a real victory for the population. If we break down the structure of the most recent settlement, it’s easy to see why.

www.freefoto.comCiti agreed to pay a total of $7 billion dollars to end a DOJ inquiry into its involvement in the financial crisis. Citi will pay $4.5 billion in cash, and $2.5 billion to provide relief to struggling homeowners and low-income tenants in the form of restructured mortgages. Of the $4.5 billion cash payment, $4 billion will go to the Justice Department as a civil penalty. The other $500 million will be paid as fees to state Attorneys General and to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

There are a few reasons why this settlement looks more like a PR stunt than Citi actually trying to right any wrongdoing. First of all, the majority of the settlement will go to the agencies doing the prosecution, pretty much to spend at their discretion. The prosecuting agencies do not represent the true victims of the housing crisis, the ones who were aggressively sold mortgages that they had no chance of affording a few years down the line. The lion’s share of the settlement, in effect, settles little more than legal fees.

Citigroup can count the loan modifications it will make for sub-prime borrowers under the government Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) as part of the settlement. This program awards incentive payments to the bank to modify bad loans. Citi will actually receive payments for abiding by the terms of the settlement they reached with the government. The assistance to homeowners, those most affected by the financial crisis, will therefore be subsidized.

And as if the taxpayer hasn’t already paid enough for the egregious actions of large financial institutions leading up to the financial crisis, any mortgage principal reductions to homeowners from Citi will come in the form of earned income for tax purposes. Any supposed relief homeowners enjoy will be taxed as income, in many cases negating any relief in the first place. This is due to the expiration of the Mortgage Debt Relief Forgiveness Act, which Congress has failed to renew. Without this essential protection, the settlement might actually leave some borrowers worse off.

The settlement reached between Citi and the Department of Justice doesn’t even address the losses incurred by investors who purchased securities backed by sub-prime mortgages in the lead-up to 2008.

At the end of the day, Citi will pay $7 billion to get regulators and investigators off its back. The settlement comes after JP Morgan Chase reached a similar agreement to the tune of $13 billion last year. The DOJ collects more cash than it knows what to do with, the mega-banks continue to gamble with real peoples’ homes (increasingly in the rental market that grew as a result of the crash), and tax-paying citizens are left to foot the bill. Nobody involved with the packaging and sale of toxic mortgages will see the inside of a jail cell, and all parties involved will move forward as if the mess didn’t occur in the first place. If you’re tired of the illusion of justice in our legal and financial systems, Green America urges you to take the time and tell Eric Holder to re-prioritize the prosecution of those involved mortgage fraud. Unless the people stand up and demand justice, there will be nothing to deter mega-banks like Citi from driving the economy to the brink of collapse all over again.

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