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March 13, 2014 / Elizabeth

Apple responds to campaign, but falls short of progress

Co-authored by Kevin Slaten, China Labor Watch & Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America

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Yesterday in partnership with Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour and the activism arm of the Nation, Green America and China Labor Watch launched a petition to Apple to improve worker health and safety in the factories that make Apple products.

Apple was quick to respond to our campaign, in a statement shared with Computer World, however, their statement falls far short of meeting the demands of the campaign.  

First, we are calling for the elimination of the most dangerous chemicals used to make Apple products. Two dangerous chemicals known to be used by Apple include benzene and n-hexane, but there are more.  Thousands of chemicals can be involved in making one electronic device, many of which are newly developed and not sufficiently tested. Apple does not disclose the list of chemicals used at its supplier factories.  Transparency will be the first step in eliminating the most dangerous chemicals, removing them is next.

Apple pointed out it has led the industry in removing other dangerous chemicals from its products, but its statement did not include benzene or n-hexane. Nor did it indicate that Apple had removed toxic chemicals from the processes of making the parts–simply the final products themselves.

In cases where workers are still exposed to dangerous chemicals, workers must be provided with proper training and protective gear. In China, the legal minimum requirement for health and safety training is 24 hours. Apple’s new EHS training program provides no evidence that trainings will be enforced for workers at supplier factories, only that management will be trained. Additionally, China Labor Watch has issued reports revealing that at one of Apple’s main assembly factories, safety trainings were sometimes only 10 minutes long.

Secondly, we are calling on Apple to ensure that all workers who have been injured are receiving appropriate care. At present, Apple has no mechanism to track worker health and safety at its supplier factories, and therefore has no idea of the pervasiveness of occupational illnesses.  Tracking will be the first step, but to be a leader, Apple should ensure that any worker who has become ill making iPhones is receiving proper diagnosis, can access appropriate care, and can afford the care he or she needs.  The current process for workers to receive occupational diagnosis and access treatment is bureaucratic, time-consuming, and the care is not sufficient. Apple needs to step in to expedite this process.  For workers that have already become ill, sometimes gravely, time is of the essence.

It’s true that Apple has led in its industry, which is why Apple can and should be the first tech company to take this next step for workers.

Additional reforms Apple should take to protect the workers making its products include:

  • Disclose the chemicals used in products and to make products at supplier and assembly factories, and a mitigation plan for all chemicals considered to be dangerous
  • Disclose incidences of worker injuries and illness
  • Require all supplier and assembly factories to conduct pre-hire and post-resignation health exams, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not tested for pregnancy or discriminated against for other diseases like hepatitis B or HIV.
  • Disclose all manager safety trainings (including the training content), audit results, inspection results, and steps it took to resolve problems. (Including locations of inspections.)
  • Disclose inspection/audit findings to the public

Until this information is public, it’s difficult for consumers to trust what Apple says it is doing. Greater transparency is the first step towards worker safety, and it must be followed by action.

People interested in joining us to push Apple to protect workers and move towards true sustainable manufacturing should sign our petition to the Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook.>>

March 12, 2014 / Elizabeth

Announcing Bad Apple: End Smartphone Sweatshops!

Our new campaign, Bad Apple: End Smartphone Sweatshops, is working to bring light to the issue of unjust labor conditions in electronics factories in China, particularly regarding chemical use and worker health and safety.

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Why Smartphones?

Roughly 75% of the world’s population now has a cell phone, and demand for newer, smarter, and cheaper gadgets is on the rise. Smartphones, like many electronics, are made in factories where workers regularly do not have adequate protective gear or training for handling toxic substances.  Exposure to dangerous chemicals can lead to cancer, leukemia, nerve damage, liver and kidney failure, and reproductive health issues, depending on the chemical and level of exposure.

There are thousands of chemicals that could be used in electronics manufacturing process—some are known carcinogens and others are largely untested.  Protective gear and rigorous trainings on safe handling are needed but rarely enforced, and often problems of exposure are not detected until workers are already sick.  In the case of benzene, there are suitable and safer alternatives that are only slightly more expensive.[1] Chemicals known to be harmful to human health should be banned and for chemicals with unknown toxicity, more testing is required.

Why Apple?

Despite Apple’s Code of Conduct that prohibits the handling of dangerous chemicals without training or protective gear, extensive problems persist.  Recent cases in Apple supplier factories have occurred in which workers have contracted leukemia due to benzene exposure[2], nerve-damage due to n-hexane exposure[3], and skin conditions due to handling acidic chemicals without protection[4].

Apple is the pioneers in the smartphone industry, and is the self-proclaimed leader on corporate social responsibility.  As a massive global company, Apple has the power to improve working conditions throughout the electronics-manufacturing sector by influencing both its suppliers and its competitors. There are safer alternatives to the most dangerous chemicals available and Apple can take the lead in using them until it becomes an industry norm to use chemicals that are not endangering workers.

Apple is also highly profitable, earning $37 billion in profits in 2013 in one year.  On average, Apple’s profit margins on iPhones are close to 40 percent, higher than any of Apple’s competitors. Industry experts have estimated that Apple could remove dangerous chemicals from its supply chain for less than $1 per phone.

Eliminating benzene and other chemicals known to be harmful to human health from Apple’s supply chain would help prevent more workers from losing their lives or livelihoods themselves because of occupational illnesses from making iPhones.

Join us in sending a message to Apple>>

 

March 11, 2014 / franteplitz

Looking Forward to Next Steps by New Senate Climate Caucus

burning-coalThis morning, 28 senators concluded their all-nighter – an around-the-clock event to draw urgency to the need to address the climate crisis. Green America welcomes this visibility action by the Senate’s new “climate caucus” and we look forward to big steps to come, joined by members of the House.

For years now the US Congress has been stuck in a partisan impasse that has not only prevented enactment of comprehensive climate legislation, but has also stymied more moderate efforts to advance energy efficiency and other measures to build a clean energy economy. Creating good domestic jobs, cutting carbon pollution, and securing our energy future through renewable sources should all be bi-partisan issues. But even among Democrats, too many have been quiet on climate for too long. Perhaps now the tide will turn and we’ll see the leadership that’s required to cut greenhouse gas pollution and build our renewable energy sectors.

The senators used an all-night session, a rarely used strategy, to build positive momentum for addressing climate change, to attract media attention, and to go on record more forcefully as legislators committed to creating the conditions necessary for meaningful action on climate to take place. That is, all the senators except for Senator Jim Inhofe, a long-standing climate change denier. Understanding the current political constraints, the caucus wants to lay the foundation now for future success.

This Senate climate “talk-a-thon” could be an important step toward something important – but we’ll need ongoing public pressure to make that happen. Constituents can urge your Senators and Representatives to take action, urge the Obama Administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, and support the EPA’s proposed regulations to cut carbon pollution from new power plants. To support strong power plant standards, you can use Green America’s action through May 9th.

We need everyone’s participation to make climate change a top priority – one that moves from words to actions.

March 10, 2014 / Todd Larsen

Bank of America Announces a New Plan for Taking Money from Those Who Can Least Afford It

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Recently, Bank of America announced a new debit card where card holders will be charged $4.95 per month for overdraft protection.  The pitch to cardholders is that if they overdraw their accounts they will not rack up sizable overdraft fees.  On the surface, this might sound like a good deal to people who keep a low balance in their account and worry about accidentally triggering overdraft fees.

But, the reality is quite different.  That’s because bank customers can’t overdraft their accounts unless they opt in for overdraft protection.  Gone are the days when banks could opt you in (without your knowledge) for overdraft protection  and then charge you hefty fees ($35 per overdraft)  for going pennies below your balance when you use your debit card.

Allowing unaware customers to overdraft their account and then forcing them to pay $35 for this “privilege” mobilized consumers and their advocates to press for reform.  Thanks to banking reform legislation passed in 2010 (which Green America and its members supported), bank customers have to opt-in for overdraft protection.  If they don’t opt-in for the protection, and they attempt to overdraft their account, their card is simply rejected and no fee is charged.  Unfortunately, many consumers don’t understand this.  A 2011 survey of consumers who opted in for overdraft protection found that 66% of them mistakenly signed up for the service because they thought that if their debit card was rejected for trying to make an overdraft they would be charged a fee simply for being rejected.  They didn’t realize that the law prohibited the bank from charging any form of overdraft (or attempted overdraft) fee without the customer’s consent.

Bank of America is preying on this misperception to offer consumers a new “benefit” – an account that prevents overdraft fees – that no one actually needs.  And, consumers will pay almost $60 per year for this faux benefit.  Sadly, it is consumers who have the most to lose, those that are low- or moderate-income, that will fall for this latest megabank scheme to help the gullible part with their money.

Consumers would be much better off banking with a local community development bank or credit union that doesn’t seek to profit from gotcha clauses and ever-expanding fees.  You can bring in $60 to open an account, and support your local community.  Hundreds of options are available at Green America’s Break Up with Your Mega-bank site.  And, while you’re at it, if you are still carrying a Bank of America credit card, you can get a great credit card from a community development bank or credit union with Green America’s Take Charge of Your Card campaign.  Then, make sure to let Bank of America know you are leaving them because you don’t approve of the way they do banking.

 

March 5, 2014 / franteplitz

2014 Shareholder Season Sets Record!

2014ProxyPreviewThe current proxy season has set a record with the filing of 417 social and environmental shareholder resolutions urging US companies to improve their policies and practices across a wide range of issues. The majority of resolutions this year focus on climate change issues and on corporate political spending. Other key issues being addressed at shareholder meetings nationally in the months ahead include human rights, toxic chemicals, GMOs, responsible banking, deforestation, and recycling. Green America’s Shareholder Resolution Focus List provides a snapshot of a number of the resolutions investors should support this proxy season. And whether you own direct company stock or not – as consumers there are many Green America actions you can take all year long to improve corporate conduct across all of these issues and more.

The Proxy Preview, published today by As You Sow, provides a detailed review of the resolutions filed this season with updates on their status and information on the broader context in which the resolutions were filed. The Proxy Preview is available free of charge and is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand the present shareholder resolution landscape.

Investor action on climate change fits in perfectly with Green America’s long-standing focus on addressing the climate crisis. Investors are filing increasing numbers of resolutions that call for: company goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; reports on climate risks; reports on natural gas fracking impacts; and even a resolution at PepsiCo on the elimination from its trucking fleet of fuel from the Canadian tar sands via the Keystone XL pipeline if the pipeline is constructed.

Investors are also taking an interesting approach on GMOs – another major Green America issue campaign. Resolutions at Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Mills, and Kraft Food Groups have been filed to ban the companies from making political contributions – these companies were selected because of their significant financial support for efforts to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives at the state level.

As Andy Behar, CEO of As You Sow, stated: Shareholders today are looking  not at these issues in isolation. Instead, they articulate a systemic critique, pointing out the connections between excessive political spending, inadequate energy policy, the dangers of our changing climate and its damaging impact on water and agriculture, toxic hazards, and how these are related to human rights.”

So vote your proxies when they come in! If you need help deciphering the ballot, Green America can help. We need more shareowners asserting their power to help make crucial changes in corporate America.

February 26, 2014 / Sam Catherman

New Financing for Clean Energy – Clean Energy Victory Bonds

As climate change and rising fuel costs, especially natural gas prices, generate headline news, it becomes ever more apparent that we need to invest in renewable energy. Clean Energy Victory Bonds can play a crucial role in securing the financing necessary to shift our energy sourcing to cleaner options.  This bond evokes the spirit of one of the greatest fundraising efforts in our nation’s history. During World War II, over 80% of American households bought at least one victory bond, raising the equivalent of over $2 trillion in today’s dollars. Inspired by the efforts of previous generations, the victory bond is being rebooted to face the energy challenges of the 21st century. The Clean Energy Victory Bond would support solar, wind, second generation biofuels, and energy efficiency programs needed to build the clean U.S. economy that the times require.

Green America CEO and President Alisa Gravitz speaks at a briefing on Capitol Hill, Feb 24, 2014.

Green America CEO and President Alisa Gravitz speaks at a briefing on Capitol Hill, Feb 24, 2014.

Americans are increasingly aware of just how large a challenge climate change poses to our communities, as well as the role of fossil fuels in creating this global crisis. Fortunately, the shift from dirty energy to clean sources is well underway. For example, in 2013, a new solar energy system was installed every four minutes. By the beginning of 2014, the US had installed 12 gigawatts of solar capacity, producing as much energy as 14.5 coal-fired power plants. Wind power in the United States has been rapidly increasing as well, with over 14.2 gigawatts of capacity installed since 2012. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the projects currently under construction have the potential to power 3.5 million American households, or all the homes in Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas combined.

Financing for clean energy like wind and solar complements these observed increases in capacity. Annual solar installation, both residential and commercial, has grown by more than 1,600% since the Investment Tax Credit was implemented in 2006. Funding for large-scale solar projects announced in 2013 reached $13.6 billion, up from $8.7 billion the previous year. Similarly, the US Wind industry has attracted nearly $90 billion of private investment into new infrastructure over the past five years. The Production Tax Credit has been instrumental in encouraging this growth – in December of 2012, wind producers installed 5.5 gigawatts of capacity as the expiration of the PTC neared.  Both wind and solar energy employ significant sections of the American workforce. Wind power currently employs more than 75,000 Americans, and for the first time ever, the US solar industry now employs more workers than the US auto manufacturing industry. [1]

While this growth is monumental in its own light, it still pales in comparison to the portion of our energy mix that fossil fuels provide. From 2002-2008, traditional fossil fuels received $70.2 billion of federal subsidies, while renewables received just $12.2 billion over the same time period. Legislators allow federal incentives like the Production Tax Credit to expire and then retroactively reinstate them, creating uncertainty in renewable energy markets. This limits growth in sectors like wind energy, and shifts support to more favorable countries like China and Germany.

The Clean Energy Victory Bond will protect the tax incentives essential to clean energy sources and energy efficiency initiatives, while simultaneously offering a reliable investment vehicle backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. By fostering these sectors of the green economy, the bill stands to create more than 1 million high-paying jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.

Thousands of Americans have already pledged to purchase the bonds once they become available, and you can too. You can also call your representative and urge him or her to support the bill once it is on the floor. We must work on both sides of the aisle to reduce our dependence on dirty, imported fossil fuels, create jobs for millions of Americans, and protect our environment with clean, American-made energy sources. As Green America’s CEO and President Alisa Gravitz put it, “Clean energy is joyfully bi-partisan.” The only side you need to choose here is the one that leads the US into the future running on clean, safe, domestic power!


[1] U.S. Energy Information Administration and Solar Foundation

February 6, 2014 / Todd Larsen

Green America supports limiting carbon from new power plants

Today, I spoke at an EPA hearing in support of rulemaking to limit emissions from new power plants.  The rules would be an important first step in regulating power plants, the largest stationary source of carbon emissions in the U.S.

The pro-coal lobby was at the hearing in full force, arguing that they could not implement technologies to mitigate carbon pollution from new coal plants that would meet the EPA’s limits.  Of course, these are the same industries that have been touting carbon capture and sequestration technology as a solution to lowering carbon emissions for years.  While Americans firmly support regulating carbon emissions, we are badly outspent in Washington.

That’s why it’s essential that all Americans voice their support for carbon regulation.  You can take action with Green America online here:  http://action.greenamerica.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12768

Following are the comments I delivered to the EPA:

Thank you for hosting this public hearing to receive comment from Americans on the important issue of regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

My name is Todd Larsen, and I serve as the corporate responsibility director of Green America, a national non-profit organization with 170,000 individual members and 3,500 business members nationwide.  Our green business network is the largest network of certified green business in the United States.  Green America is also a member of the American Sustainable Business Council, which represents over 150,000 businesses nationwide.

On behalf of our members, Green America strongly supports the EPA’s new rules under the authority of the clean air act to address carbon pollution from new power plants.  The proposed new limits will create a standard of environmental responsibility and lay the groundwork for encouraging innovation and investment in lower-carbon technologies, new energy infrastructure, and increased energy efficiency.  At the same time, the rules will create only negligible costs.

The need to regulate carbon from new power plants is clear.  We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and those impacts will only increase.  If we build highly polluting power plants, the increased carbon pollution will contribute to increased natural disasters, air pollution, and negative health impacts, as well as severely weakened ecosystems. The two groups that Green America represents, consumers and small to mid-sized businesses, will be hard hit.

Consumers will face increased risks to their health and property, and rising costs of basic goods and services over time, as climate change impacts important systems such as food, water, and infrastructure.  Lower income Americans, those who can least afford it, will be the hardest hit.

Recent polling shows that 70% of Americans want the EPA to regulate emissions from power plants.  The vast majority also support a shift to clean energy sources.  Americans across the country and across political parties understand that we need to shift to clean energy sources to protect our lives and our economy.

Small and mid-sized business owners, America’s main street businesses, will also be negatively affected by climate change.  From disruptions in their supply chains, to physical damage and disruptions of their operations from increasingly extreme weather, small businesses are at a high risk from rising greenhouse gas emissions.

That is why polling conducted by the American Sustainable Business Council found that 63 percent of small businesses owners support EPA regulation of carbon emissions from power plants and 72 percent support incentives for clean energy.

EPA regulations of new power plants will also encourage greater innovations in clean energy technologies, which will boost the economy, job creation, and small businesses nationwide.  Clean energy and energy efficiency jobs offer competitive pay and are stable.  These technologies are revitalizing communities nationwide. They are also producing lower energy costs already. America needs more innovation to remain globally competitive, and regulating carbon will help lead to that innovation.  These rules are an important first step in carbon regulation.

For all of the above reasons, Green America and its members support the EPA proposing strong carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

Thank you.

February 4, 2014 / Todd Larsen

This Valentine’s Day: Ditch a Megabank Zero and Take Up With a Hero

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate the ones we love.  But what if your love is one-sided and you are on the losing end?  If you are giving your hard-earned dollars to a megabank – such as Citi, Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo – you might want to look at ending your relationship soon.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you want to be in a relationship where your partner abuses the planet?  If not, you should be aware that Citi, Bank of America, and Chase are all major funders of coal mining and coal-fired power plants.
  • Do you want to be in a relationship where your partner rips you off?  If not, you should know that all the major banks and credit card issuers have been sued by federal and/or state authorities for abusive mortgage, credit cards, or other products.  And, big banks keep looking for ways to pile on fees.
  • Do you want to be with a partner that has a total disregard for others and takes no responsibility for its actions?  Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America were all involved in fomenting the mortgage crisis that crashed the economy in 2008. They gambled with our money and then made us bail them out.

It can be hard to leave a long-term relationship.  You get used to a bank and think that it will be a big hassle to change, or you’ll lose out on some key benefits you love.  But, consider this:

  • Responsible credit card issuers that use your funds to actually help build communities offer credit cards (Visa or Mastercard) with all the benefits you have come to expect – online billing, points that you can use for merchandise or travel, and acceptance worldwide.
  • Responsible community development banks and credit unions offer checking, savings, and certificate of deposit accounts with competitive rates and more and more offer online banking.
  • Responsible banks and credit unions offer accounts and credit cards with lower fees, and are more upfront with their customers about fees (they don’t try to sneak the fees in or trick you into signing up for “programs” you don’t need or want).

Ready to make a responsible bank or credit union your Valentine this year?  Go to www.breakupwithyourmegabank.org to find hundreds of great banks and credit unions nationwide.  And, go to www.takechargeofyourcard.org to find responsible credit cards.

February 3, 2014 / franteplitz

State Department on Keystone XL Pipeline: Contributes to Climate Change

KXLLate in the day on Friday, January 31, 2014 the State Department released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Project. The new report contains the important statement that “The total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Project would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.” This is a crucial, over-due acknowledgement by the State Department and an important one because President Obama has stated that climate impacts will influence his decision-making on the pipeline: “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest, and our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

Unfortunately, the report also states that “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands….” So advocates both for and against the pipeline are finding support for their positions in the latest governmental report. The report is not definitive in its assessment and is flawed in a number of ways:

• The report fails to capture the full scope of the climate, environmental, economic and health consequences of proceeding with the Keystone XL pipeline. For a more comprehensive understanding of the pipeline’s contributions to the climate crisis read Fail: How the Keystone XL Pipeline Fails the Climate Test.  And for a more truthful assessment of the job creation potential of the pipeline, contrasted with the claims touted by the oil industry, read the Cornell report Pipedreams: Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. In addition to the Cornell research, the State Department itself has concluded that ultimately the pipeline would only create merely 35 permanent jobs.

• The report has been issued amidst unresolved conflict of interest charges between the State Department’s research contractor and TransCanada, the pipeline company. The very credibility of the report is in question as highlighted and investigated by Friends of the Earth.

The reasons Green America as well as Nobel laureates, environmentalists, small businesses, ranchers, farmers, physicians, indigenous communities, and many others opposed the pipeline several years ago remain the same:

• The pipeline will exacerbate the climate crisis. The dirty tar sands oil production process alone generates three times as much global warming pollution as conventional crude oil generates.

• Tar sands extraction and transport will result in leaks and spills that harm human health, especially in indigenous communities and those along the pipeline route.

• Tar sands extraction and transport will pollute and harm the environment including water, land, forests, air, and wildlife.

• Only 35 permanent jobs will result from the project.

• The pipeline will not increase US energy security because the oil is intended for export from the Gulf of Mexico.

• The sustainable business community opposes the Keystone XL pipeline because it takes our nation in the wrong direction economically and is bad for business over the long term.

• We need to move immediately toward mass investment in clean energy and energy efficiency to secure our energy needs, decrease carbon pollution, and create millions of good domestic jobs.

Hundreds of vigils are taking place nationally today, opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and calling for a clean energy future. We need every American to urge President Obama to live up to his words and to take strong action on climate. The President can be the climate leader the times demand by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline now.

January 24, 2014 / franteplitz

EPA’s Gina McCarthy to Speak at Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Green America is pleased to serve as a convening organization of the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference to be held in Washington, DC, Feb. 10-11, 2014.  There will be more than 1,000 participants representing academia, labor, the environmental movement, sustainable business, community organizations, and more!

Exciting news! We just learned that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will speak at the conference as well. Ms. McCarthy has worked at the federal, state, and local levels on crucial environmental issues and helped coordinate policies on economic growth, energy, transportation and the environment.

The conference will provide an important opportunity to hear from leaders who are building a green economy, to ask questions about policy and action plans, and to network with people from across the country on a wide range of issues facing our nation and the need to “Repair America” – the 2014 conference theme.

Register for one day or both days!

And be sure to come to the session on February 11th with Green America and our colleagues on the Role of Business in Repairing America and Building a New Economy. We look forward to seeing you there!

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