The problem of forced child labor and human trafficking on West African cocoa farms has been known problem since roughly 2000, when a number of investigative reports came out exposing the severity of this issue. These reports spurred a reaction among policy makers and businesses, though for nearly a decade work to reduce the incidences in labor abuse in the sector seemed fragmented and stalled.
However, in the past four years there are clear signs of progress. Consumer awareness of child labor in the cocoa sector continues to grow, and with it, an ardent demand for chocolate made without child labor. Green America and many allies have helped hundreds of thousands of consumers communicate their concerns about child labor to the largest chocolate manufacturers, and raised awareness of fair trade certified and direct trade chocolate as well.
Companies big and small have responded to this demand. Smaller fair trade companies like Divine Chocolate and Equal Exchange have been able to expand their markets and their offerings in order to send more money back to the farming communities they work with. Ben and Jerry’s announced that all their ingredients, not just cocoa, would be fair trade by the end of this year, and larger companies like Hershey and Mars have committed to source only certified cocoa by the year two thousand and twenty.
How all this progress in the marketplace translates to progress on the ground for farmers is the question that is addressed in a new report out today: The Fairness Gap: Farmer Incomes and Root Cause Solutions to Ending Child Labor in the Cocoa Growing Sector. Also in the report are recommendations for all actors in the sector.
Key report findings include::
- Many cocoa farming families in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire make around the international poverty line of $2 per day, but with large families, this amounts to roughly 40 cents per person.
- Low earnings make it difficult for farmers to pay hired laborers to harvest the crop at the legally required minimum wage, fueling the need for child labor and, especially in Côte d’Ivoire, the trafficking of casual workers (including children) from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
- The majority of cocoa farmers are isolated geographically and must rely on a vast network of middlemen to transport their beans. Farmers also lack price information and negotiating power.
- The average age of cocoa farmers is increasing as younger people seek alternative means of income. This also increases the need for casual workers, who are even more marginalized.
- Company efforts to improve working conditions, schools, and supply certification are getting mixed reviews due to a failure to address the underlying poverty problem in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
The full report can be read on the International Labor Rights Forum’s website.
Congressional Democrats, in an attempt to prevent another government shutdown this year, may agree to let some troubling provisions into this year’s omnibus spending bill. Among the concessions made to the newly GOP-controlled legislature, the bill would strip critical restrictions on Wall Street under the Dodd-Frank Act. It would also permit a 3-fold increase in the amount of money a wealthy individual would be able to contribute to campaign funding. As of this afternoon, a number of Democrats, led by progressives, have held up the legislation. But, the White House has made clear that it won’t veto an omnibus spending bill with the problematic language included.
The provisions of the bill are troubling, because they will remove restrictions on Wall Street banks that prohibited them from using federally-insured deposits to underwrite derivatives trading. Derivatives are transactions in which two parties bet on the future price of a good, often commodities, to cushion against unexpected price shocks. In the early 2000’s derivatives were applied to the mortgage-backed securities market, and largely contributed to the financial collapse of 2008. The Dodd Frank Act required banks to underwrite derivatives in separate departments, forbidding the use of deposits for this purpose.
The new language in the spending bill allows banks to once again underwrite derivatives trading with deposits – that’s the cash that YOU as customers trust the banks (and subsequently the government) to keep safe for you. Just six years ago, we saw the bubble created by this activity and the devastation it caused across the country when it burst. Removing these regulations from banks only encourages more risky behavior, and could very well lead to another bubble situation.
These unfortunate amendments in the bill were allowed to pass without much of a fight so that other goals could be achieved. According to the Washington Post, “White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that ‘it is certainly possible that the president could sign this piece of legislation,’ even though it would undo a pillar of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul by freeing banks to more readily trade the exotic investments known as derivatives. The legislation ranks among the administration’s biggest domestic achievements.
Republican leaders predicted that the House would easily approve the sprawling spending bill and send it to the Senate, which would face a midnight Thursday deadline (but as of this writing, the bill has hit snags from both Democrats and Republicans). The measure provides funding through September for the Pentagon and dozens of other federal agencies and contains hundreds of individual policy instructions… The bill includes some good news for the White House, including fresh funding to battle the deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And it would do nothing to upend Obama’s contentious executive action on immigration or his health-care law.”
Not every battle can be fought and won at the same time, but the concessions made in this bill to Wall Street and wealthy donors stand to create real problems for American democracy. As wealthy individuals have an increasingly powerful say in the political process, and financial institutions grow to enjoy lax regulation once again, the officials we elect have less and less power to represent their constituents. Today, we urge you to contact your representatives and tell them to stand up to Wall Street and the wealthy and fight for regulations that protect our people, planet, and our democracy.
Writing by Sam Catherman
Jewelry from Discount and Department Stores
Problems: Adult and children costume jewelry from stores such as Claire’s, Walmart, Target, Forever 21, Walmart, H&M, and Icing may contain toxic lead and cadmium. Mining for stones and metals used in more expensive jewelry causes environmental damage, unsafe working conditions, and violent and lethal conflict.
Better Options: High-quality jewelry made by fair trade artisans.
Box of Uncertified Chocolates
Problems: Cacao can come from forced child labor and underpaid farmers and workers. Chocolates most likely contain sugar and soy lecithin that are genetically engineered (GMOs), and may contain unhealthy artificial flavors.
Better Options: Fair trade and organic chocolates
Non-Organic Body Care Gift Sets
Problems: Soaps, lotions, etc. contain parabens, phthalates preservatives, and synthetic fragrances, which cause endocrine and hormone disruption, thyroid problems, infertility, and cancer.
Better Options: Products with only nontoxic, safe ingredients.
Problems: Made of plastic which comes from petroleum and toxic chemicals, often made in sweatshops overseas, and send a violent message to children.
Better Options: Peaceful toys, made in the USA from nontoxic and sustainable materials.
Problems: Made of plastic which comes from petroleum, made by low-wage workers overseas, and affects young girls and their body image.
Better Options: Positive-image dolls; Fair trade and/or made in the USA out of non-toxic, sustainable materials.
Gift Cards to Big-Box and “Fast Fashion” Stores
Problems: Many products from stores like Walmart, Target, and H&M are made with unsustainable materials, plastic (from petroleum), and toxic chemicals; produced in sweatshops and dangerous working conditions. Big-box retailers also pay some of the lowest staff wages.
Better Options: Fair trade, sustainable, unique gifts.
Problems: Often made from paraffin wax which is a petroleum by-product and produces soot when burned, genetically engineered (GMO) soy, wicks with lead, and toxic synthetic fragrances.
Better Options: Beeswax and non-GMO soy candles with essential oils for fragrance.
Vance Family Soy Candles (non-GMO soy)
Scarves, Mittens, Hats from Department and Discount Stores
Problems: Many mainstream stores such as Gap and Target use sweatshop labor and unsustainable fibers.
Better Options: Sustainable, fair trade businesses and products that are handmade and/or from reclaimed materials.
Virgin-Paper Journals and Cards
Problems: Virgin forests are destroyed to make paper, affecting watersheds, air quality, animal habitat, and climate change.
Better Options: Made from 100 percent recycled paper or non-tree paper. Even better is non-tree paper that provides a sustainable income and protects animals.
Athletic Gear/Yoga Mat from Chain Stores
Problems: Made of synthetic and potentially unhealthy materials, under bad working conditions.
Better Options: Sustainable, fair trade businesses and products.
Amazon has added a line to the sustainability page of the Amazon Web Services site stating:
In addition to the environmental benefits inherently associated with running applications in the cloud, AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint.
It’s always good news when a large company recognizes that it needs to shift to renewable energy.
Since Amazon has not provided a timeline or any evidence of new investment in clean energy (current or planned), nor have they answered press queries, it’s hard to know if it’s time to break out the champagne. For years, Amazon has been the holdout in the tech industry on making any commitment to clean energy or even disclosing its carbon emissions. By comparison, competitors like Apple, Google, and Facebook have taken measurable action, and most companies disclose the carbon they are emitting and the steps to reduce their emissions.
And, according to Clean Technica, Amazon is planning to build a new data center in Ohio that will largely be powered by coal. Clean Technica estimates the data center will use enough energy to power over 70,000 homes.
So, while Amazon clearly understands that their customers want to see them adopt renewable energy, it is essential that we keep the pressure on them to be more transparent about their emissions and how they are planning to reduce them overall (Amazon’s climate footprint goes well beyond its data centers).
Take action with Green America to urge Amazon to:
- Issue a sustainability report following Global Reporting Initiative guidelines
- Respond to the Carbon Disclosure Project so that Amazon can report out on and reduce their climate emissions. Nearly 70% of S&P 500 companies and more than 80% of Global 500 companies disclose climate related data through the Carbon Disclosure Project.
- Make a real commitment to increase the percentage of renewable energy powering their servers with actual investments in clean energy and a clear timeline, to make good on Amazon’s pledge of 100% renewable power. Also, immediately halt construction of data centers that rely on coal-fired power.
- Institute a take back program to responsibly recycle electronics.
The holidays are approaching, and like many Americans, you will probably purchase a gift for a friend or family member online. As a proud Green American, however, you may be wondering how the company synonymous with online shopping, Amazon, ranks in terms of sustainability and social responsibility. We did some research on the issue, and found that by most corporate standards, Amazon does poorly in these fields.
For the past year, Green America and its allies have been pressing Amazon to take action on climate change. In response, Amazon has taken two significant steps: it hired Kara Hurst, the former CEO of the Sustainability Consortium, as its first-ever sustainability director, and it revealed that the company has a goal of using 100% renewable energy to power its servers. However, unlike competitors that have announced a transition to renewable energy Amazon does not provide a timeline for the transition and has made no real commitments to clean energy. Amazon’s data centers burn an ever-growing amount of energy generated by dirty fossil sources, and Greenpeace ranks them among the worst in transparency, infrastructure siting, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas mitigation, and renewable energy investment and advocacy.
Despite hiring a sustainability executive with an impressive resume this year, Amazon currently has no published sustainability report, at a time when almost every other Fortune 500 company publishes such a report. The company also once again declined to respond to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which provides a system for companies to measure, disclose, and manage environmental information, which would serve as a first step in understanding and reducing Amazon’s carbon emissions.
In addition to their dismal environmental record, Amazon demonstrates a lack of commitment to social responsibility. The company actively fought against state efforts to collect sales taxes in 2012 (Amazon’s brick and mortar competitors all have to pay sales taxes, which puts them at a disadvantage).
Amazon also has a poor record on workers’ pay and rights. The company actually pays its warehouse workers less than WalMart pays. And, workers allege they aren’t even paid for all of their time on the job. A class action lawsuit has been filed against an Amazon warehouse for failure to pay workers for time it takes at the end of each shift (about 25 minutes) to make sure these workers are not stealing products. The 25 minutes it takes to go through security should be compensated. Warehouse conditions are poor as well. Company warehouses were not equipped with electricity for air conditioning until 2011, leaving workers to toil in 90-degree weather during the summer months.
Fortunately, there are plenty of online holiday shopping options that bear a proud declaration of their commitment to people and the planet. Products ranging from books to toys to apparel made with environmentally friendly production methods, fair-trade partners, and clean energy can be shipped to your door, guilt-free. Have a look at our Amazon Alternatives Holiday Shopping Guide below to find a gift that your loved ones will cherish, and the planet will thank you for. Many of the businesses listed are certified members of our Green Business Network, so you know they are responsible companies.
Amazon Alternatives Holiday Shopping Guide
Cool Green Fact
|Powell’s powells.com||Books, Audio Books, DVDs||Operates a fleet of biodiesel-powered trucks, purchases wind power, and generates electricity from solar panels on their roof.|
|Better World Books betterworldbooks.com||Books, e-books, DVDs||By circulating previously owned merchandise,has recycled over 216 million pounds of books and offset 44,000 tons of carbon emissions.|
|Viva Terra vivaterra.com||Eco home décor, accessories,artisan goods||Offers a wide range of organic, all-natural, fair-trade, artisan-made, recycled, chemical-free products, all made in the USA.|
|Etsy etsy.com||Artisan-made crafts, jewelry, art||Connects shoppers directly with sellers of artisan-made crafts, jewelry, and art. Robust environmental reporting program ensures the company minimizes their resource use and carbon footprint.|
|Ten Thousand Villagestenthousandvillages.com||Fair Trade arts and crafts, jewelry, music, food||Handmade art, jewelry, and textiles are focused on providing equitable returns to artisans in developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.|
|Ebay ebay.com||Used goods galore — hundreds ofcategories||Largest online engine for reuse on the planet; allows people to sell items they own and aren’t using, reducing demand for new manufactured goods and landfill space.|
|Terra Experience terraexperience.com||Fair Trade Mayan arts and crafts||Supports environmental education in supplier countries, uses energy efficient technologies, post-consumer recycled paper, hybrid vehicles, and website hosted by 100% wind power.|
|Worldfinds worldfinds.com||Fair Trade gifts||All products are handmade, often locally, and are shipped using recycled paper, packaging material, and boxes.|
|Indigenous indigenous.com||Fair Trade/Eco Clothing||Makes high-quality clothing honoring both the people and the planet from natural and organic fibers such as cotton, silk, wool, alpaca, and Tencel; committed to using environmentally-friendly dyes.|
|Maggie’s Organics maggiesorganics.com||Fair Trade, organic clothing||All clothes are made with certified organic fibers, fair labor practices, using low-carbon production methods.|
|Equal Exchange equalexchange.coop||Fair Trade coffee, tea, chocolate||Imports organic coffee, tea, chocolates, candy bars, cocoa, sugar, nuts, cereal bars, bananas, and olive oil. Helps sustain 75 farmer co-ops in 30 countries.|
|Green Pages Online greenpages.org||Everything green—home décor, clothing, jewelry and beyond. Thousands of great gift ideas!||The over 3,000 businesses listed on GreenPages.org have undergone a rigorous certification for social and environmental sustainability.|
|Designates a certified member of Green America’s Green Business Network®|
Banktrack.org released an updated review of various financial institutions’ holdings in dirty coal energy. Green America promoted a scorecard earlier this year outlining the banks that were the strongest supporters of coal extraction and electricity production. The lowest marks went to Wells Fargo (D+), Bank of America (D-), Citi (F) and Chase (F). Of course, each of these banks has committed to reduce the carbon impact of its investing and to increase investment in clean energy, but that has not weakened their support of coal. Based on Banktrack.org’s latest data, not much progress has been made.
JP Morgan Chase (scoring the lowest among the coal-loving US banks) remains one of the largest offenders, providing $27 billion in coal financing from 2005 to 2014. Other American institutions, including Citi, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo are also featured in the top 20, securing the USA’s spot as one of the largest financers of the global coal industry. The USA contributed 23% of global coal financing between 2011 and 2013, second only to China’s 28%.
You can read all about the methodology used in the report here to get an idea of just how pervasive coal power is in the financial world. Coal is the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions attributable to humans, and has been the fast growing energy source worldwide over each of the past ten years. The international Energy Agency asserts that 44% of global carbon emissions from fossil fuels come from coal, about 7.9 billion tons annually.
For an example of the destructive nature of the coal industry, we need not look further than the Appalachian Mountains, running from New England to the Southeast. Every financial institution mentioned by the report has a stake in coal mining operations in Appalachia, where mountaintop removal is the preferred method of production. Ancient mountains and the ecosystems they harbor are systematically blasted and carved away to access the coal below the surface. Mountaintop removal threatens not only the wildlife and ecosystem services endemic to this region, but the surrounding communities and the global climate as well. Similar destruction is happening worldwide, and accelerates as the demand for energy grows.
Without a way to viably and effectively provide energy to billions in the developing world, coal and its enormous associated emissions will remain the primary source and continue to grow globally with the help of large financial institutions. Even as the US and China have entered into an historic agreement on climate, they are both still financing coal overall. As a consumer of financial services, however, you have the opportunity to let these megabanks know that you reject their support of dirty energy. By Breaking Up with your Megabank, you can leave the coal financiers behind and support a local financial institution that works to serve communities and the environment.
Big news comes from Beijing last week, where Chinese President Xi Jinpeng and US President Barack Obama publicly announced an agreement of intention to collaborate in reducing global carbon emissions by 2030. The two leaders struck the deal amidst broader economic negotiations, in which the US will plan to emit 26-28% less CO2 in 2025 than it did in 2005. In turn, China will plan to stop further growth of their emissions by 2030. President Xi also announced the goal to have solar and wind comprise 20% of china’s power supply by 2030.
The two nations are the largest single emitters of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas mostly responsible for changes in the climate. To reach the globally agreed upon safe limit of 2o Celsius average temperature increase before the end of the century, total annual emissions should stay below the threshold of 30 billion tons by 2030. Even if the US and China adhere to the goals outlined in the recent deal, they will have already emitted more than half of this amount (about 16 billion tons).
The remaining 14 billion tons per year will need to be split amongst the rest of the world, including the developed nations of the European Union and rapidly growing economies like India, Indonesia, and Brazil. Fossil fuels remain a key driver of growth in developing countries, and the agreement between the two largest producers of carbon pollution seeks to set the precedent of taking climate change seriously.
Carbon emissions reduction is well within reach of the two largest polluters. According to the Washington Post, “to meet its target, the United States will need to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average from 2005 to 2020 to 2.3 to 2.8 percent per year between 2020 and 2025.” China’s prescription is a bit different. The country “must add 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generation capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to the total electricity generation capacity in the United States.”
Social Media Response to the deal has carried an excited tone from climate activists all over the globe. The deal is lauded by environmentalists as a significant step towards a global climate agreement. Green America sees the agreement as an historic step forward, especially due to China’s proactive embrace of carbon reductions. The goals set out in the agreement, however, could certainly be more robust and achieve greater reductions by 2030.
It is important to remember that the agreement between the two countries is not binding, but a statement of intention to continue addressing carbon emissions and climate change in a serious manner. The US has already taken ambitions measures to confront the problem of carbon pollution, most notably through the EPA regulations of new and existing power plants proposed earlier this year. A newly Republican-controlled Congress will likely attempt to halt or otherwise impede efforts to reduce emissions (opponents of carbon emission reductions argued that the US shouldn’t act unless China does as well), but China’s willingness to step up and announce their intentions to work on the task themselves has taken considerable steam from their arguments. The deal has the potential to create an international momentum that could truly shift the global understanding of the climate crisis. As more major players consider their impact on the environment, downplaying or outright denying the impacts to natural and economic systems becomes a politically undesirable move.
Indeed, the way we power the modern world needs to change in profound ways, and the US-China deal is a powerful first step. It takes a collective effort to make a difference, and as Americans we can continue to urge our leaders to support policies that advance the production and implementation of renewable energy sources as well as tighter regulations for sources that pollute.
Now is the time to rapidly accelerate clean energy and energy efficiency technologies in the US. We’re calling on you to urge your representatives to cosponsor the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014, a bill that seeks to provide up to $50 billion new financing mechanisms for renewable energy and energy efficient technologies in the US, while giving every American a safe investment. And support the re-introduction of this legislation in the new Congress in January.
For many months, it’s been hard to determine the President’s exact position on the Keystone XL pipeline. The President has frequently said that he is relying on the State Department’s review of the pipeline in order for the Secretary of State to decide whether to approve or reject it, and that review has been delayed several times.
However, with the House of Representatives’ vote today in favor of the Keystone XL, the President made his clearest statement yet on the pipeline, and it was breath of fresh air. According to the Washington Post:
In a news conference Friday in Burma, the president rejected two of the most frequent arguments the project’s proponents have made on its behalf, saying he had “to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices.”
“It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold to everyone else,” he said. “It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”
These are two of the most potent critiques of the pipeline, and are completely based in fact. Analysis from Cornell Global Labor Institute demonstrates that the Keystone XL will only produce 35 permanent jobs. No one disputes that oil produced by the Keystone XL is destined for boats that will take if overseas. The Keystone XL will provide no benefit for average Americans or the American economy as a whole. The statements likely mean that President Obama will veto any legislation requiring that the US move forward with the Keystone XL.
The President could have gone even further and noted that the Keystone XL will also expand tar sands production, a technology that has devastating local impacts and huge climate impacts. He has said that his administration will reject Keystone if it will “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” which it certainly will do. In light of the historic US-China agreement to reduce carbon emissions, the US needs to invest in rapidly escalating clean energy, not projects that increase carbon intensive energy worldwide.
Hopefully, the next announcement on climate from President Obama will be about scaling up clean energy in the US. Here at Green America, we’d recommend that the President get behind Clean Energy Victory Bonds, which will allow all Americans to safely invest in the clean energy economy, and provide $50 billion for solar, wind and energy efficiency.
Celebrating greener holidays can mean reducing the number of gifts you give, choosing instead to focus on relationships and the spiritual meaning attached to the holiday season. Still, many find great joy in sharing gifts with the children in their lives. Fortunately, there are many wonderful gift ideas guaranteed to bring a smile to a child’s face while supporting the giver’s commitment to a just and sustainable future at the same time. The following gift ideas are all from companies that are green, family-owned, or fair trade—or even all three!
(Live links to each of these toys are available underneath the slideshow. Use the pause and arrow buttons at the bottom of the slideshow to view at your own pace.)
Find each of the toys in the slideshow at these links:
YOXO Dragonfly Construction Kit at Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care
Tree Owl Shadowbox at Baby Eco-Trends
In a decidedly disappointing mid-term election for the Green American constituency, there were still a few victories to feel good about. In a traditionally energy-friendly Texas town, residents spoke up over their concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial gas and oil extraction technique that has exploded in popularity throughout the US over the past decade. Texas is currently the nation’s largest oil and gas producer, and the political climate surrounding the issue is beginning to change.
The town of Denton, TX has over 270 active gas wells within its city limits. The population is 121,123, but the majority of the mineral wealth in the city does not belong to Denton residents. With the population set to almost double in the next twenty years, concerns over air and water quality, increased seismicity, and exposure to harmful chemicals have had local legislators seriously considering the benefits of gas production.
Considering that only 1% of the city’s property tax revenues come from natural gas development, and the city budget can attribute a paltry 1% to natural gas royalties, the city started to account for the implicit costs of fossil fuel development; degraded ecosystems, increased public health costs, and continued contribution to the CO2 emissions that the world is desperately trying to control. For the citizens of Denton, protecting their land, water, atmosphere, and families from the ill effects of energy production was a no-brainer.
Tuesday saw 58.64% of Denton voters raise their voices in opposition of continued fracking in their city. The passage of the measure represents the first ban on fracking in the entire state of Texas, widely recognized as one of the technology’s main champions. The gas industry is fully expected to contest the moratorium, but proponents of the measure, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, are confident that the language in the ban will stand up in court.
While gas companies operating on the Barnett Shale in Denton have reason to be upset, the citizens have other ideas for the energy future of their city. Denton’s energy portfolio is comprised of 40% wind-generated electricity, and the town is committed to conserving resources and using their land in a sustainable manner. Green America salutes the citizens of Denton for taking a stand against a toxic, damaging, and unjust industry operating in their backyards. To learn more about fracking in Denton, visit http://frackfreedenton.com/.