Company Name: JUST Designs
Mission: We’re a non-profit and in addition to paying the artisans a living wage, we have health, nutrition and finance programs in the villages we work with. We’re also Fair Trade certified.
Bestseller: The hand-made bags ($30) are very popular.
Personal favorite: We love the vests ($55)! We love seeing traditional textiles meet modern designs.
Favorite thing about Green Festival: Personally, this is our first time at Green Festival. At other events, people will be surprised that we’re charging $55 for a vest and will assume we’re making a lot of money off sweatshop labor. No one has suggested that to us here — people at Green Festival understand what Fair Trade is. They are willing to pay a little more to make sure the people who make their clothes are paid a living wage.
Find out more at justafairtrade.org
- Company Name: Evolve Skin Products
- How did you get started? Once I had my son, I was looking for products that were good for him, so I started making my own! We shouldn’t be attacking our bodies with chemicals.
Bestseller: My biodegradable deodorant ($7.50) — it really works! Everyone I know is using it. It’s got five ingredients, no aluminum, isn’t tested on animals and is vegan. It’s also made locally here in Washington DC.
Personal favorite: The deodorant again!
Learn more at evolveskinproducts.com
Company Name: Upcycle Joy
Bestseller: The scarves with ties and suspenders appliqued onto them ($45 – $55).
How did you get started? I’ve always been a thrift shopper. Then I learned to sew and started changing my outfits. Friends asked me, ‘why don’t you sell these things?’
Personal favorite: I’ve just started making photo scarves — I’m going to start selling them soon.
Favorite thing about Green Festival: This is my first time showing my business. I’ve come before as an attendee. Love it!
Learn more at upcyclejoy.com
Company Name: RNR Threads
Mission: “An environmentally conscious apparel and accessories brand.”
Why Green? “I studied environmental science in school and am really into fashion. I realized that the dyes and materials that made the things I love weren’t actually good for the environment. I decided to start making my own clothes — then other people started asking me to make things for them. That’s how we got started.
Bestseller: Our Karma Crewneck (48$) — above
Personal favorite: I’m partial to the eco v-neck ($30). I designed the tree logo so it will always have a special place in my heart.
Favorite thing about Green Festival: Meeting other like-minded people!
Find out more at rnrthreads.com
Looks like there will be further delay when it comes to the White House’s determination whether or not to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Conflicts of interest have come to light that call into question the validity of the latest environmental impact statement on the pipeline. The Office of the Inspector General is investigating concerns that Environmental Resources Management, the contactor responsible for the environmental impact statement, had worked for the prospective pipeline builder (TransCanada Corp.) and for other oil interests that would benefit financially from the KXL.
So while we expected a Presidential decision on the KXL any time now – the Administration isn’t likely to make a move before the Inspector General’s report next year. This buys us more time to oppose the pipeline. On the other hand, Mr. President, why not cut to the chase and oppose the Keystone XL pipeline now, in accordance with your commitment to reducing carbon pollution?
Today, Green America joined our colleague organizations in the release of a report authored by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International, “Fail: How the Keystone XL Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test.” The report compiles all the information that the President and the public need to understand the wisdom and necessity of halting the Keystone XL pipeline – now and forever.
Did you know there is a whole sector of American workers who do not have the right to organize, to overtime pay, or legal protection from workplace discrimination and harassment?
Domestic workers, such as those providing care for children and the elderly, are actually exempt from a large number of the employment rights many Americans take for granted. Excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, this sector was left out of many of the legal protections.
This means that many domestic workers
- Do not have a right to minimum wage
- Do not have a right to unpaid maternity leave
- Do not have a right to weekends or time off
- Do not have a right to overtime pay
- Often face sexual or emotional harassment
The potential for exploitation faced by domestic workers is made even more dire by the fact that many of these workers are recent immigrants without the English language skills and supportive social networks to fight back against abuse.
Fortunately, activists have already successfully passed a bill in New York, making it the first state to recognize domestic workers as real workers under state law and granting the sector many of the protections that other workers enjoy.
Now they’re taking the fight to California, Illinois, and Massachusetts — here’s how you can get involved.
Go to the National Domestic Workers
Alliance’s California Bill of Rights campaign page to:
- Take part in their letter -writing campaign
- Take part in their phone-in campaign
- Make a donation to Mujeres Unidas y Activas
- Promote this bill through your social media handles
Are you an Illinois resident? Click here to tell your representative to support the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (note that while the website notes an April date, the bill is still in the works and you do have time to make your voice heard) . Also — go to the NDWA’s campaign page or Arise Chicago to stay in the loop about developments on Domestic Worker Rights in that state.
You can support the Massachusetts campaign in a number of ways.
Go to NDWA’s campaign page to
- Sign a pledge card
- View photos
- Learn more about the campaign
You can also stay in the loop by liking the Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers’ Facebook page.
Fair Labor in the USA
In the last issue of the Green American, we highlighted the sweatshop conditions, wage theft and slave labor that occur right here in the USA. Providing legal protection for domestic workers is a key part of creating fair labor in America.
We’ve been blogging about labor issues in the USA for the past month — check out our other posts, may of them written by our editorial fellows, Krisna Bharvani and Sierra Schellenberg:
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides “standards for the basic minimum wage and overtime pay, affects most private and public employment. It requires employers to pay covered employees who are not otherwise exempt at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one-and-one-half-times the regular rate of pay,” according to the United States Department of Labor. Laws such as the FLSA are meant to cover every worker, regardless of immigration status. Despite the fact that this law has been in effect since 2009, studies and research of low-wage workers all over the US, in particular immigrants, reveal the high prevalence of wage theft—the failure to pay workers the wages that are owed to them.
As covered in last month’s issue of The Green American, “Fair Labor at Home,” about 23.1 million immigrants work in the US, and only eight million are undocumented. Another 240,000 come here legally as temporary workers. Many of the most exploited workers on American soil come from this immigrant population, both those who are undocumented and those who are legal residents or recent citizens. Thus, because many recent immigrants are unfamiliar with US labor laws or are still learning English, they are easily taken advantage of, making them frequent victims of wage theft, dangerous conditions, and uncompensated workplace injuries, discrimination and physical assaults.
A study for the National Employment Law Project, the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the Center on Urban Economic Development found that foreign-born workers were nearly twice as likely as their U.S.-born counterparts to have a minimum wage violation, and of the overseas-born, Latino workers had the highest minimum wage violation rates of any ethnic group.
In 2009, NPR reported that an employee at a family-friendly chicken place in New York City earned $25 for an eight-hour shift—this is less than half of New York’s minimum wage for waiters. He also worked several 12-hour days yet received no overtime. Another employee claimed that he was paid in cash and worked more than 80 hours a week.
Undocumented immigrants are in a particular bind, because employers can threaten to expose their immigration status if they complain about wage theft or other abuses. Last month, the Huffington Post reported that an undocumented worker working at Quick Pita at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in D.C. publicly claimed that his boss had been violating the labor law. The Guatemala native shared that he was paid under the table, earned $6.50 per hour his first year and $7 his second year—both of which are below D.C.’s minimum wage rate of $8.25—all while working more than 40 hours per week without the overtime pay he should have received by law. Shortly after, he was turned over to immigration officials and spent four days in detention, and now is waiting for his immigration hearing this month, after which he may be deported.
To halt the egregious abuse of vulnerable immigrant workers in the US, the federal government needs to adopt whistleblower protection laws. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) had proposed an amendment to the Senate immigration bill that would have provided such protection. Unfortunately, the amendment was taken out of the final version of the bill, which was passed in June. The bill has now moved to the House.
In the meantime, citizens are banding together to help protect exploited workers. In an effort to combat these violations, “the Labor Department has joined forces with immigrant advocacy groups for what they call “wage watch”—an approach taken straight from the concept of Neighborhood Watches,” according to NPR. These groups, comprised of ordinary people, will undergo training and will be given materials by the Labor Department’s Division of Labor Standards. Groups will then select a specific geographic zone and organize activities to improve labor law compliance in those areas. For example, they will conduct know-your-rights training, provide employers with information about compliance, and distribute informative literature to workers in different industries. Furthermore, when these groups come across workers who have been violated, they will refer them to a specific person in the Labor Department’s Division of Labor Standards, who will then enforce wage and hour laws.
“Thousands of workers every year are victims of wage and hour violations, and this initiative is a great tool to help enforce the labor laws that most of the time are not known by the workers nor by their employers. Immigrant workers are the most exploited and most vulnerable and we look forward to collaborating in this endeavor,” says Gonzalo Mercado, director of the nonprofit El Centro del Inmigrante.
How can you help to prevent wage theft in immigrant workers? Know the minimum wage laws in your state: http://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/america.htm; note that where the Federal and state laws have different minimum wage rates, the higher standard applies. Even though New York’s Wage Watch is just a few months old, send an email to NewYorkWageWatch@labor.state.ny.us or call 1-888-52-LABOR (if you are from NY), to find out what you can do to establish a group in your community. You can also call your Representatives and ask them to add strong worker whistleblower protection to future immigration reform bills.
– Krisna Bharvani, Green America Editorial Fellow
This past weekend’s New York Times article on the environmental, social, psychological, and financial costs of oil spills is a sobering reminder of the vast toll on people and planet when oil spills occur. As President Obama considers whether or not to approve the dirty tar sands Keystone XL pipeline, the lessons of recent heavy, Canadian crude oil disasters are grounds enough for saying no.
After three years of clean-up, the Enbridge Energy spill in the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek in Michigan is still not complete. The spill is the company’s largest. Enbridge believes that clean-up costs will approach $1 billion. The long clean-up time and staggering costs are not surprising if you consider that the more than 840,000 gallons of oil released were heavy crude that is extra difficult to clean up. As reported in the Times article, “The (Environmental Protection Agency) estimated that 180,000 had most likely drifted to the bottom, more than 100 times Enbridge’s projection.”
And more recently this past spring in Arkansas, an ExxonMobil spill of heavy, Canadian crude oil dumped approximately 210,000 gallons in a residential neighborhood. Residents, the State of Arkansas, and the Justice Department are all involved in litigation against ExxonMobil for damages.
Why would take on additional oil spill risks with heavy Canadian crude when we cannot cope with existing spills? The contamination of the natural environment endures, and as one affected resident in Michigan summed it up,” There are not enough zeros to pay us for what we’ve been through.”
President Obama, your new climate commitments demand a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline now.
In the last issue of the Green American, we looked at labor abuses in the US. We’d found that the Made in the USA label doesn’t necessarily mean the product was made under decent (or even legal) working conditions. US workers are often subjected to sweatshop-like conditions, sexual violence, prison-like working conditions, and other forms of exploitation.
Fortunately, there are green companies out there doing things right. Here are four ways that green companies are making products in the USA, and doing it under fair labor conditions:
Alvarado Street Bakery makes delicious organic breads in a holistically green manner. In addition to being organic, powered by renewable, and avid recyclers, they are run by their workers.
“We are a worker-owned cooperative owned and managed entirely by the people who work here,” Michael Girkout of Alvarado Street Bakery told us last January. “Our democratic workplace follows the “one person = one vote” principle, and we share our profits equally with all of our workers.”
RocknSocks not only sources their yarn from pre-consumer scraps, they also pay a premium to keep decent-paying manufacturing jobs here in the US.
“It can be done cheaper in other countries,” owner Misty Reily told us last week, “but we stay true to made-in-the-USA values, our growing to the size to utilize several mills has served to help control manufacturing costs.”
3. They Source From Unions!
Unions have brought us a number of wonderful things throughout the years — from weekends to medical leave, and fought to end child labor in the US.
Companies that source from unions support unions’ ongoing activism for worker rights.
“Justice Clothing has been selling union-made, sweatshop-free apparel from the US and Canada since 2003,” Eric Odier-Fink told us. “When our first employee reached 6 months employment, we re-formed into a coop to guarantee an egalitarian work environment, and that was when we joined Green America, then known as Co-op America.”
4. They Lift Up Vulnerable Workers!
Esperanza Threads takes the role of a socially responsible employer to another level, going beyond fair wages and safe working conditions. Although they make 100% organic cotton products, they say that social justice is the “leading force” behind their existence.
“As a project of the Grassroots Coalition for Economic and Environmental Justice of Ohio, Esperanza Threads works to train people with barriers to employment,” said Esperanza’s Sister Mary Eileen Boyle. “We work with the under- and unemployed, as well as recently incarcerated women and political refugees (from Burma and Bhutan) to teach them a trade and create good green jobs in our area.”
To learn more about companies creating opportunities for vulnerable populations, click here.
Make Sure Your Purchases are Ethical:
In order to make sure the products you’re spending your money on reflect your values, it’s important to look beyond the organic label and the Made in the USA label.
Purchasing from companies listed in the National Green Pages is a good way to make sure that when you vote with your dollars, you’re voting for both environmental responsibility and social justice — companies listed in the National Green Pages are screened in both these areas.
You can also check out goodguide.com — a website that rates individual products on their social and environmental impacts, taking into account the conditions of workers. Finally, make sure to read through the latest issue of the magazine for more tips on how to buy ethically products made in the USA.