DC’s Living Wage Bill (good news and bad news)

First the good news: The DC living wage bill, a measure that would force certain big-box retailers to pay a living wage of at least $12.50 per hour, was recently passed by the DC city council.

walmart DC
Photo credit: matteson.norman on Flikr.

Next the better news: Wal-Mart stridently objected to the living wage bill — actually issuing DC councilmembers with an ultimatum: kill the bill or Wal-Mart would halt construction of three of its six planned stores.

Why is this good news? Well, for starters, Wal-Mart stores tend to bring many difficulties into local communities, including fewer small businesses, poverty wages, and a higher taxpayer burden.

The bad news is the bill isn’t out of the woods yet — DC Mayor Vincent Gray, who has the power to veto the bill, is being urged to shut the whole thing down by other mega-retailers such as Target and Home Depot.

We spoke with DC Council Member Vincent Orange on why he’s taken a leadership position on the living wage bill, his thoughts on the possibility of a veto and his personal vision for DC’s economy.

Green America / Martha van Gelder: What kind of responses to the bill have you gotten from your constituents?

vincent orange
DC Councilmember Vincent Orange

DC Councilmember Vincent Orange: I’ve gotten good response — [voters] want us to stay strong and keep pushing the living wage bill. We’re going to see if we can get a ninth vote of support so we can override the mayor if he vetoes it.

Martha: How hard is it to live in Washington, DC on minimum wage?

Orange: DC is the ninth most expensive city to live in – our expenses are 42% higher than the average US city. The housing market has doubled in cost. It is extremely difficult to live off of $8.25 per hour, which comes to a yearly salary of about $17,000.00.

Martha: You‘ve noted that 1,000 people are moving to DC each month — and that you want to make sure the people who were here during the bad times get to stay for the good times. What are your plans for making that happen?

Orange: By ensuring the entities that LIVING WAGE DCare coming to town are providing good jobs, jobs that citizens can utilize to purchase a home and have a good quality of life without government assistance – people shouldn’t have a full-time job and yet rely on the government to provide food stamps, and housing assistance, where your kids have to get reduced fare lunches. DC residents should have full-time jobs where you can stand on your own.

We do not believe at this point that Wal-Mart is offering that kind of job. What Wal-Mart does is they pay poverty wages and shift the social cost to Government and the tax payers of DC.

Martha: If Wal-Mart doesn’t represent your ideal DC employer, what is your vision for DC’s economy?

Orange: My vision includes implementing policy that consists of the ability to earn a living wage, have affordable housing, affordable health care, and quality education. Then our citizens can prosper. We would like more partners like Costco who are paying an average of $21 per hour.  84% of DC Costco employees are DC residents. That is the kind of company we want to grow and prosper with.

Want to learn more?

In the last issue of the Green American magazine, we explore the question of whether “made in the USA” means sweatshop-free. We found that it doesn’t — and Wal-Mart’s labor practices are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mistreatment of workers in the US.

How can you ensure your dollars aren’t supporting worker abuse? Subscribe to our magazine, sign up for our free e-newsletter, or read up on the “Fair Labor at Home” tips from the latest issue of our magazine.

NYC GF: Fairly traded, eco-friendly jewelry from Colombia

It was a pleasure to meet Carolina Lara this morning at the New York City Green Festival.

Carolina is the founder of Amano Artisans, an eco-friendly jewelry company that maintains direct-trade ties with local artisans and jewelry-crafters in Carolina’s native Colombia.  With a background in both architecture and fashion, Carolina brought her passion for design to her new fairly traded jewelry enterprise, when shed founded Amano Artisans in 2007 during one of her regular trips to Colombia.  Previous trips showed her how often friends in the US would admire the jewelry she would bring back with her, so the idea for her business was born.

All of Amano Artisans’ products are hand-crafted in Colombia, some by individual artisans, others by cooperatives.   One cooperative producing bracelets provides work for women whose husbands have been incarcerated, killed in war, or who have otherwise become single mothers.  Another Colombian jewelry designer hires artisans whose communities have been displaced by war.  And all of Amano Artisans’ jewelry is made from renewable materials, such as tagua (seeds from palm trees), reclaimed wood, dried orange peels, and acai seeds.

“Our goal is to create a powerful and thriving community of artisans where all the traditions and talents of Colombia are kept alive,” says Carolina.

Tagua:  Seeds from the palm tree to be made into jewelry
Tagua: Seeds from the palm tree to be made into jewelry
These fairly traded necklaces from Columbia include decorative flowers made from dried orange peel.
These fairly traded necklaces from Columbia include decorative flowers made from dried orange peel.

Carolina's Booth

A Fair Deal for Global Sugar Workers

My colleagues Martha van Gelder and Tracy Fernandez Rysavy have been sharing their experience with kicking the sugar habit on this blog for the past week or so.Sickeningly Sweet

We’ve all been delving deeply into sugar issues recently, working to prepare “Sickeningly Sweet,” the latest issue of our Green American magazine, all about the American sugar habit, and its effects on our bodies and our health.

For my part, I confess to being a little stunned at the amount of sugar Americans consume per capita, partially because I don’t tend to consume that much sugar myself.   I don’t keep any sugar-boosted foods in my house — no soda pop, no sugary breakfast cereals, no sweet treats like boxed cookies or or ice cream, and no processed snacks with hidden sugars.   I don’t even put sugar in my coffee, and if a recipe calls for a bit of sweetness, I’m likely to either leave the sugar out, or replace with a few drops of organic honey, maple syrup, or molasses.

Continue reading “A Fair Deal for Global Sugar Workers”

Hershey Listens…

and Reveals Timeline to Transition to Certified Cocoa Sources

Two weeks ago, I attended the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG) hosted by the Department of Labor in Washington, DC.  I was disappointed in what I heard from the Hershey company.

Five months after Hershey’s October 2012 announcement of plans to certify the company’s cocoa supply chain by 2020, all Hershey had to offer the CLCCG was its minor support of  CocoaLink, a text messaging program for farmers in Ghana.  It remains to be seen whether or not CocoaLink is effective in preventing child labor, as their has been no data reported on the issue.  What we do know is that 30% of the messages sent focus on social issues, a portion of which mention child labor specifically.   This program reaches fewer than 1% of Ghanaian farmers, and can demonstrate no measurable effect on the child labor problem.  The program has yet to be introduced in Cote D’Ivoire.

Green America and our allies in the “Raise the Bar, Hershey coalition” reacted by immediately releasing a public comparison of the social-justice commitments of the big chocolate companies.

One week later, on March 21, Hershey updated the terms of its commitment, pledging for the first time that 10 percent of its cocoa purchases will be certified by the end of this year.  

We’ve seen that constant vigilance and pressure pays off in pushing companies to do the right thing.  We’ll hold Hershey to its new 10-percent by 2013 commitment, and we’ll keep pushing the company to speed up its 2020 deadline for 100-percent certification.  We’ll also push Hershey to work with the strongest certifications when it comes to labor issues and that Hershey address the labor and environmental issues in all its ingredients, not just the cocoa.

Thanks for all your support of the campaign over the past few years. We are making progress! And we’ll keep you updated here.


Green Your Holidays: Gifts that Give Back

Fair Trade gifts help empower low-income artisans around the world. Pictured here, two artisans from Tara Projects, whose high-quality products are available through SERRV International.

One of my favorite articles in the “Go Green for the Holidays” issue of the Green American was Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist’s piece on giving “gifts that give back.” Gifts that do good in the world are easy to find, simple to buy—and they’re guilt-free!

Last year, I decided to spread my year-end charitable giving around. I volunteer with a couple of after-school groups, and I gave each of the kids in one of those groups $10 gift cards (the minimum) from GlobalGiving.org. The site has hundreds of charities that do everything from providing leadership training to girls in the Dominican Republic to rehabilitating abused horses to cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico. The kids went home and surfed the site to find a charity that meant something to them, entered the code on their card, and sent the $10 on its way to support their chosen cause. When we came back together after the holidays, we shared information about the charities we’d chosen. It was a great family activity, and it was a powerful way to celebrate the season of giving.

I have to confess, the parents seemed more excited about the gift cards than the kids did at first, but when we discussed it afterwards, they all agreed that it had been “fun to give something to people who are doing cool stuff.”

With families whom I know will be into it, I’ve given gift cards to Kiva.org, which helps lift up low-income communities around the world through microlending. These small, low-interest loans give impoverished people a hand up by helping them go back to school or start or improve a small business. In fact, you can watch your “borrower” pay his or her loan back via the website!

As Martha noted last week, as much as we try to simplify the holidays, many of us will still end up buying a gift or two. Consider giving a Fair Trade gift, and accompany it with a copy of Green America’s Guide to Fair Trade to let the recipient exactly know that the gift helped empower workers around the world. A friend of mine recently got married, and instead of buying the mortar and pestle she had on her registry from a department store, I found a nearly identical Fair Trade version from SERRV International and sent that instead. It even cost less than the original, and the bride was happy to know that her gift supported low-income (or, rather, formerly low-income) Fair Trade artisans in India who work under a community development NGO that also fights against child labor and works to prevent deforestation in the country.

Fair Trade … more bang for your buck.

I also had a $5 gift exchange a few nights ago with my local herb gardening/study group. My gift of choice? Two Fair Trade Divine Chocolate bars and a sampler box of Fair Trade Numi Tea. I got to share two of my personal favorite indulgences while letting others in my group know about the power of Fair Trade.

If you’re really excited about Fair Trade, you can throw a Fair Trade house party. Sarah’s article has step-by-step instructions on how to do just that. In a nutshell, you order a consignment box from organizations like A Fair World, Grounds for Change, Partners for Just Trade, or SERRV. They send the box, you display the items, and your party guests can shop—or not—as they see fit. Whether they choose to buy or don’t, you’ll have met your goal of spreading the word about the high quality and high impact of Fair Trade. Serve Fair Trade coffee, tea, chocolate, and sugar-laden items, and you’ll hook your guests even more.

And don’t forget, a membership to Green America also makes a nice gift!

What are your favorite “gifts that give back?” And would you ever consider throwing (or have you thrown) a Fair Trade house party?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAComment below for a chance to win a Fair Trade gift basket from Higher Grounds Trading Co., featuring a bottle of Fair Trade olive oil, a bag of Fair Trade coffee, and a Theo Chocolate Fair Trade cherry and almond chocolate bar.

Congratulations to Rachel, the winner of last week’s rainbow organic soap basket!

Encounters with cocoa (Part 2)

Now we get to look inside the cocoa pod!
You can eat the pulp of the beans with a spoon. Tastes sort of like lychee.
The beans are actually quite purple before they are fermented, dried, and roasted.

Top Tips From Green Bloggers: How to Green your Halloween

This is a guest post compiled by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson of Celebrate Green

Summer’s long over. School is back in session. And that means Halloween is knocking at your door.

We thought that in addition to reminding you to check out GreenHalloween for ideas, we’d pass on some tips from our fellow green bloggers.

1. From green blogger and independent crafter Becky Striepe, comes an idea for a simple Halloween scrap banner. And if you’re into banners, here’s a paper one we created last year.

2. Do you read Healthy Home magazine? If not, you should. You can get awesome ideas for all things healthy and green, like this BPA-free pumpkin puree that’s easier than pie to make.

3. Lots of parents today are opting out of masks and choosing face paints instead. But these can contain chemicals that you don’t want on your children’s skin. What to do? Make your own! You can check out our recipe here, and for more ideas, check out this article on Greenwala by Danika Carter, or this one from Diane MacEachern at Big Green Purse.

4. Great tips on avoiding GMO sugar this Halloween from My Healthy Green Family.

5. Emily Roach at Random Recycling loves roasting pumpkins seeds. Here’s her recipe.

6. From Robbie Schneider at Going Green Mamawhat to do with that mammoth Halloween stash.

7. The Smart Mama, Jennifer Taggart, suggests using tee tree oil to keep your carved Jack-o-lantern from molding. And Danika Carter, from Your Organic Life says adding those little silica gel packets works well too.

8. And finally, Tamara Rubin, writing for DrGreene.com, explains how to avoid exposing your kids to lead during Halloween festivities.

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of  Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.