Next week marks the beginning of World Fair Trade Day! It’s a day to celebrate and bring awareness to the issues of labor rights and Fair Trade. Only a few days after International Worker’s Rights Day, World Fair Trade Day is just as important when it comes to labor issues. It is a day to draw attention to a different way to do commerce, a responsible way.  Although there are many ways to support Fair Trade in your daily life, but to celebrate the movement in one day across the world is pretty exciting!

What’s more exciting is we are participating in Fair Trade Boston’s World Fair Trade Day Scavenger Hunt! We have teamed up with Fair Trade Boston and Cambridge’s Sudo Shoes to participate in this awesome fair trade party. The Scavenger Hunt will take place all over the cities of Boston, Cambridge and Brookline on Saturday May 12th from noon to 3pm.  People wanting to participate are encouraged to RSVP and download the free SCVNR app.

All day on Saturday, participants will be visiting many locations including Ten Thousand Villages, Ben & Jerry’s, and Sudo Shoes. The best part is you can win a Fair Trade prize at every location you visit! The more locations you visit, the more likely you will win one of the Grand Prizes from awesome Fair Trade companies including yours truly (Autonomie Project), Ten Thousand Villages, Equal Exchange, Haley House, Ben &
Jerry’s, and City Feed and Supply.

But the fun doesn’t end there! After the Scavenger Hunt ends, everyone is invited to a Fair Trade Ice Cream Social! All are asked to meet at the Equal Exchange Cafe to have delicious Fair Trade ice cream floats from Ben & Jerry’s, Maine Root, and Equal Exchange.

We are super excited to be participating in such a unique and fun event for Boston area residents! If you are in the area, please join us for the Fair Trade Scavenger Hunt on May 12th and win some awesome Fair Trade goodies. Why not go?

Your grill is all fired up, or maybe you’ve browsed the paper for all the great sales, or your family car is packed with camping equipment in preparation for this holiday weekend.  All this excitement is leading up to the official send off to summer: Labor Day Weekend.  Everybody gears up to send off summer with a bang through parties, vacations, and super sales. One last weekend to go swimming or camping before the Fall weather settles in.

But isn’t this weekend supposed to be about something else? Oh that’s right: it’s Labor Day! But what exactly is Labor Day? With all these summer distractions, we seem to have forgotten what this holiday weekend is supposed to represent. Labor Day is meant to honor the labor unions and movement in general. This seems to have been forgotten behind all of the hooplah of drinking and shopping. It is even more important to pay attention to in this political climate where the union and worker’s rights have suddenly become the enemy of the far right.

The true story of how Labor Day came to be is far more exciting than any party you might attend this weekend, or at least to us history nerds.  The very first Labor Day was created in 1885 by Central Labor Union in New York, but became an official holiday in 1894 by Grover Cleveland.  The holiday was established less to honor the workers than to pacify the labor unions who were in a heated battle with the US Government.

Basically Cleveland created the holiday in order to ease tensions created during the Pullman Strike, which was a nationwide railroad strike that halted train travel beginning in the Chicago area.  This being the days before cars and airplanes, the train was the main mode of transportation. Imagine the entire airline industry going on strike today. Anyway, there were serious wage reductions and the workers fought back in 27 states. Everything raged out of control when strikers and sympathizing protesters set fire and the US Marshalls were called in. Unfortunately, everything spiraled even further out of control with the US soldiers killing several striking workers. You read that correctly, the government murdering it’s citizens.

And here is where Cleveland stepped in. In 1894, he made it his priority to reconcile with the Labor Union Movement. He instituted a national holiday in order to honor the labor unions and workers around the world.  It was originally mean to only be a day to honor them, a description or the original celebration included a parade that would celebrate “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Somehow a century later it had evolved into another consumer driven party.

But that doesn’t mean you have to ignore what Labor Day really stands for. As we mentioned, we often forget the sacrifices those who came before us have made.  Especially when the economy is suffering and the some in power have made a vendetta in breaking down the unions, the unions that so many died to create.  Maybe this weekend, try to fit in a little labor right’s history or attend a local parade. Or at least, think of those who sacrificed their lives so you could be treated fairly in your workplace. They are the reason you have Monday off and can kick back while drinking a brewski as the summer ends.

About a year ago to the day, the AP blog posted an article concerning California farmworkers and the hellish conditions in which they are made to work.  The very fact that the body of the population is largely composed of migrant and/or immigrant labor, including many who do not speak English and are undocumented, means it is at a supreme disadvantage when attempting to establish the right to a safe working environment, as a whole or individually.  There is little these people can do, and the neglect they suffer can at times lead to a tragic death.

Such was the case in 2008 with Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old woman, two months pregnant, who was made to prune grapes in San Joaquin County for nine hours in triple-digit heat without adequate shade, water or rest breaks.

A few weeks ago, Maria De Los Angeles Colunga and Elias Armenta, the two farm supervisors most-directly responsible for this gross abuse of labor decency and originally charged with involuntary manslaughter, reached a softened plea bargain.  Colunga was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, three years of probation and a fine of $370, and Armenta to 480 hours of community service, five years of probation and a $1,000 fine.  Both were also banned from engaging in farm worker contracting.

Some might argue this outcome to be bittersweet, but easy on the sugar.  While this prosecution is a small but progressive step toward justice in an industry that, until recently, was left to set it’s own rules and labor standards with miniscule regulation or consequence, common sense suggests that the death of this young woman and her unborn child in such an environment would call for much harsher punishment, including serious jail time, something that might scare other labor companies into doing right by their workforce.  Hopefully such changes won’t require more innocent deaths.
You can read more about this issue here, and review last year’s AP farm labor article hereStay informed and stay active!
-Jeremy Pearson

Often, we discuss labor issues and fair working practices around the world on this blog, as well as providing products that meet these high standards. But we take for granted the work that labor unions did within the US and the issues that still exist here.  As you may remember, labor unions formed in the face of poor and low paying working conditions within the US in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Labor unions have been a huge force in the United States, protecting workers in factories to farms, and even school teachers.  However, we must not forget there are always going to be struggles.

With the US economy struggling, many people are calling for a cut back in government spending. Obviously, when you want to save money, cutting back will help do the trick but where do you cut from and at what cost?  Much like balancing your personal finances, you must figure out where you have to cut back.  Unfortunately, cuts are often made from crucial social programs such as education and healthcare.

One huge blow to American worker’s rights happened this week.  Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker purposed a budget which would eliminate government employee unions.  According to Change.org this would  “dismantle the collective bargaining rights of state employees and to force state employees to take a sharp pay cut to help pay for benefits.” He also stated he would call in the National Guard to “bust” any workers protesting, in true union busting form taken straight out of a history book.

Attempting to dismantle unions as well as threatening people who are using their democratic right to voice their opinions with an army is dangerous ground to walk on. Tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents have been protesting at the Capitol for three days to push lawmakers to vote against the new budget. In true grassroots form, people from all over the state came to show their support of unions including members of other unions. The vote was scheduled to take place today, but the Democratic members avoided the meeting in hopes of persuading the Republicans to discuss a different budget plan. However, many people around the country are showing their support by writing Wisconsin state senators to vote no on this bill.

We understand there must be budget cuts during a time like this, however, there are other places to slash the budget than employee rights and benefits. The scariest part of this move is that it could influence other states to cut worker’s rights. So please take a moment to support your Wisconsin brothers and sisters and sign Change.org’s petition today.

Yasir Saddiqe can’t stand or walk. He hasn’t been able to since contracting polio at the age of three, but despite his disability, he worked as a tailor’s apprentice for 18 months after graduating. His customers appreciated his work, as the garments were always high quality and completed quickly. His family and customers all agreed, Yasir has great talent for tailoring.

Now at age 21, Yasir decided it’s time he open his own tailor shop. During his apprenticeship, he earned Rs. (Pakistani Rupee) 50-60, which is about $0.58 to $0.70, per Shalwar Kameez, a loose local trouser-shirt combination. If he opened his own shop, he figured he would stitch 3 or 4 suits a day and sell for Rs. 250 each. After the cost of electricity, rent, and fabric, his earnings would be around Rs. 125 ($1.45), which would be double his previous income.

To get him started, Yasir’s family purchased a used sewing machine for Rs. 13000 ($151.35). However, Yasir needed more funding to actually open the shop. His 60-year old father, Mohammad Saddiqe, earned only the minimum monthly wage of Rs. 6000 as a contract sneaker worker, and has not only Yasir to support, but three other sons and four daughters as well.

Normally situations like Yasir’s would end up hopeless because although there is a minimum wage set by the government in Pakistan, workers are often paid less and therefore struggle to provide for their families. However, Mohammad works for Talon Sports, a leading manufacturer of sports goods in Sialkot, Pakistan. Talon is also the manufacturer of Autonomie Project’s sneaker line, Ethletic. Certified by Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) in 2002, the fair trade premium of Talon products are invested in projects that support the empowerment and social development of workers.

The Saddiqe family requested a loan from Talon, and in June the loan committee paid for a second hand hem-making machine and loaned Yasir Rs. 25000 to open his tailor shop! Yasir was now practically set to open his shop.  However, just as the loan was approved, a doctor from a local hospital called Yasir to Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, some 2.5 hours away by car. His left knee needed to be re-set. The Lahore hospital charged him Rs. 30000.

Because Talon provides health coverage for its workers and their family, Yasir’s charges were taken care of by the Talon Fair Trade Welfare Society. His follow up costs, which total around Rs. 20000, would also be covered.

Yasir returned home after ten days with half his left leg in a cast. He currently passes time by watching TV on an old computer since he has to stay in bed for at least two months. After that, he can finally open his shop for business. The loan committee has postponed repayment of course, until he is well enough to start his shop.

Considering the fate he has to wrestle with, it is an enormous relief that Talon and Autonomie Project could help make his life a little easier.

-Michelle Thai

For the past  month, the 2010 World Cup  has had sports  fans worldwide whipped into a frenzied state of obsession that is commonly known as World cup fever. This affliction sees football fans* unable to concentrate on work while their team of choice is battling it out in South Africa; somehow tolerating the obnoxious bee-like sound that a symphony of vuvuzelas in the stand produces; and accepting daytime- occasionally even morning- drinking, as rabid fans make their ways to various watering holes to see this popular sport played live half way across the world.

After Sunday’s final game between the Netherlands and Spain fans will either feel the agonizing disappointment of defeat or the absolute elation of being a champion.  Monday morning offices across the globe will likely see an increase of productivity, the sound of swarming bees will again illicit an appropriate amount of fear in individuals, and drinking before noon will again only be practiced by professional winos and eaters of brunch.

As it stands, the greenest thing about football–or most sports for that matter–is the fields on which they are played. Big corporate sponsorships, by companies such as Nike and Adidas, see this beloved game and many other professional sports being played with less than eco-friendly gear and balls. These big name companies may have catchy slogans and million dollar ad campaigns that frequently air during the World Cup, but each has a scandalous history of  human rights violations– each taking of advantage of  cheap sweatshop labor frequently–allegedly even currently.

Once the World Cup fever breaks, and you start to feel withdrawals for the World’s favorite sport, you may get a hankering to kick a ball of your own up and down a grassy field this summer. Unlike these big shot professional sport organizations, you can approach your purchases from a standpoint of compassion. When it comes to big named brands, ignore the commercials that have been pumped into your eyes and ears throughout this World Cup– just don’t do it. Get your soccer–er, I mean football gear from companies such as  this amazing company, Fair Trade Sports. Their products are not only Fair Trade certified, but they are all vegan and eco-friendy! As if this were not impressive enough, this company generously donates their after -tax profits to an array of  children’s charities!

Now that’s a spicy football!

Even if you never make a goal, you can take pride in knowing that your gear is not only eco-friendly, but human kind friendly. You may not be a sports star, but you are a super star of compassion- so go ahead, have a good morning drink, you’ve earned it.

* “Soccer fans” to those of us in the United States–football here involves more tackling and confusingly, much less contact between ball and foot.

-Meghan Hurley

When the first decade of the new millennium came and went, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by personal electronics, a modern-day necessity. Chances are, the first thing you look at in the morning is your BlackBerry, iPhone, or other Smartphone. Then, you probably take your iPod out for a morning jog or connect it inside your vehicle for the commute into work. Perhaps you have an iPad, Nook, or Kindle you use on the subway on the commute to catch up on the day’s local, national, and international news. You have not had lunch yet, but you have used a myriad of personal electronics by noon. Whether we like it or not, electronics have become an essential part of our lives. However, many of us know little about the origins of our handheld havens.

Tin, tantulum, and tungsten are metals found around the globe, which give life to our digital cameras, personal computers, cellular phones, and other electronics. A large percentage of these metals are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). What major electronics companies like Apple, Research in Motion (RIM – makers of the BlackBerry), Nokia, Dell, and Motorola don’t tell you is that an estimated 50,000 children work in the Katanga Mine in DRC. Children make up about 1/3 of the entire mining workforce in DRC. Despite the rising value in metal, miners do not receive any raises and most cannot afford to live off the small wage they already earn. Furthermore, the lack of regulation from the DRC government on safety regulations within the mines results in extremely dangerous work environments. In addition, the privatization of mines on the African continent has displaced tens of thousands of people forcing them to leave their homelands.

Why hasn’t the DRC government or electronic companies stepped in to end the human rights abuses, displacement issues, and safety hazards? For 10 years, the DRC has struggled with a civil war. Rebel groups sell to middlemen who pass the metals onto companies like Apple giving them the funds needed to purchase weapons and other war necessities. Because the electronics companies purchase the metals from middlemen, they have no direct ties to an unethical mine. According to Amnesty International, global brands state they are being ethical by purchasing metals from licensed exporters. However, the exporters’ middlemen are known to purchase the metals from rebel groups.

You may be asking yourself how the U.S. government doesn’t hold electronics companies responsible for their supply chains, especially when virtually every American uses an electronic device everyday. Bills have been established, however, they will not be going to a vote anytime soon. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI) initiated talks about the Congo Conflict Minerals Act. This would force electronics makers to publicly release which mines in DRC are used in their electronics. Therefore, consumers would know what mines the metals are coming from. The second bill introduced is the Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act. This bill would force all SEC-listed companies’ financial statements to contain details concerning how much money is paid out to foreign governments for oil, gas, and minerals. Companies’ reputations would increase by actively and openly sharing this information to consumers.

You can take part in the initiatives these bills support. Both bills have not been discussed or touched for over a year according to govtrack.us, a website you can use to view the status of a bill as it travels through Congress. Write and call your local Senators and Representatives and push forward these bills. Better yet, write to your favorite electronics maker. I, myself, could never go a day without my BlackBerry Curve or Macbook Pro. Rest assured, I will drop both RIM and Apple a line about my concern for the origins of the products I use everyday. As Americans, we are huge consumers in today’s modern world. It is only right for us to give thought to where our products come from. Tomorrow night, when you are watching the NBA finals on your fabulous plasma television or streaming it live from your personal computer, take a moment to remember those abroad who have sacrificed their lives and well-being for ours.

-Derek Rogers

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