I write this article with a bit of shame from behind my Macbook and my iPhone resting close by. Like any other modern citizen, I use my fair share of electronics from computers to mp3 players and even a smart phone. And as a labor conscious and environmentally aware consumer I tend to support companies who meet my ethics. Unfortunately, the electronics industry is seriously lacking in both fields. One of the great offenders happens to be one of the highest grossing electronic companies: Apple Inc.

The past few weeks have been a big disappointment for caring Apple customers. It begun a few weeks ago, during a shareholders meeting, Corporate and shareholders rejected new environmental standards. They voted against proposals which would have required Apple to provide a detailed environmental sustainability report and create a board committee focused on sustainability. Apple claims they are already taking motions to secure environmental sustainability of their products, however, have not given details.

The company also has been threatening a patent war with other smart phone creators such as Google and Samsung. Yesterday they started with a new and small company HTC, suing them for infringement on their patents. All other companies with similar phones to the iPhone, have been shot with warnings about being sued. Although, this seems like business as usual in the US,  the patent war may reduce the competition in the smart phone world,  which means less choices for consumers and bigger bucks for the Apple Corporation, who in the midst of a recession is not hurting one bit.

But the worst news coming out of Apple are the Labor Audit Reports released this week. Like most electronic companies, Apple outsources most of their manufacturing to many countries including China, Taiwan,  Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Czech Republic. The reports don’t name specific violations for each factory but there were 17 major labor violations including children working in the factories, workers on the job for more than 60 hours a week, workers  paid under minimum wage, and lack of environmental permits. The report shows that a total of 11 workers were found to be underage and a total of 57% of their factories do not comply with safety standards to protect their workers. Although, Apple released the reports to the public themselves and have promised to be working on these violations, it still doesn’t take away the fact that they exist.  We all know how horrible sweatshops and child labor can be, in fact I spend many hours of my life trying to combat such violations. This report which details all violations is not only a surprise to me as a consumer but a disappointment.  These types of abuses are inexcusable and abhorrent; something simply must be done!

But what can we do? The easiest answer is to boycott a company with such labor violations. However, with the electronics industry, we, the consumers have little choice. Most electronic and computer companies continue to source their manufacturing overseas in questionable factories. In fact, the International Labor Rights Forum has done some investigating into some of the sourcing for electronics and has found nothing to be happy about. It seems this industry is full of labor and environmental mishaps. Good news is, there are people beginning to fight it.  ILRF has begun to demand transparency within the industry and an organization called Good Electronics monitors electronic companies and sends out appeals. You can even check how your favored company matches up.

So if an outright boycott is out the door, what options do you have? You can purchase your electronics refurbished or used, so that your dollars aren’t going straight to the pockets of industry giants such as Apple. But if used electronics makes you nervous you can  demand accountability and transparency from these companies.  Contact them directly and let them know how you feel about labor rights and environmental standards. Let’s stand up together against this industry, because in the way of this modern world their products are a unfortunately or not a necessity. Let’s demand the companies be more responsible and you can start by letting Apple know you think their labor and environmental choices are a bad apple!

-Gina Williams

With the economic collapse and major corporations declaring bankruptcy this year’s May Day is of utmost importance. This day is meant to celebrate the Workers Rights that have been gained in the past as well as to promote current rights. For a history of May Day, check out our post from last year. Of course with all the transition occurring in our economic system, today should be celebrated with all seriousness. We need to be cautious, to not forget the workers in this upheaval. And as we speak the Chrysler corporation has filed for bankruptcy, causing alarm to union workers and their rights they have worked so hard to gain. But workers are continuing to fight back! For instance Rite Aid recently was shown to have violated several labor laws including union busting and the workers along with Jobs with Justice are currently trying to end this fight. And as we deal with immigration issues, let us not ignore the struggles of the farm workers, especially in California.

But as we ponder our own economic collapse and workers strife, many workers off our shores are struggling just as much if not more. Workers across Canada, France, and Eastern Europe are demanding protection from these economic woes.  Outsourced sweatshops and poor working conditions still plague many developing countries. And the workers in these situations continue to fight against the abuses. So today, as we celebrate, what should be our Labor Day (we all know how Americans love to turn every holiday into a drinkfest) keep these movements in mind. Because although we have come a long way, there is still plenty more to accomplish!

And if you want to get involved in such movements, consider joining or donating to some of the Workers movement groups such as United Farm Workers, Immigrant Solidarity, Transfair and Jobs with Justice. Also put your money where your ideals are, make sure you either Shop Union or Fair Trade.  Also, check out  Green America’s Guide to Ending Sweatshops. And most of all, be up to date on the movement. Currently Jobs with Justice and other labor groups are backing the Employee Free Choice Act and do not forget to sign the petition to have this act officially passed.

Today as we enjoy the warmth of spring and the beautiful flowers, do not forget our laborers and workers. Because this is their day and they are the foundation of any society. So we say thank you to all workers and solidarity!

sweatfree-logoOur allies at SweatFree Communities, a local New England-based grassroots organizing campaign, are calling on all Massachusetts residents to make a statement against sweatshops tomorrow: our official tax day!  The NGO’s report Subsidizing Sweatshops I, released on July 1 of last year, found that U.S. tax dollars are STILL being spent on sweatshops, child labor, forced and unpaid overtime, and toxic conditions in government contractor facilities.

Elected officials, clergy, business owners and labor leaders will gather at State Houses and Post Offices in at least 12 U.S. cities on Tax Day (that’s tomorrow – April 15th!) to release a new report by SweatFree Communities revealing that U.S. states and cities, and the Federal government, continue to use taxpayer money to purchase goods from companies engaged in serious human rights and labor rights violations.

workersSubsidizing Sweatshops II is a follow-up to the groundbreaking first edition and includes in-depth interviews with workers in eight factories spanning five countries who produce uniforms for public employees such as police officers and parks service employees for nine major uniform brands. Six companies named in the report supply products to approved apparel vendors of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Sweatfree Campaign is calling on Governor Deval Patrick to join the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium, which would stop tax dollar support for sweatshop abuses and level the playing field for ethical U.S. businesses. Since the report’s first edition was published in July 2008, more states and cities have committed to join the Consortium, including the State of Pennsylvania, the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the City of Portland, Oregon, and the City of Olympia, Washington.


Join the action tomorrow:

WHEN: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, 9:30-10:00 a.m.
WHERE: Steps of Massachusetts State Capitol, Beacon St. at Park St., Boston
WHO: Guillermo Cosajay, garment worker at Eagle Industries, New Bedford, MA Liana Foxvog, National Organizer, SweatFree Communities Paul Hannon, Interim Executive Secretary, Catholic Labor Guild George Noel, Director of Labor, Commonwealth of Massachusetts (invited)

WHEN: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, 8:30-9:30 a.m.
WHERE: Main Post Office, 37 Bridge Street, Northampton, MA
WHO: Massachusetts Sweatfree Campaign supporters

Or, if you’re a tax filing procrastinator or not in Massachusetts, you can always officially endorse the campaign, start a campaign of your own, or support Sweat Free Communities.

For a more in-depth and fascinating look behind the scenes of how governments are supporting sweatshops, check out this video about where our military uniforms are made:

nicholas-kristofNicholas D. Kristof’s op-ed piece in the January 14, 2009 New York Times titled, “Where Sweatshops Are a Dream” has inspired a flurry of disagreeing letters and comments from the public. In case you missed it, Kristof argues that sweatshops provide a great opportunity for those in extreme poverty and that the jobs in sweatshops are far better than rag-picking in a toxic landfill all day. Therefore, his logic extends, more sweatshops should be created. I’ll give him that there are worse things in this world than sweatshops, like being machine-gunned or maybe forced into prostitution. While this might make sweatshops a better alternative, it is certainly no solution, nor is it even a good or just alternative, especially when we have the means to do better.

Instead of arguing the many points raised in his piece, I’ll re-post below some of the thoughtful reactions from others. All responses below are selected excerpts from the letters to the editor and comments posted on the New York Times website.

  • -Nicholas D. Kristof is absolutely right. Sweatshops are much better than a sharp stick in the eye. But when jobs aren’t a pathway out of poverty, they create an asymmetric, unsustainable global economy of producer countries and consumer countries that can stand on its head only so long.
  • sweatshop2-He [Kristof] misses the point: Cambodian garment shops are among the best in Asia because of a deal done with the United States in a trade treaty signed in 1999. In return for access to the American market, Cambodia agreed to abide by core labor standards, including the right to form a union and to bargain collectively. As result, the industry grew rapidly and so have unions in Cambodia.
  • -Nicholas D. Kristof seems not to understand that the No. 1 reason for imposing higher labor standards on imports isn’t to improve living standards abroad but to maintain them here. Americans shouldn’t be asked to compete with workers who think that toiling long hours under abysmal conditions is still better than living in the dump.
  • -As I get older, I think of the options you pose as a choice between different levels of Hell. Is this the best we can do in 2009? Is this to be considered progress and the fruits of modernity?
  • garbage-dump-And by the way, the situation of the garbage pickers in Steung Meanchey is a bit more complex than depicted in the article. It’s related to the difficulties of making a living in the countryside, to land seizures, to government corruption, to monopolization of natural resources by a small circle of elites, to lack of democracy, to post-conflict issues involving displacement and resettlement. In other words, international forces can and should play a much more positive than they do now but many domestic changes need to occur in order for the garbage pickers of Steung Meanchey to disappear.
  • -Sweatshops do not advance the next generation. It is people’s desire to create a better life for their children that motivates an individual to work hard and make that happen, in spite of the sweatshop mentality. I wonder if those people losing jobs here in the US will accept or work hard at a professional job for half pay of what they formally were paid – and to tell them there are many who will take your place if your don’t is not a justification for such treatment. Poverty creates social unrest. You are clearly well educated, please revisit your national and personal history.
  • sweatshop1-Perhaps some working conditions are better than others, but that still doesn’t make them right. How much more effort would it take to make the work place safe, hours tolerable and child labor controlled? It sort of feels like listening to the argument that waterboarding isn’t torture because it doesn’t leave permanent scars. Sweatshops are sweatshops and we who buy their products need to be mindful of the conditions the workers are being forced to endure.
  • -Carried to its logical end, we would all be working in sweatshops eventually, because what you advocate is nothing more than a race to the bottom. More factories – yes! But with internationally accepted standards, or they will bring us all down to a debased level.
  • -Whenever I’ve read your pieces on sweatshops, I’ve always wondered: how did a nice guy like you get stuck in such an argument? I’ll try to be brief: You are right that sweatshops are really a symptom of poverty (or to be more precise, capitalists taking advantage of poverty). But so is prostitution. Where does that fit in your hierarchy of jobs? How about slavery? Might that not be considered better than scavenging in a dump as well?

It is great that Kristof’s work has brought forth lively reactions on such an important matter. I’m very happy that he exists… in the op-ed world and not in the ‘deciding’ world. You can view his column and continue to follow the discussion HERE.

The 2nd Annual Fair Trade LA Festival is taking place this weekend on Sunday September 28th at 1500 Vine St, Hollywood, CA from 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM. So for all you Los Angeles area folks, come check out a festival of Fair Trade companies including, Autonomie Project. Not only can you shop for Fair Trade and Sweatshop Free products, but you can learn about Fair Trade and worker support from numerous organizations, including Oxfam. For a full list of sponsors, check out Fair Trade LA’s blog.

So please if you are in the LA area stop by and chat with us and the many other Fair Trade supporters! See you there.

This past April 2008 a major victory in the anti-sweatshop move was completed. Congress voted in a bill to be signed into law that will extend US Federal Immigration and Labor Laws in the US territory, Mariana Islands. The Mariana Islands have been known to have some of the worst labor abuses in the world.
Location of the Mariana Islands 

The islands were used as a haven for many Chinese sweatshops to set up camp. The products produced there were used to deceive US consumers, since they carried the “Made in USA” tags. People consciously attempting to buy only US made clothing and other goods were mislead by the seemingly sweatshop free items. Throughout the 1990’s, anti-sweatshop activists and lobbyists worked to end these labor abuses and the deception of consumers but to no avail thanks to people like Jack Abramoff

However, thanks to the efforts of many anti-sweatshop groups including Co-op America the Mariana Islands’ workforce is now protected under the same laws as any of us hard working Americans. To learn more about the Mariana Island human rights movement, please check out the blog Unheard No More. For more information on ending sweatshops and how you can help, check out Co-op America’s Ending Sweatshops Guide or Sweatshop Watch.

Also, remember that many times the only way to wake a company up is by boycotting them and supporting companies that participate in fair labor and human rights. Remember Autonomie Project when you are looking for new footwear, bags, or clothing(coming soon) or any of these other wonderful companies listed on SweatFree Communities 2008 Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide!

Here’s another fun comic; this time about sweatshops. It’s called Cow & Boy by Mark Leiknes. Enjoy!

There’s nothing like a billion-dollar, media-happy, corporate-sponsored international event like the Olympics to shed some light on human rights. We at Autonomie are proud and pleased that thousands of protesters have taken the streets across the globe to raise awareness of the ongoing presence of sweatshops and labor rights abuses that remain the popular way of doing business for America’s favorite import buddy and host of this summer’s olympics, China.

Even as the Fair Trade and green movements grow larger and stronger, our country still cannot resist the cheap (and cheaply made) goods that flow freely out of China and into our Wal-marts. Even with lead paint in children’s toys and the mainstream ‘going green’, the behemoth of export goods remains king of the American marketplace.

You’ve probably already read about these protests in your local newspaper (they are getting quite the media play) and we hope that you’ll take the streets too and join the movement to encourage China to use this attention-grabbing opportunity to clean up its act. The Olympic torch arrives today in San Francisco and police have been preparing all week to keep the estimated masses at bay (following the queue of the protests – and arrests – already happening in London and Paris). Check out these brave American protesters who scaled the Golden Gate Bridge (yikes!!), and now face charges of trespassing and conspiracy, in order to show their support of Tibet:

For those of you who don’t know, China is a one-party state without free elections, lacks an independent judiciary, censors the media and the internet, and bans independent trade unions (which is a matter at the heart of their worker rights and sweatshop issues and abuses). Their monopoly on export manufacturing has also led to the economic down slide of other countries, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and even our own USA, as more and more factories close up shop, lay off workers, and become victims to the Chinese love of the Corporate bottom line.

So join our friends at Human Rights Watch, Global Exchange, and Code Pink in bringing human rights to the Chinese people, and remember to always support the small worker groups under Fair Trade!

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