Elexiay Clothing BrandAs artisans stitch rows of thread, their fingers pull yarn through loops in patterns passed down across generations. Elexiay, a Lagos-based Nigerian clothing brand, takes pride in its handmade garments crafted by a team of accomplished women crocheters. Supporting a small clothing business like Elexiay allows consumers to back community-based entrepreneurs as opposed to faceless fast fashion corporations. Small businesses have to compete with fast fashion giants, which makes it difficult for these smaller businesses to thrive. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting small businesses can make a significant impact on the lives of employees. The Elexiay clothing brand empowers Nigerian women and provides jobs to help them rise out of poverty.

The Elexiay Clothing Brand

Elexiay is a brand that redefines crocheted clothing, which is often stereotyped as “grandma’s clothing.” Elexiay’s collection of products is a reinvention of crocheted clothing that keeps up with the latest fashion trends. With crocheted crop tops, skirts and maxi dresses featuring elegant slits, Elexiay displays its grasp of the year’s latest trends.

Elexiay’s signature crocheted designs serve a greater purpose than just style. Elexiay’s founder, Elyon Adede, described to The Zoe Report how vital women’s empowerment is to Elexiay. Accordingly, Elexiay solely employs Nigerian women who handcraft each piece of clothing. Many after-school programs in Nigeria teach the art of crochet. Due to the emphasis on craftsmanship, Elexiays’s employees avoid the hazards associated with factory textile production and can share Nigeria’s art of crochet with the world.

Rising Poverty in Nigeria

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, approximately 40% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line, with millions more at risk of falling into poverty. During the pandemic, international oil prices dropped. This decline severely impacted Nigeria’s economy as more than 60% of Nigeria’s government revenue comes from oil. According to the World Bank, the consequences of the pandemic, coupled with Nigeria’s oil price crisis, could “push around 10 million additional Nigerians into poverty by 2022.”

In this way, Elexiay’s emphasis on fair wages and other ethical labor practices coincides with a time when millions of Nigerians face the risk of poverty. The company’s commitment to the “creation of jobs locally” demonstrates how a small clothing business can help communities in times of economic uncertainty.

Elexiay’s Dispute with Fast Fashion Brand

Despite Elexiay’s success in designing crocheted clothing, the company has faced difficulties. For instance, Elexiay posted a picture on Instagram of one of its pink and green crocheted sweaters side-by-side with a sweater featured on a fast fashion corporation website on July 16, 2021.  The sweater sold by SHEIN, the corporation in question, used a design strikingly similar to the pattern crafted by artisans at Elexiay.

In the Instagram caption, Elexiay described itself as a “small black-owned independent sustainable business” and expressed frustration in seeing “such talent and hard work reduced to a machine-made copy.” The caption also urged SHEIN to remove the sweater from its website.

Since posting the side-by-side comparison of the sweaters, Elexiay’s post received more than 97,000 likes and hundreds of supportive comments. While SHEIN has removed the controversial sweater from its website, this is not the first instance of SHEIN being accused of stealing designs. For example, designer Mariama Diallo accused SHEIN of stealing one of her dress designs for the brand Sincerely Ria in June 2021.

Aside from feeling disheartened after seeing the sweater on SHEIN’s website, the Elexiay clothing brand founder also expressed disappointment in SHEIN’s practices overall. In an interview with Insider, Adede describes the experience as especially difficult because “SHEIN is known for its unethical labor practices, which is the opposite of what I stand for.”

Supporting Small Clothing Businesses

While Nigeria has seen a rise in poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals around the world can make deliberate choices that benefit communities in Nigeria. The women employees of Elexiay crochet garments by hand, spending days on each piece to share the art of crochet with the rest of the world and are provided with a job and an income through the process. When making the decision of whether to shop from a large fast fashion corporation or a local business, it is important to question the values that each brand holds.

Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of the Decline in Oil Prices on the Economy of AzerbaijanAzerbaijan is located in the Caucasus region and situated at the crossroads of Europe and Western Asia. The country is bordered on the north by Russia and on the south by Iran. Since October 18, 1991, Azerbaijan has been an independent nation. Before the announcement of independence, Azerbaijan was a member state of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). After declaring sovereignty, the country had political instability for several years. In addition, Azerbaijan fought a bloody war over the territorial dispute with Armenia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a consequence of these events, economic, political and social development slowed down. However, after the establishment of political stability and ceasefire agreement between the two sides, Azerbaijan entered a new stage of development. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country faces further hardship as the decline in oil prices impacts the economy of Azerbaijan and causes a current financial crisis.

The Oil Production in Azerbaijan

To turn Azerbaijan into a powerful state with a sustainable economy, the previous president Heydar Aliyev had an oil-based national development strategy. On September 20, 1994, the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) was signed between the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and 11 foreign oil companies from six nations. In the beginning, the contract covered oil companies such as BP, Amoco, Unocal, LUKoil, Statoil, Exxon, TPAO, Pennzoil, McDermott, Ramco and Delta Nimir. The oil companies represented six countries. These included the U.K., U.S., Russia, Norway, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The PSA was the first large-scale investment by western companies in any former USSR country. Later on, the agreement got famous and was known as “The Contract of Agreement.” It was a success for Azerbaijan to invite foreign oil companies and benefit from oil production. Because of this achievement, Azerbaijan managed to develop its economy and invest in social programs.

On the other hand, to export oil to the world market, Azerbaijan decided to build the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline with the help of geopolitical partners. This pipeline transformed Azerbaijan’s oil industry and became operational in June 2006. The overall length of the pipeline is 1768km, and 443km of it crosses from Azerbaijan, 249km in Georgia and 1,076km in Turkey.

The Decline in Oil Prices Impacts Azerbaijan’s Economy

The economy of Azerbaijan is predominantly dependent its oil export. As mentioned above, the agreements with international companies and the successful export of oil to the world market led to the development of Azerbaijan. However, because of oil money, the country could not manage progress in the political sphere. The level of corruption increased, and the government did not fairly distribute oil money among the citizens of Azerbaijan. As a result of the financial crisis in 2014, the economy of Azerbaijan faced severe difficulties. In 2014, the oil price dropped by 59.2% in seven months. On June 20, 2014, the oil price peaked at $107.95 a barrel, but by June, prices plunged to $44.08. In 2014, the GDP per capita in Azerbaijan was $7,891.313, and in 2015, it decreased to $5,500.31. In 2016, the GDP declined to $3,880.739 — the lowest level since 2007. After 2016, the economy of Azerbaijan started to rise again. In 2017, the GDP per capita was $4,147.09.

The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the beginning of COVID-19, the economy of Azerbaijan began to face difficulties again. Because of the financial crisis, the prosperity of Azerbaijani citizens decreased drastically. People started to lose their jobs, and prices in the market increased. Also, as oil prices declined, several international companies decided to leave the territory of Azerbaijan. During the financial crisis, the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, said that Azerbaijan should “work and live as if we live in the post-oil era.” It was a strong statement by the president, and it also was the signal of the beginning of a new economic era for Azerbaijan. After the crisis, the government decided to improve the business environment and diversify to non-oil sectors.

Conclusion

As an oil-rich country, it is not surprising that the economy of Azerbaijan is highly dependent on oil revenues. Unfortunately, the government failed to develop other profitable fields for the economy in the last decades. That is why the financial crisis in 2014 increased the level of poverty in Azerbaijan. From 2014 until 2017, the GDP decreased significantly. However, in the latter stages of the financial crisis, the government managed to stabilize the overall situation.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

the Oil IndustryIn the Ecuadorian Amazon, indigenous communities have fought a decades-long legal battle against the oil industry polluting their environment. In January 2021, a provincial Ecuadorian court overturned a previously held court ruling and ordered major oil companies to cease the use of gas flares. This environmentally degrading act has been practiced since the late 1960s when Chevron-Texaco began drilling prospects in the region. Within the affected areas of Sucumbios and Orellana, residents blame gas flares for the increasing cancer rates within their communities as well as other health complications that have led to the deaths of multiple community members, dating back to the beginning of the practice.

The Dangers of Gas Flaring

The burning of natural gas releases fine particulate matter into the airspace. Over time, exposure to these particulates leads to the onset of serious health problems. A group of Amazonian girls from an affected Ecuadorian community filed a lawsuit in an Ecuadorian court in February 2020. Their case claimed that members of their community live within a few hundred meters of gas flares and have documented more than 200 cancer cases associated with gas flaring in the area. Nearly three-quarters of the cases involved women.

The girls also claimed that the use of flares affected other environmental resources, aside from the air. The flares also contaminated the rainwater, which is the primary source of water for these communities, affecting drinking water, sanitation and the irrigation of crops. The legal action hoped to shut down 447 flares in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The lawsuit was unsuccessful at first, until January 2021, when a court ruled in favor of the girls and ordered an end to gas flaring in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Oil Spill Contamination

However, other legal battles are still ongoing. In April 2021, hundreds of indigenous activists took to the streets on the anniversary of a devastating oil spill that unleashed nearly 16,000 barrels of crude oil when two pipeline ruptured in 2020. The oil polluted two essential rivers and affected the water security of nearly 30,000 people. Protesters demanded both recognition and action from their elected leaders. Litigants seeking reparations from the oil industry are still struggling against the bureaucratic framework of the nation’s court system.

The 2020 oil spill severely contaminated the Coca and Napo rivers, both in the Amazon region. Pipeline operators failed to decontaminate these rivers after abandoning an ineffective clean-up attempt. The tens of thousands of Amazonians who depend on these rivers come in frequent contact with the contaminated water, leading to various health consequences. The oil spill has without a doubt increased regional poverty and illness. Members of these communities claim that such flagrant contaminations of vital waterways violate their constitutional rights as indigenous people of Ecuador. While the court system weighs the legal authority of these claims, the pollutant’s negative social impact in the region cannot be denied.

The Road Ahead

The Ecuadorian court’s ruling to end the practice of gas flaring by the oil industry brings relief to communities whose voices have gone unheard for decades. The court distinctly acknowledged violations in terms of constitutionally enshrined rights to health, a safe environment and sustainable development, further recognizing the state’s obligation to take measures to avoid negative environmental consequences. The ruling is a major victory for the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

natural resources in equatorial guineaEquatorial Guinea, which lies on the central west coast of Africa, has seemingly abundant resources. Natural resources in Equatorial Guinea range from its tropical climate and arable land to its minerals and labor. However, widespread socioeconomic development spurred by its discovery of petroleum in the 1990s hindered the country’s progress. It has led to issues including political corruption, resource misuse and human rights abuses. As such, natural resources in Equatorial Guinea affect poverty in the country.

The History of Natural Resources in Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea declared independence from Spain in October 1968. However, the regime of post-independence president Francisco Macias Nguema saw declines in quality, maintenance and labor. As a result, previously booming industries of cocoa and coffee exports almost completely disappeared. After Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew Nguema in 1979, Equatorial Guinea seemed to be moving toward economic revitalization. In the 1980s, the country joined the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa and replaced its currency with one linked to the French franc. However, it was not until the discovery of offshore petroleum and natural gas reserves in 1996 that its GDP skyrocketed.

The IMF estimated that oil production increased from 17,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 1996 to its peak at 280,000 b/d in 2004 before beginning to steadily decline. Real GDP grew by 150% in 1997. Equatorial Guinea remains the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Along with GDP growth, Equatorial Guinea became a trading partner with China, Portugal, India, the U.S. and Spain. This accounted for an increase in government revenue, and the country’s per capita income became the highest in Africa. Natural resources in Equatorial Guinea created this economic transformation. However, today about two-thirds of the population still lives in extreme poverty.

Why the Poverty Level Hasn’t Decreased

Despite the wealth of natural resources in Equatorial Guinea, poverty remains an issue. Human rights abuses and corruption during the Obiang’s regime have raised criticism internationally. As of 2015, only half of citizens in Equatorial Guinea have access to clean water. Newborn immunization rates for polio and measles are among the lowest in the world. Also, government expenditures on health and education are merely 2% to 3% of the total budget. In 2018, the United Nations designated the country 144 out of 189 on its Human Development Index. This measures dimensions including life expectancy, education access and standard of living.

Corruption contributes to poverty in the country. Although Equatorial Guinea has held multi-party elections since 1993, Obiang won his fifth presidential term in 2016 with 94% of the vote. His party also occupies every parliamentary seat. Furthermore, about 80% of the government’s revenue from oil went toward spending sprees on public infrastructure. Construction contracts, however, went to companies partially owned by government officials, including Obiang. Obiang’s son further compounded evidence suggesting government corruption by provoking money-laundering investigations with overseas spending. Thus, the wealth resulting from natural resources in Equatorial Guinea goes not to the people but to the government.

An Unsustainable Future

Many natural resources in Equatorial Guinea also face misuse and exploitation. For example, timber is one of Equatorial Guinea’s most abundant agricultural resources and its main export after oil. The IMF, however, indicated an unsustainable level of timber production in 2001. This resource composed most of the non-oil GDP that grew by 21% in 1999. Environmental damage in the Bioko region, where most of the timber grows, also supports claims of unsustainable exploitation. Despite this boom in timber, the country has mineral deposits that remain untouched due to a lack of extraction and refining equipment. This gold, titanium, manganese, iron ore and uranium could provide balance to the country’s resource exports with the right material.

Furthermore, the 2014 international drop in oil prices reversed GDP growth and caused a recession in Equatorial Guinea. Experts predict that its oil will also run out by 2035. This emphasizes the need for reform and sustainable sources of revenue from natural resources in Equatorial Guinea.

Partnering with the IMF

Recently, Equatorial Guinea partnered with the IMF to recover its economy by promoting sustainable, inclusive growth. The  $283 million program focuses on anti-corruption efforts and economic diversification. This will help monitor public finances, increase social spending and improve governance.

While this partnership with the IMF indicates progress, reform needs to be more widespread and supported internationally. The State Department names U.S. corporations ExxonMobile, Marathon Oil and Noble Energy as among the largest investors in Equatorial Guinea. These corporations and other international entities can use their influential positions to support economic reforms to sustain the country’s resources. They can also support political and social reforms to improve living conditions.

By investing more oil revenue into social programs, legitimate infrastructure projects and the agricultural sector, Equatorial Guinea could build a stable economic future and better living conditions for its citizens. Policy reform like this would also decrease poverty and preserve natural resources in Equatorial Guinea. This way, the country’s natural wealth will exist for generations to come.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Flickr

RSPORoundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and similar organizations are trying to change the palm oil industry. Palm oil is edible vegetable oil. It is widely used in many commercial food products. From chocolate to butter, it reaches the top of the ingredient list in almost 50% of packaged food labels globally. When considering its mass production and wide range of use, it is easy to see the importance of the movement calling for action and reform. RSPO raises this question: what is so bad about it?

RSPO’s Initiative

The palm oil industry is large in size. As a result, it does not have many regulations. The side effects that come with this are significant. They include improper and unethical farming, unequal pay for workers and unsafe working conditions. The most predominant consequence is deforestation.

By recognizing these malpractices and their impact on the employees and environment, RSPO sought a new and progressive technique. After being formally established in April 2004, the RSPO introduced its Principles and Criteria (P&C) for the production of sustainable palm oil. To account for unique national laws and the complexity of the palm oil supply chain, the P&C undergoes revision every five years and varies internationally. However, the fundamental elements remain the same.

Additionally, the P&C prioritizes deforestation prevention. This means that companies are unable to clear or cultivate in substantially forested areas containing valuable biodiversity or fragile ecosystems. In addition, the requirements also highlight the fair treatment of workers, abiding with international labor rights standards. They also decreased the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals. If these main guidelines, along with the others stated on the P&C, are successfully implemented and reviewed, palm oil producers are certified by the RSPO.

RSPO’s Theory of Change

By providing specific guidelines to guarantee sustainability certification, RSPO is mobilizing its main vision: to make sustainable palm oil the norm. Its Theory of Change protocol outlines the procedures in place to attain this goal. The roadmap analyzes the effectiveness of its outputs on three main areas: prosperity, the planet and the people.

Furthermore, one main effort which benefits the people is an increase in smallholder participation and overall mobilization of growers. This in turn leads to improved risk management and safer work practices. These smallholders are small-scale farmers with low hectarage and family-run labor. RSPO certification of smallholders improves their management practices, quality of fruit and yield and access to markets.

Progress Made in Mexico

Overall, the long-term progression on the Theory of Change roadmap suggests that farmers will experience more sustainable and financially stable lifestyles. This past year, Oleopalma became the first RSPO-certified company in Mexico. Since small-scale farmers account for 90% of Mexico’s palm oil farmers, this achievement will reflect widely in the prosperity of the people. After Columbia, Mexico is the largest consumer of palm oil in Latin America. This reaffirms the key benefits coming forward from this transformation. It is also the largest sourcing market for PepsiCo’s palm oil supply. This correlation suggests not only a drastic improvement in the lives of workers but eventually the environment and economy as well.

Samantha Acevedo-Hernandez
Photo: Flickr

mauritius oil spillMauritius is an island nation off the east coast of Africa with a population of fewer than 1.3 million people. In 2019, less than 1% of the population of Mauritius lived below the international poverty line. On July 25, the Japanese-owned oil tanker, the MV Wakashio, ran aground and leaked more than 1000 metric tons of oil into the waters at Pointe d’Esny near “two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve.” As the international community comes together to assist in clean-up efforts, human hair could be a potential solution to the Mauritius oil spill.

Why the Mauritius Oil Spill Needs Urgent Aid

The economy of Mauritius relies heavily on tourism and ocean activities. The tourism industry makes up almost a quarter of the GDP, and another 10% comes from activities reliant on the water, such as fishing. Tourists visit the island nation for its beaches and marine life.  Since the waters surrounding the country are now polluted with oil, the MV Wakashio spill poses a serious threat to the economy of Mauritius as well as the natural environment.

The Science and History a Surprising Solution

Hair was first studied as a solution after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989. After noticing that hair absorbed oil at the salon he owned, Phil McCrory of Alabama began studying human hair as a potential tool for cleaning up oil spills. He was awarded two patents for devices made of human hair that sucked up oil from water.
Hair is highly absorptive and has been shown to take in up to nine times its weight in oil. While hair is a potential solution to the Mauritius oil spill, this is not the first time it’s been used for this purpose. Human hair specifically has been used as a clean-up tool after other oil spills. Hair-stuffed nylon stockings were also successfully used in 2010 to assist in clean-up efforts following the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A study released a week before the Mauritius oil spill found human hair to be as effective as synthetic materials in clean-ups. A study conducted by the University of Technology Sydney comparing plastic-based materials commonly used to clean up oil spills to organic materials found that hair is successful at absorbing oil from ocean and solid land environments. According to this study, hair is as good as synthetic materials when it comes to absorbing oil from land and hard surfaces.

How Human Hair Can Help in Mauritius

Hair salons around Mauritius have been offering free and discounted hair cuts in order to donate the trimmings to clean-up efforts. Volunteers stuff the hair into stockings and use it to both corral the oil, preventing its spread, and absorb it from the water. Hair donations from around the world are also being shipped to the country to provide additional assistance.

Human hair is a potential solution to the Mauritius oil spill and is a useful tool in clean-ups after any future spills as it is in constant supply, affordable and natural and therefore more quickly biodegradable than synthetic materials such as the plastics traditionally used in clean-ups. The country’s economy relies heavily on the Indian Ocean surrounding it for both tourism and fishing, so finding affordable and sustainable means of absorbing the spillage from the MV Wakashio, such as human hair, is necessary to maintain the economy of the country and prevent the spread of devastation and poverty.

Sydney Leiter
Photo: Pixabay