fast fashion and poverty
In recent years, brands like Zara, Topshop, Uniqlo, H&M and Forever 21 have come under fire for creating fast fashion. Fast fashion products are clothing and accessories that companies price significantly lower than the competition, produce more quickly and make of lower quality. Like many products, the world’s poor produces fast fashion, and thus, helps continue the cycle of poverty. Here are three facts about fast fashion and poverty.


People create fast fashion in dangerous sweatshops. To provide cheap, ever-changing inventories for customers, fast fashion companies perpetuate fast fashion and poverty by relying on factories in countries with poverty wages, where safety, sustainable practices and suitable working conditions are nearly nonexistent.

One such factory complex was Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where the collapsing of a building in 2013 killed over 1,100 people and injured thousands more. Rana Plaza housed five garment factories that manufactured products for almost 30 major European and North American fashion companies.

Today, however, there has been an increasing demand for company transparency and ethical manufacturing practices. In the wake of the Rana Plaza Tragedy, the Bangladeshi government has sought to improve safety measures in garment factories and had 38 people charged with murder in 2016 for their roles in the building collapse. Along with the Bangladeshi government’s efforts, companies and trade unions signed two major safety agreements: the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Brands like Nike and Patagonia committed to adhering to higher transparency standards after the tragedy.

Environmental Impact

The business model of fast fashion companies emerged from the idea that consumers always want to stay on top of trends, and thus, will buy new clothes as trends change. To change trends more quickly, fast fashion brands release new clothing once a week or more, which creates a great deal of waste. Instead of the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer clothing seasons that were once prevalent, fast fashion companies have created 52 micro-seasons.

Since the clothes are only trendy for one week or less, companies do not create them to last. Often, fast fashion clothing falls apart in the washing machine or dryer after only one or two wears. If the clothing falls apart in one wash and was no longer trendy anyway, consumers automatically go back out to buy new, cheap pieces from the fast fashion brands. The clothing is so cheap to buy that consumers may not realize that they are spending more money in the long run in terms of cost-per-wear on a fast fashion garment compared to a more high-quality one.

The destroyed and unwearable fast fashion, which contributes to nearly 70 pounds of textile waste per person, per year in the United States, ends up in U.S. landfills or ships, along with other garbage, to developing countries. Many of these developing countries do not have the capacity to deal with all of this additional waste, and therefore, cannot prevent pollution or other waste-related problems.

To combat the issue of the fast-fashion causes, retailers like Asos and Gap, along with dozens of others, signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment in 2017; the Commitment encourages brands to use monofibers instead of mixed-fiber and synthetic fabrics. These practices make it easier for people to recycle fabrics and garments going forward.

Chemicals in Clothes

Fast fashion products often contain lead to create bold colors and shiny accessories. Vinyl and plastic products that are red, green, orange and yellow are more likely to have high contamination than products in darker or more muted hues.

Even in low concentrations, lead is extremely dangerous to human health. When it comes to fast fashion merchandise, experts are concerned that these products will leave microscopic particles of lead and other chemicals on consumers’ hands; without proper sanitation practices, these particles can end up on food, drink and other accessories, which can create an environment for repeated exposure.

The Dangers of Lead

Lead contamination, even at low levels, can cause kidney failure, nervous system issues and cardiovascular risks. Lead accumulation in bones and tissues can also cause reproductive issues in women, such as infertility; lead released during pregnancy puts both the mother and fetus in danger. Many experts, considering these risks, have stated that there is no safe level of lead contamination.

The women and children charged with producing these garments and accessories are in danger of lead contamination, just like the women purchasing and wearing these products. For these workers, treatments for health conditions related to lead contamination are either too costly to afford or unavailable. Often, workers may die from complications related to lead contamination in the products they manufacture.

To combat these problems, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is fighting against fast fashion companies to eliminate lead contamination on clothing and accessories. In 2010, the CEH sued retailers regarding toxins in accessories; since then, the CEH has been testing accessories sold in-store and online by fast fashion brands for lead contamination.

As more disturbing facts come to light about the fast fashion industry, consumers continue to demand change. With the rise of ethical fashion brands and the increased popularity of secondhand shopping, both fast fashion and poverty may disappear in the future.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Ethical TradingFair Trade is a buzzword these days, but what impact does it really have? As fair trade business models are around longer and grow in popularity, there is time to assess what positive impacts they actually have. The U.K.’s Ethical Trading Initiative is an alliance of organizations that work together to promote and support ethical codes of labor throughout the supply chain. Impacting the lives of more than 10 million workers every year, The Ethical Trading Initiative promotes giving a voice to local workers, transparent business practices and government intervention to protect workers’ rights. After 21 years of dedication to impoverished workers, people are able to measure the positive impacts of The Ethical Trading Initiative.

5 Positive Impacts of The Ethical Trading Initiative

  1. More Safety Regulations: One of the largest impacts has been on improving working conditions. This includes better training on emergency drills, improved fire safety and safer chemical use. Additionally, work environments have better hygienic standards as well as improved water and sanitation facilities. Changes in health and safety empower workers to feel safer at work and have better health, which improves their quality of life.
  2. Reasonable Working Hours: Overall, suppliers have reduced workers’ hours to be more reasonable although workers’ reactions to the reduced hours have been mixed. Those with families enjoy the extra free time while some single workers prefer to work (and thus earn) as much as possible. Additionally, workers are paid higher rates for overtime and earn double rates for working on Sundays. Ultimately, wages still need to be raised to combat the need to work as many hours as possible to support basic needs.
  3. A Reduction in Child Labor: Ethical codes and buyer pressure both aid in decreasing the employment of children. Specifically for children ages 16-17, an increase in checking age by official documents has contributed to lower rates in child employment. Poverty is the root cause of child labor. As ethical working conditions continue to improve, lifting more people out of poverty, child labor will continue to decrease.
  4. Worker & Manager Relations: Open, transparent dialogue between companies, managers and employees is key to establishing ethical working conditions. As a result of ethical labor codes, relations between management and workers continue to improve. On some sites, this has been the result of the establishment of workers’ committees that have improved communication practices. Establishing changes to increase communication and allow workers’ voices to be heard is foundational to deciding ethical labor codes.
  5. Physical and Social Well Being: As a result of all the previous improvements combined, workers’ physical and social well beings are increasing dramatically. Studies show that physical and social benefits are being felt by all workers and have effects not just in the workplace but also at home and on their long-term health. These improved and enforced ethical codes have a drastic impact on workers. Workers are less vulnerable to social problems resulting from income instability or health problems. This improves a worker’s ability to ultimately escape poverty.

In the face of increased demand for more products and faster production rates, the Ethical Trading Initiative helps raise awareness of ethical labor codes among managers. Ultimately, this awareness of codes pressures managers to adhere to more ethical practices. When companies take the time to think about the individuals behind every product produced as humans with rights, the ripple effects of change can begin. While there is still a lot of progress that needs to happen to empower impoverished workers globally, the positive impacts of the Ethical Trading Initiative continue to influence a consumer world that prioritizes human rights over profit.

Amy Dickens
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Peru
Poverty in Peru declined steadily from 2001 to 2016, dropping from 55 percent to 21 percent. In 2017, the poverty rate rose slightly to 21 .7 percent. The relative success Peru has had in reducing poverty, however, is a result of economic growth along with increased and improved social programs and technological innovations. The Inter-American Foundation, which currently has 20 active projects in the nation, has made significant contributions to the reduction of poverty in Peru, having invested more than $5 million in the nation and directly benefiting more than 35,000 people.

The Situation in Peru

In Peru, poverty is defined as having a monthly income of fewer than 338 soles (equal to $105). Poverty continues to be an issue in both urban and rural areas, with 44 percent of the impoverished population living in rural areas while the remaining 56 percent are located closer to urban centers. Those who are extremely poor tend to live in rural areas or on the very outskirts of the cities. Natural disasters, inadequate education and training and poor healthcare all contribute to poverty in Peru, making it a multi-dimensional problem.

The recent increase in the poverty rate can be at least partially attributed to political turmoil in the nation. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was elected to office in 2016, and his policy decisions reflected a misunderstanding of Peru’s poverty and how best to reduce it. He resigned in March 2018, however, and his successor, Martín Vizcarra, has “declared the rise in poverty ‘unacceptable.’” It remains to be seen how new leadership will affect Peru’s poverty rates in coming years.

The Inter-American Foundation in Peru

While outside organizations cannot necessarily solve problems within Peru’s government, they can have an impact on improving the lives of Peruvians across the nation through targeted and effective investments and programming. The Inter-American Foundation, for example, has committed to investing in Peru by providing specific grants that are invested strategically to make the largest possible impact.

The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) was created by Congress in 1969 to act as an independent agency of the U.S. Government. The IAF focuses its efforts on reducing poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, providing grants and creating partnerships with local organizations and governments. Rather than designing projects, the IAF invests in initiatives created by grassroots groups and communities, supporting local innovation.

The programs supported by the IAF in Peru employ a range of methods for various intended outcomes, although all are connected to efforts to reduce poverty in Peru. Program areas include leadership, education, job skills, enterprise development, agriculture, food security, legal assistance and inclusion. Most of these programs are funded by the IAF for periods of three to six years, with the amount of grant funding and the number of years the program will run determined at the outset. The IAF also estimates how many direct and indirect beneficiaries each grant will have.

Programs Supported by IAF in Peru

One of the initiatives most recently supported by the IAF, the Asociación Peruana de Productores de Cacao (APPCACAO), will receive $177,500 from the IAF and run from 2018 to 2020. This program is designed to help cacao producers, who often lack the income needed to support their families. According to the IAF, APPCACAO will help “raise their income and quality of life by improving their production of fine flavor cacao and strengthening their management and governance practices to ensure greater participation of women and youth.” This will directly benefit 1,260 individuals and another 3,900 will receive indirect benefits as this program seeks to improve agriculture, food security, leadership, education, job skills and enterprise development.

The Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes (AGTR) is a program that also addresses the economic empowerment of women by focusing on female domestic workers. The IAF recognizes that these women are likely to have poor working conditions and low incomes. It, therefore, works to educate female domestic workers about their legal rights and helps to improve their negotiation skills, helping them find higher-paying jobs with humane working conditions. With an IAF investment of $240,000, this program will be active from 2017 to 2020, directly benefiting 2,600 individuals and indirectly benefiting 44,650.

A third program working to reduce poverty in Peru is the Asociación Kallpa para la Promoción de la Salud Integral y el Desarrollo (Kallpa), which focuses on reducing youth unemployment, including the unemployment of disabled youth. Youth is defined as anyone between the ages of 15 and 29, and the program provides the support needed for young people to “find meaningful employment or start a small business.” The IAF has invested $554,390 in this program, which is expected to benefit 1,550 direct and 5,200 indirect individuals.

Looking Ahead

These programs provide a brief look at the work that the IAF has supported, highlighting its efforts to improve conditions for women and young people, decrease food insecurity, improve working conditions and reduce unemployment, all of which are vital to decreasing poverty in Peru. Notably, however, 11 out of the 20 active projects currently supported by the IAF were scheduled to end in 2018, and it remains to be seen whether the IAF will continue to invest in as many projects in the future.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Bangladesh’s $28 billion garment industry is massive and accounts for 12 percent of the country’s GDP. The industry has provided paid employment to millions of women who flock to the capital of Dhaka as well as to other centers of production in Bangladesh. But, even as it provides the hope of improved living standards, the Bangladesh garment industry threatens the health, safety and even lives of the people it employs. As such, the Bangladesh Safety Accord aims to protect and ensure a better life for Bangladeshi garment workers.

Working Conditions

Working conditions for Bangladeshis in the garment industry have been terrible for decades ever since the 1980s when foreign investment in Bangladeshi garment production helped to fuel the “fast fashion” revolution in cheap, disposable clothing. Since the 1990s, thousands have been killed and maimed in factory fires and building collapses in the country.

When the Rana Plaza Factory collapsed on April 24th, 2013 and killed 1,134 workers and injured 2,500 more, it came as no surprise to the people working inside these buildings. Indeed, they had tried to warn the factory foremen about the cracks spreading in the walls of the unsafe factories, but were told to go to work or they would lose their jobs.

The 2013 Bangladesh Safety Accord

The Rana Plaza disaster caused a stir in the international community and forced consumers to weigh the moral and ethical costs of buying from their favorite brands — such as H & M, Wal-Mart, Gap, Sears, Primark and numerous others. Less than a month after Rana Plaza, these companies began to sign onto a new way of monitoring global garment supply chains: The Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord. Some of these companies signed voluntarily, others under intense pressure from consumers and unions outraged by the negligence that led to the collapse.

Signatories of the Accord, a legally binding document, promised to ensure that:

  • Independent building fire and safety inspectors would be hired by the workers and their unions instead of hired by employers
  • Signatories would pay for remediation of any safety violations these inspectors found
  • That if brands don’t abide by the rules of the Accord they may face lawsuits in their home countries
  • That brands would support extensive worker training programs to teach workers their rights

The 2018 Bangladesh Safety Accord

The first Accord expired this year, and a second Accord is now seeking signatories. So far, brands such as H & M, Adidas and Primark have signed onto the accord.

Some retailers are noticeably missing from the new Accord. For example, Ikea, (which is included as part of the 2018 Accord because the textile industry is newly being held up to these standards) has expressed resistance to signing the accord, choosing instead to stick to IWAY, their company-wide code-of-conduct.

Abercrombie & Fitch and Sean Combs’ label Sean John are two other holdouts on the Accord.

These companies insist that corporate social responsibility codes will be sufficient to protect workers in their supply chains. But repeatedly, independent experts have found that only worker-driven corporate responsibility codes have brought real improvements in factory safety standards and other measures of good working conditions: limiting supervisor abuses of workers, beatings, sexual harassment etc.

What’s New in the 2018 Accord

According to the Bangladesh Safety Accord website, the new elements of the 2018 Accord are:

  • Safety Committee and Safety training in all covered factories (no tiers)
  • Training and Complaints Protocol to cover Freedom of Association rights (tbd) (In other words, workers must be allowed to organize and join unions.)
  • Workers’ severance payments when factories close or relocate (a common practice in the globalized garment industry. Corporations simply relocate–often failing to pay their workers–instead of raising wages, lowering hours or making safety repairs.)
  • It expands the scope of the Accord: for the first time including workers in home textiles; fabric and knit accessories; and there is talk of expanding further potentially to other industries (including consumer electronics)
  • It proposes to institutionalize Accord functions in a national regulatory body.

The Good News

The results of the Bangladesh Safety Accord have been momentous. In her book, We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now” The Global Uprising Against Poverty Wages,” Annelise Orleck, author and History Professor at Dartmouth College, writes that “Before the accord, an average of two hundred workers were dying every year in Bangladesh garment factories. In 2013, the death toll was much higher. In 2016-2017, there were zero deaths.”

Orleck writes that in the four years since the Accord was signed, “1,600 factories were inspected, 100,000 safety improvements were made, and there were 7,000 follow-ups to monitor improvements.” 

While wage increases are not guaranteed in the Accord, the agreement is helping workers feel safer about speaking up in a country where the minimum wage is still just 32 cents an hour. It is hopeful that in the next few years, the Accord will continue to be successful, and that workers will no longer risk arrest for joining unions, negotiating better conditions and pay, and resisting sexual violence and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Evann Orleck-Jetter
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights Violations in ChinaSince Xi Jinping began his presidency in March 2013, widespread human rights violations in China have been documented as government constraints have deepened. Such issues also became more apparent after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died in police custody in 2017. Some violations include increased internet censorship, lack of women’s and workers’ rights, repression of minority groups and imprisonment of human rights defenders. Here are 10 facts about human rights violations in China as well as what is being done to combat these issues today.

10 Facts About Human Rights Violations in China

  1. Authorities control citizens’ internet use by blocking social media sites and restricting news publications. Any news reporting that “slanders the country’s political system” is typically shut down. The government also adopted Blue Shield filtering software to document websites visited by users. A Cybersecurity Law was implemented in June 2017, requiring all internet companies working in China to regulate content for Chinese citizens.
  2. The government only allows five officially recognized religions in approved religious sites. In February 2018, a revised Regulations on Religious Affairs was established. The revision invests all control over religious activities to the government, including finances, personnel appointments and publications. The law also states a goal of restraining “infiltration and extremism” which could enforce a limitation on religious freedom for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.
  3. Although labor laws allow trade union organization and elections of trade union committees, the government still controls these rights. Workers cannot vote for trade unions while the right to strike usually goes unacknowledged. According to various human rights groups, China violates workers’ freedom of association. This is due to China’s prohibition of independent union organizing and Trade Union Law. This law requires the All-China Federation of Trade Unions to maintain communist leadership.
  4. In 2017, China ranked 100 among 144 countries for gender parity for the ninth year in a row. According to The Party Congress, there is a substantial absence of women in chief political positions. Females in China are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment and workplace discrimination which can increase their chances of becoming impoverished. However, it is difficult for women to overcome such barriers since the government does not favor women’s rights activism.
  5. Uighurs, Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas endure higher poverty rates, displacement, discrimination and crucial human rights issues. According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur, the situations of Tibetans and Uighurs is deeply problematic. Similar to most Chinese citizens, ethnic minorities do not have the right to freedom of religion, expression and peaceful assembly. Over 150 Tibetans have and continue to protest repressive laws by self-immolation.
  6. Authorities continue to conduct politically motivated prosecutions. After a national crackdown in July 2015, over 250 human rights protesters were detained, nine of which were convicted of “subverting state power.” Some detainees admit to being tortured or forced to confess. Though many have since been released, they continue to be isolated and monitored. Lawyers of protestors are often harassed and intimidated by authorities.
  7. About 500,000 individuals are currently detained without trial, charge or access to legal aid. The government uses Re-education through Labour (RTL) to arrest individuals without a trial. Usual targets of RTL include petitioners, protestors and those practicing an unrecognized religion. “Black jails” and mental health institutions are types of illegal detention that are utilized by authorities.
  8. China is currently the leading executioner in the world. For decades, China imposed the death penalty for nonviolent crimes and unfair trials. In March 2017, the President of the Supreme People’s Court said that capital punishment was only applied “to an extremely small number of criminals for extremely severe offenses.” However, China’s statistics on death penalties remains classified and authorities fail to release numerical data.
  9. China is accepting help from the U.N. in addressing human rights issues. In 2016, the government formed the policy paper, New Progress in the Judicial Protection of Human Rights in China. The policy paper addresses the country’s human rights issues and suggests potential developments. After inviting the U.N. to support the initiative, the U.N. agreed and made visits to China.
  10. Human Rights in China (HRIC) works to promote human rights and hold the government accountable. HRIC is an NGO that uses advocacy and policy engagement to give citizens voices and improve human rights protection. Its advocacy program aids individual casework and long-term reforms. By advocating both domestically and globally, HRIC promotes international NGOs, the business community, multi-stakeholder groups and results-oriented government engagements.

China’s goal is to remove 60 million people from poverty by decreasing air pollution and improving health standards and its judicial system by 2020. The U.N. and organizations like the HRIC provide hope for more human rights protection in the future. Though China is working to form and implement related policies, it is important that the government allows activists and lawyers to support minority groups and give all citizens a voice in order to end human rights violations in China.

– Diane Adame
Photo: Flickr

Patagonia and Fair Trade USAFair Trade Certified: recognized by most from a coffee package or chocolate bar. Farmers, however, are not the only workers that benefit from Fair Trade Certification. The disconnect between the source and purchase of a good is one that Fair Trade USA is working to connect.

What Do Patagonia and Fair Trade USA Do?

Patagonia is leading the apparel industry in support of Fair Trade Certified goods. Patagonia and Fair Trade USA have partnered to help over 42,000 workers improve their quality of life since 2014. A solid 75 percent of Fair Trade USA’s disbursements to workers come from business partners like Patagonia, while the other 25 percent comes from contributions from corporations and foundations.

The Patagonia and Fair Trade USA program involves Patagonia paying for use of the Fair Trade Certified label. The money goes directly to the workers making the apparel. Once the disbursement is received, the employees decide how to use it by vote. Over the years, workers who make Patagonia clothing have used their disbursements for household appliances as well as childcare and healthcare.

Examples of Fair Trade Benefits

At the Hirdaramani factory in Agalawatta, Sri Lanka, Fair Trade disbursements provided a free daycare facility for the worker’s children. This ensures that even workers with families continue to thrive.

In addition, the community chose to build a health and hygiene program that provides things like sanitary pads. The health program doubles as a safe space to talk about reproductive health, which is considered taboo in Sri Lankan culture.

In Mexico, 1,500 workers at Vertical Knits factory used their Fair Trade disbursement to buy bicycles and stoves, improving either their work commute or home life. VT Garment Co., Ltd.’s disbursement paid school tuition for 265 children in Thailand and provided a fun community day to celebrate the factories successes.

These partnerships alone improved the lives and communities of over 4,500 workers. According to Patagonia, other benefits of Fair Trade Certification include “maternity and paid leave, no child or forced labor, and additional money back to workers.”

Effects of Unfair Working Conditions

Although partnerships like Patagonia and Fair Trade USA provide endless benefits to workers’ physical and mental health, thousands of workers in the apparel industry continue to work in sweatshops where working conditions are unsafe and wages are not livable. According to War on Want, a worker’s rights charity organization, many are “working 14 to 16 hour days seven days a week.”

Fires and collapsing buildings killed hundreds of workers in 2012 as factories were unregulated. Soon after these incidents in Bangladesh, factories began implementing fire safety and building codes to ensure workers safety. Though improvements are being made, there are still millions of workers being underpaid and overworked in the garment industry.

How Fair Trade USA is Helping Workers

Currently, Fair Trade USA works with over 1,250 companies internationally, helping workers out of poverty by providing safe working conditions and livable wages. As explained in the 2017 Fair Trade Certified Quality Manual, “When shoppers choose Fair Trade Certified goods, they are able to vote with their dollar – supporting responsible companies, empowering farmers and workers and protecting the environment.”

By purchasing goods that are Fair Trade Certified, consumers are ensuring the betterment of the workers’ lives by providing access to things like healthcare, education and modern appliances.  These things would not be accessible if not for programs like Fair Trade USA.

As abstract as it may seem, there are people behind every purchase. Continued support for organizations such as Patagonia and other Fair Trade Certified companies will change the lives of individuals and communities in monumental ways.

– Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr

Gates Foundation

On February 22, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published its eighth annual letter, detailing global concerns and presenting goals for the foundation.

Energy and Time

Letters from previous years have included a variety of specific goals in the organization’s mission statement, ranging from disease prevention, economic improvement and resource distribution in developing countries. This year, the philanthropic duo is tackling two particularly salient topics: energy and time.

The annual letter’s structure is hinged on a conversation that took place at a high school in Kentucky. The students asked the co-founders: if you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Bill’s answer, “more energy,” falls in line with his decades-long work on climate change and clean energy solutions. In addition to elaborating upon his climate talk-spurred partnership, Breakthrough Energy Coalition, Bill highlights flaws and misconceptions about the world’s current carbon output data and the need for a zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century.

He follows a blunt equation—Population (P) x Services (S) x Energy (E) x Carbon Dioxide (C) = CO2 (a necessary net zero)—with the solemn remark, “We need an energy miracle.”

Call for Youth Involvement

Piggybacking on a year of climate talks, international partnerships and private investments from big donors, the call falls upon open ears. The call is also directed towards the world’s youth.

His More Energy portion of the annual letter pleads for a multi-generational solution, rightfully acknowledging that the gears continue turning well into future years. He aligns with The Power Dialogue, a student-to-state forum held between student representatives and national leaders.

The event, which is sponsored by the Bard Center for Environmental Policy, took place on April 4, 2016, under the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Women’s Rights and Global Poverty

Likewise, Melinda’s superpower, More Time, raises awareness around another turbulent issue: women’s rights residing at the core of global poverty.

She evaluates the theory of opportunity cost and underscores the issue of extreme gender inequality within poorer countries. “[What are] the other things women could be doing if they didn’t spend so much time on mundane tasks[?]” she speculates.

Her letter also foreshadows the focus of pop-culture front runners who, on March 7, signed an open letter to world leaders calling for the right to education, health and equal opportunity for women around the world.

Over 80 signatures, including comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and prominent figures such as Sir Elton John and Oprah Winfrey, underline Melinda’s scrutiny of women’s participation in unpaid work, and the extreme gender gaps at home and abroad. “Once we see a norm,” she writes, “we can replace them with something better.”

The Gates’ Philanthropic Way

Bill and Melinda Gates, through the work of their foundation, governmental and private partnerships, continue to push the conversation forward toward a generation of world improvers. And their annual letter proves: you don’t need a super suit to do it.

Nora Harless

Photo: Wikipedia

Addressing Women's Rights
Since the 1970s, women have had a key role in addressing women’s rights in terms of ending global poverty.

There are several reasons for this phenomenon, whether laws in certain countries stimulating this repression or customs in a society. Laws protecting women often remain unimplemented at the national and local levels.

The U.N. Commission for Africa states that women, in particular, suffer from inequality, both socially and economically. It is important to recognize women’s rights implications for the declination of global poverty.

1. It Increases Education Enrollment

Young girls are among the largest of demographics not receiving an education. It is a known fact that women with equal rights become more educated. These women are more likely to participate in the job field. Education results in gaining the skills necessary to obtain work and consequently gain financial resources to rise above the poverty line.

2. It Increases Enrollment in the Job Sector

As women acquire education and skills, they may gain the aspirations of entrepreneurship. The right to education for women also creates future options for labor. Furthermore, as women become educated, their role is expanded beyond child-rearing. Women are then able to obtain a presence in the working field.

3. Women Are More Likely to Participate in Decision Making

Women with legal rights are more likely to own land and therefore to access finance. The U.N. claims that rural women with the right of control over their land increase social and political status. Addressing women’s rights in controlling land boosts bargaining power domestically and empowers their public voice.

4. It Diminishes Dependence

Many women who are impoverished are widows, single-headed households or those who did not have an income to begin with. Addressing women’s rights to education and ownership enables them to earn a living regardless of challenging situations. When women have rights to land ownership and to education, it ensures their ability to provide for their families’ daily needs. Land ownership also decreases the prospects of women being evicted and subsequently sliding into poverty.

5. It Reduces Unpaid Work

Many women spend a lot of time doing household work such as caring for children. Additionally, many women spend a great portion of their day preparing meals and gathering water, during which they resort to paying for childcare. Greater equality in the household would allow women the opportunity to spend time carrying out paid work.

The U.N. states that with access to resources such as financial credit, technical assistance, training and land ownership, the feminization of poverty will diminish.

Mayra Vega

Sources: U.N.E.C.A., UNDP 1, UNDP 2, UNDP 3, UNDP 4, U.N. 1, Sachs, Jeffrey, U.N. 2
Photo: Africa Agribusiness

Maternity coverageIn March, the Government of Rwanda approved a bill granting mothers full compensation while on a 12-week maternity leave. If implemented, the Maternity Leave Benefits Scheme would increase maternity coverage by 80 percent for the second half of their leave from the workplace.

Throughout the spring, the bill moved through parliament but was temporarily tabled in the House because of other pressing issues. Members of parliament are set to discuss this important legislation in the next few weeks, though, according to an article in Equal Times.

Because of the current system, many Rwandan women on maternity leave return to the workplace after just six weeks because they cannot afford to lose 80 percent of their compensation for that time.

Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Claver Gatete said that the current plan is not conducive to supporting a mother and her child both socially and financially.

The new legislation will have employers compensating mothers for the first six weeks and a social security fund covering compensation for the second six weeks. As an insurance scheme rather than a government fund, the additional compensation will come from a new income tax.

Public and private sector employees will make a 0.6 percent contribution of their salary to the insurance scheme in order to cover the costs of this fund. Contributions are set to be taken through the existing Rwanda Social Security Board, but the scheme funds are set to be distinct from other social security funds.

There is widespread support throughout Rwanda for this legislation, many calling this bill “long overdue.” Dominique Bicamumpaka, president of the Congrés du Travail et de la Fraternité — Rwanda (CONTRAF) was quoted in Equal Times, explaining her and other campaigners’ support for this legislation.

“[CONTRAF was] involved in the whole process and we encourage all the citizens to embrace this new initiative wholeheartedly because when a woman gives birth, it is not only for the family but also for the society,” she said.

If adopted, this bill will improve living conditions for mothers and their newborns, while also giving mothers more value and credibility in Rwandan society.

Many Rwandans consider this legislation a major step toward improving working conditions for women throughout the country. However, advocates such as Andre Mutsindashyaka, secretary general of the Rwanda Extractive Industry Workers Union, hope that this is just the first step of many other adjustments in making the workplace more mother-friendly.

“We are trying to make it easier for mothers, especially that nursing, by finding ways how they can work but also look after their babies,” he was quoted in Equal Times.

“So far, there is a plan that we hope to launch in five years, which will see each office have a daycare centre where mothers can breastfeed their babies. So far, some places like [the Rwandan Tea Authority] are providing [daycare facilities] and we hope that eventually, every office can do the same.”

Arin Kerstein
Photo: Flickr

Ecuador is home to over 14 million people and an estimated 18 percent are involved in the banana trade or business. Banana sales comprise over 60 percent of the country’s GDP and Ecuador supplies almost 40 percent of the world’s bananas. These numbers help explain and prove the prevalence of non-fair trade companies.

According to TransFair USA, basic necessities for banana farmers cost $9.60 per day. This is in contrast with non-fair trade wages that can be as low as $3 daily. This has caused an influx of unlawful child labor violations, working conditions and extended hours. The Human Rights Watch has accused non-fair trade companies of employing children as young as 8 years old.

The international farming advocacy organization, Food Empowerment Project, states, “banana producers and distributors Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita have all refused to take responsibility for the conditions on plantations from which they source their product.”

These conditions have caused small-scale farmers to seek fair trade methods to help better provide for their families. For example, the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers cooperative started in 1998 when 14 farmers decided to take their chances by bringing a single container of bananas, totaling almost 40,000 pounds and selling directly to a European market. Their goals were to cut out all the intermediaries and deal directly with domestic and international markets.

The success of this collective business model has provided an alternative model of farming tactics and has lead other companies to adopt similar practices. International fruit companies such as Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita have sought business in other countries due to the mounting political support in Ecuador for farmers and small business. These prevailing attitudes create an environment of conditions where a fair trade sustainable fruit seller, like All Good Fairtrade (AGF), can thrive.

AGF is a banana company located in the Southwest of the country. The organization utilizes purely organic fertilizer and has banned the usage of over 100 agrochemicals typically used in mass fruit production. Furthermore, AGF is also able to pay their workers wages that are approximately $3 more per day than the average banana industry worker. The organization is supplied by over 400 Ecuadorian family farms in 15 communities, all of which are a part of the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers.

For each bunch of bananas sold, AGF delivers seven to ten cents back to the El Guabo collective for fair e-trade premium funding. In the five years of the company’s existence, AGF has given back over $600,000. As a community, the families vote democratically on how and where to allocate these funds. So far, the capital has been invested toward building a free medical center and a special needs school, supporting multitudes of school children and implementing various sustainable farming initiatives. Education and school supplies are also awarded to the children of the El Guabo collective.

Frasier Petersen

Sources: CS Monitor, Food is Power, Green America
Photo: Food is Power