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

It is difficult to consider that America has fallen behind in achieving a balance between family and workplace life. Most western nations, particularly in Europe, have a mandate for employees’ paid vacation time. The United States does not mandate these benefits, nor does it mandate paid maternity leave for mothers. Other countries that do not offer maternity leave are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. These are the only three countries in the world that do not provide such benefits to employees. Although each and every country is distinct, several countries have advantages that make them better than others in terms of livelihood and work.

Germany holds a high standard of living and is one of the strongest and most powerful economic systems in the European Union. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Germans work about 27 hours per week and still deliver a solid economy. Germans ranks 7th out of the 36 countries for time spent on leisure activities and are also the most traveled, with extra time to spare in other countries. Germany is high on the list for best countries to work in.

Bulgaria is one of the best countries to start a family in while working. Bulgarians receive over 400 days of paid maternity leave with almost 100 percent of the mother’s salary. There are also paternity benefits offered to the father and even grandparents if necessary.

Finland offers 40 days of paid vacation to its employees, and on average, less than .04 percent work more than 50 hours a week. Finland ranks high on the happiness indicator because of these employee benefits.

The Netherlands has a healthy gross domestic product rating and high standard of living. The employees working in the Netherlands work the least compared to other countries, and the economy remains stronger than ever. Employees receive 28 paid vacation days per year, and 16 weeks of paid maternity leave with full salary. This high standard of living is reflected in high levels of childhood satisfaction and high literacy rates.

The U.S. ranks 33rd out of 36 countries for time spent on leisure activities. Currently, there is a severe lack of balance between work and family life in the states. The typical American spends 60 percent of the day on working, leaving a mere 14 percent for spending time with loved ones.

One way the U.S. can improve the livelihood of its citizens is by helping reduce working family poverty rates. This can be done by concentrating more on a child’s early years and providing both maternity and paternity leave. Such changes can often yield a better and stronger economy. The U.S. is one of the only nations that does not offer strong benefits to employees, and as a result, the country is falling behind economically with a low overall happiness rating.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Fast CoExist, Equal Times, OECD Better Life Index
Photo: Amsterdam

Bonded labor in India
Millions of people living below the poverty line in South Asia are desperate for the chance to make money and find a way to support their families. Individuals and families are easily seduced into a life of abuse by the promise of making enough money to pay off debts through bonded labor.

Unfortunately the stories workers are told are usually untruthful and deceptive, and laborers are immediately exploited upon hire.

In 1976 an abolition act was passed, known as the Indian Bonded Labor System Abolition Act, which bans forced labor, bonded labor and any “service arising out of debt.” Despite this law, workers in Dalit, India, are still falling prey to cheap labor and physically-abusive work conditions.

Recently in Nuagada, Nilambar Majhi and Dialu Nial where offered a $225 payment in order to work for a man. They were given money in advance and were told that they would pay it back in exchange for their labor at a brick kiln, but once on a train headed to the South India state, they tried to escape with a group of people.

Their escape attempt was unsuccessful.

In response, they were asked to return the cost of their advance money as well as the rest of the group’s money. Unable to return the money, they were “held captive for days, where they were tortured.”

Nilambar and Dialu, the only two captured, were told they had to make a choice: their hands, their legs, or their life. The captors proceeded to amputate their hands.

“Three men held us down and cut our hands off, one by one, like you cut a chicken. Then they picked up our hands and threw them away,” Nilambar said.
Sadly this is not out of the ordinary for bonded labor conditions. Abuse is common: days are long, payment is minimal, two meals are offered a day, and sometimes workers have only one pair of clothes for a year.

Women and children typically have no choice but to work in bonded labor occupations. Patriarchal social hierarchies restrict women’s options forcing them to work as silk farmers, weavers and in other stereotypical household positions.

Children also face long days of work in a spectrum of occupation – some days they are subject to working 14 hours every day because they are seen as “cheap labor.” These long days and the poor work conditions expose the children to disease and health issues.

The one unique aspect of Nilambar and Dialu’s situation is that they were able to escape their captors. Andy Griffiths, who works for International Justice Mission, believes that by exposing Nilambar and Dialu’s story, more attention will be focused on modern-day slavery and the brutalities of bonded labor, and hopefully bring Nilambar and Dialu’s captors to justice.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: CNNIDSNCNN (2)
Photo: Khaama Press

The war rages on. Apple and Samsung are stuck in a legal deadlock over claimed patent infringements. Which side will win and why does it matter?

In 2011, Apple feared pressure from smart phone competitors. It had been the leader in the field for nearly four years, but sales were starting to stall. Many companies, most notably HTC, Motorola and Samsung were making use of the Android operating system to carve their own niche in smart phone technology.

In April of that year, Apple sued Samsung, its largest competitor, with 16 claims of patent infringement. Samsung quickly countered, suing apple for infringing on 10 of its own patents. Ultimately Apple won the battle, but that was not enough.

Flash-forward to today and not much has been resolved. The current claims are flimsy and in today’s world of fast-moving technology and minimalist design, it is difficult to determine when two similar ideas sprung up independently and when one was a blatant copy of the other.

Multibillion dollar companies who claim to care about moving technology forward have become so gridlocked over a few million dollars that the real issues go unnoticed. Apple owns about 19 percent of market share, roughly $57 billion, while Samsung takes about 13 percent, or $39 billion. As of today, Apple is claiming an additional $380 million dollars in damages against Samsung, whereas Samsung is arguing it only owes Apple $52 million.

In context, Apple and Samsung’s market share combined could feed, clothe, and shelter the world’s poor twice over. The cost of their legal expenses alone could provide a small town in a third world country with adequate living conditions.

Patent wars such as these do nothing but stop technology from moving forward. When these types of fights persist over years and prevent growth in the tech sector, it severely hurts global job growth in the industry. That means the world’s poor will stay poor for even longer.

But world poverty is not a concern for either company. Both Apple and Samsung have come under fire in the past for underpaying employees in poor working conditions. This is in contrast to the tech industry’s other giant, Microsoft, whose founder is chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, a primary supporter in the fight against global poverty.

It is uncertain what will come of the ongoing lawsuit, but the verdict could have a big impact on the world’s impoverished. If Apple wins, it may snub out more would-be competitors and shrink the market further, stalling global job growth and doing little to impact world poverty.

Mike Doane

Sources: Mashable, Cult of Mac, Time, RT
Photo: Business Tech

Qatar FIFA 2022 World Cup Migrant Workers Exploited
The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be hosted in Qatar and the construction on hotels and stadiums has already begun. This internationally-renowned sporting event will boost Qatari infrastructure, economy, and national spirit. However, groups like the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) claim that thousands of migrant workers will die before construction is finished, and have called for policies that will prevent the exploitation of these workers.

Many migrant workers from countries like India, Nepal and Sri Lanka have been entering Qatar for employment, joining the already 1.2 million migrant workers present in this country. Although many migrant workers are needed to prepare Qatar for the World Cup, the current system of employment may mean that many of these workers will never return home.

Unless reforms are made, 600 migrant workers a year could die on building sites due to harsh working conditions and lack of safety protocols.

Recently, 30 migrant workers fled to the Nepalese Embassy in Doha, Qatar to escape these conditions. They reported having their passports withheld in order to prevent them from fleeing, being denied water and a salary, and being forced to work in intolerable heat. Some equated such hardships with modern-day slavery. In addition, workers have been found living in unsanitary and crowded conditions, resulting in illness.

Employees that complain are often fired, with no means of returning home or finding more work. With passports and salary withheld, most migrant workers have no choice but to continue to work in such conditions.

Nepalese migrant workers aren’t the only workers turning to their embassy for help. Thousands more have complained to the Indian embassy in Qatar. According to the Indian ambassador, more than 700 Indian workers have already lost their lives in these deleterious working conditions.

The ITUC stresses the need for significant changes in workplace sanitation and safety. Otherwise, the organization estimates that at least 4,000 migrant workers will lose their lives by the 2022 World Cup.

These working conditions come as a surprise to many, as Qatar is the world’s richest nation in regards to income per capita. The country is expected to spend over $100 billion on infrastructure, hotels, and other facilities for the World Cup alone.

The ITUC has also commented on the need for FIFA to send a strong message to the Qatari government on how this system of modern-day slavery is unacceptable.

Rahul Shah

Sources: Middle East Online, Opposing Views, The Guardian
Photo: BBC

Is Small-Scale Mining a Sustainable Livelihood?Artisanal or small-scale mining practices provide income to millions of the world’s poorest people. A lack of knowledge, policy, and regulation in the industry means that most small-scale miners operate illegally and without organization or oversight. A recent report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) aims to shed some light on the issues of small-scale and artisanal mining.

Much small-scale mining takes place in remote areas with poor living and working conditions. It is known for its severe pollutant production and subjection of poor and marginalized workers, including women and children, to unsafe working conditions. However, since identifying areas for improvement in the industry, IIED hopes to work with policymakers to improve lives and local environmental impacts.

IIED will accomplish this by connecting miners, their families, and communities with other stakeholders, including authorities on the local, national, and international levels. The organization will gather information and data and coordinate with policymakers to foster dialogue and address challenges. The IIED believes that with greater transparency in the industry, small-scale mining can become a sustainable and safe livelihood for many.

Historically, governments and institutions have overlooked small-scale mining as an industry worth investigation, investment, or support, choosing instead to focus on large-scale mining and small-scale operations in other industries such as forestry and agriculture. Part of the reason for this is the stigma against small-scale mining as a problematic and undesirable practice. But neglecting the industry does nothing to improve its conditions. Authorities must recognize economic realities and focus on improving workers’ lives and working conditions.

The widespread practice of artisanal mining is driven in no small part by the global demand for minerals such as tin and tungsten, for use in gadgets like your smartphone. Despite the rapidly growing technology market, little progress has been made in developing sustainable mining practices over the last decade.

It is estimated that 20 to 30 million people derive the majority of their income from small-scale mining: ten times as many people as large-scale, industrial mining. The income from those 20-30 million supports an additional 100 million people. With so many people relying on these traditional practices for their livelihoods, more must be done in the sector to improve efficiency and working conditions, provide education and resources, and reduce negative environmental and health impacts.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: IIED, The Guardian
Photo: IIED