Our Clothing Addiction Leads to Cycle of Poverty in Developing World


September 1st, 2017

Revised 9/1/2017.

Our tendency to buy inexpensive clothing when it is barely worn or when “it’s out of style” leads us to support an industry & system that contributes to poverty in many ways…

  • New clothing is sewn predominantly in sweatshops around the world, often by women that are permanently enslaved to pay off a “debt” for the “privilege” of a “well paying” job (NOT).
  • The used clothing business has effectively destroyed native garment industries in much of Africa and other developing countries. American cotton is so highly subsidized that our used clothing can be purchased more cheaply by them than those made with native fabrics and sewn by native seamstresses.
  • Cheap clothing from that is made in the US is, many instances,  made by factories  that hire undocumented immigrants and are not following US law for wages or conditions. http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-forever-21-factory-workers/

“T-Shirt Travels”is a documentary that should make us think twice about the easy fix. If you don’t have time to read the entire article or want to explain it easily to students here is a quick visual. Over time many of the links are disappearing; here is one for the book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy” The movie Life and Debt tells of the Free Trade Zone in Jamaica where workers who sew for American corporations earn the legal minimum wage of $30 U.S./week. Sweatshops, with the approval of their governments, offer incentives to foreign clothing designers which are allowed to bring in shiploads of material tax-free and are immediately transported out after sewing. Over 10,000 women currently work under sub-standard work conditions. In order to ensure the employment offered, Jamaica agreed to the stipulation that no unionization is permitted in the Free Trade Zones. When the women attempt to organize they are fired and blacklisted to prevent them from working again. The jobs move on to next developing country desperate for work.

The book Fugitive Denim: a Human and Sensible Approach of Global Textile Trade by Rachel Louise Snyder shares the complex story of the textile trade, now & historically. She traveled around the world speaking with workers and professionals in the trade. United Students Against Sweatshops at 25 universities are now boycotting or severing ties with Russell Athletics/Jerzees until the company re-opens the Jerzees de Honduras facility at full capacity, re-hires all union workers and complete the collective bargaining process. Also, individual initiatives such as Ethix Merch attempt to link small manufacturers with buyers.

A recent problem is the sale of ethnic goods and designs on such sites as Etsy, Amazon and Google. There is both theft of design and underpayment of the workers. Fortunately, some Guatemalan Artisans, with the help of Ethical Fashion Guatemala, are taking them on legally:

“Dillon notes that knowledge of the unique features of Guatemalan craftsmanship — like the fact that genuine weavings don’t contain the color black, as all the dyes are natural and a dark black isn’t achievable — helps identify possible fakes. Knowledge of the artisans’ preferences, like the fact that many have asked that they not be displayed in pictures that show them sitting on the ground weaving on e-commerce sites, helps him identify retailers that may be selling genuine products without maintaining an ethical relationship with the weavers. “

“Using bots to scan for keywords and specific types of images, Dillon locates products on Etsy, Google and Shopify that seem suspect and then reaches out to individual sellers to ask what percentage of profits are passed back to the artisans, what their transparency policies are and more. Sellers who can’t prove that they have legitimate relationships with Guatemalan artisans are then reported to their hosting sites to be removed.”

Make inquiries when native made pieces seem overpriced

Americans consider ourselves to be generous people as we assuage our guilt about buying new clothing by giving away our slightly worn or out of date cast offs to charity but the net effect is a global economy turned upside down. What to do?

  • Worn thin? Goodwill or Salvation Army will turn into rags.
  • Stained? Sew or iron a patch, applique. Tie die the garment – stains get lost in the patterns. Missing buttons, open seams, broken zippers? Fix yourself, or take it to your dry cleaners or find a local seamstress/tailor. Keeps Americans employed at decent wages. If you’re crafty, here are ideas for recycling old Tees .
  • Gained/lost weight? Style dated?  A good tailor can take in or let out seams and can even re-fashion professional clothing to reflect current fashion trends
  • Just itching for a change or something different? Look for clothing swaps online or plan an event with friends

If you must buy new, search out  items made of organic or sustainably harvested fabrics by fairly paid and treated workers.  Green America has links to many online ethically traded clothing items and much more. Be willing to pay more for both American /union/Fair Trade made goods.

The fashion industry itself is just discovering Zero Waste and trying to apply it to the cutting room floor. Parsons New School for design will offer a course in zero waste.

Ethical doesn’t have to mean giving up style. Ethical In Style will send you the latest trends daily via FB or Twitter.

Fair Pay for Restaurant Wait Staff


April 15th, 2015

How much do restaurants pay waiters & waitresses? Minimum tipped wages are currently (4/15/15) $2.13/hr and have been so since 1991.  A few states have higher minimum wages (California $7.25/hr). While a few stellar and fortunate folks can make a living wage from tips, your average waitperson cannot. How can you make a difference?

1) Write your representatives and ask that minimum tipped wage rise yearly at the same rate as as other government COLAs (cost of living adjustments0

2) Be aware of how wait staff are paid at the restaurants you frequent – ask them. If they are not paid fairly, stop giving the restaurant your business and tell the manager or owner the reason. They can make the decision to change or go out of business. Find a restaurant with ethical pay and eat there (& tell your friends to do the same).

In the meantime, I’m starting a list here of wages at restaurants. GlassDoor is a good place to start for Base Salary. Recommend that wait staff start entering their data into Glass Door regardless of how big or small your employer. Information helps us all make ethical decisions.  Feel free to comment and provide info on restaurants that you know wage and benefits (if any) for:

Name                  Hourly    % Above/              Other Benefits

                                              Belo Natl Avg

Big Boy               $2.13        -82%                     None

BJ’s                       $7.00      -44%

Cracker Barrel     $2.84/hr                              Avg tips $17,120. Benes only for full time which most servers are not.

Disney                                                                  Avg ann’l pay $32,951, Health Insurance, Sick Days, wages are union

Hilton                $7.49                                        Bonus, avg tips $18, 852

Hyatt                                                                      Avg ann’l pay $24K, Health Ins, Vacation & Leave

Sew and Sew: Where to Buy Ethically Made Fabrics


February 14th, 2014

As a sewer, quilter and fabric consumer I’ve always paid close attention to waste and using up scraps is part of why I like quilting. Lately I’ve been choosing many organic fabrics because of the many toxic chemicals that go into the farming and production of cotton that affect not only the consumer but the farmers and manufacturers. Likewise, reading about the slavelike conditions & wages in many low wage overseas factories, I’m reluctant to buy a lot of new fabric and am paying attention to where they are made.

Though, not generally a JoAnns fabric shopper, I happily learned that they have just introduced a new MadeInAmerica fabric line from FabricTraditions. Online chatter indicates they have always carried some Made in USA fabrics but you have had to search for them.

Most of Liberty of London fabric is still woven in England as seen in this video.

By my research Japanese prints are indeed made in Japan, they are even milling high quality denim!

FabricWorm carries a large selection of organics and I just discovered Organic Cotton Plus.

Of course there is always repurposing fabric, buying at thrift shops & yard sales and, of course fabric swaps!

Sustaining our Food Chain & Our Sanity


January 8th, 2013

A furtive meandering email forward about Chinese vegetables, Pacific Rim seafood, poop as nutrients & American jobs going overseas  got me to doing  a lot of research on food chains, food safety, sustainability & food ethics. A lot of territory, and this does not presume to be complete, but here goes.

It’s a lot of work but basically, caveat emptor, read the labels on every food product you buy, their sourcing may change from month to month. Consider writing  an email to companies when you decide not to buy a product because the the origin or production values of the product. Buy foods in season. Off season foods come from far away places. Maybe you should  be eating pomegranetes not strawberries in December.  Processed foods are always a sourcing, and disclosure, nightmare, an example:

In the NutriGrain bar, the list of sources and ingredients is as follows:
•    USA: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, wheat flour (produced and milled), whole grain oats, sunflower oil, strawberry puree, cellulose, red dye #40;
•    China: vitamin and mineral supplements (B1, B2, iron, folic acid), honey;
•    Philippines: carrageenan;
•    India: guar gum;
•    Europe: citric acid;
•    Denmark: lecithin (soy);
•    Italy: malic acid; and
•    Scotland: sodium alginate.

 “The 2002 Farm Bill and the 2008 Farm Bill amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require that retailers inform consumers of the country of origin of all perishable agricultural commodities beginning September 30, 2008…” per this excellent full article.

What this really means is re-thinking your budget putting a priority on paying for organic, sustainably raised foods and making as much of your food from scratch as possible. They are better for both your body and the planet’s health.  Are you willing to buy fewer clothes (or movie tickets, or tech gadgets) to have more quality & control in your foods?

When choosing imported foods consider the carbon impact from shipping. East Coasters are actually using less carbon when you choose European (wine, olive oil, fruits, seafood ) over California grown because sea shipping is more energy efficient than trucking) , Mexico (even we Californians now get most of our tomatoes from Mexico, the big farms are pretty attuned to US standards), Canada.  West Coast folks cause less transportation CO2 by buying from the Pacific Rim countries if we can’t get it from Mexico or western Canada. Though I enjoy the European and South American Wines, I generally buy California wines. If I’m traveling I always look for local fare & wines.

Just as we cannot categorize all US food as good or bad, we must make the same distinctions within other countries. There are honest and unethical people around the world. QVD Aqualculture out of Bellevue WA provides farmed fish from the US, Vietnam & Singapore and you will be impressed by their standards & certifications  .

FDA  has a lot of seafood inspections but can’t possibly inspect everything. China is the only entire county on their seafood watchlist.

A great seafood guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium includes guides for different regions of the US see:   Print a copy and keep it in your purse or with your coupons.

There is a HUGE difference between Chinese veggies for the US/Canada frozen market & Chinese seafood, meat & products grown for their internal markets.

“ Farmland is communally owned, so a foreign business, often working with a Chinese agent, will approach a village council and propose a farming arrangement. After a community vote, the entire village contracts with the company to supply the agricultural product. The farmers agree to use the seeds and other inputs the foreign company provides… export crops are part of a separate food system. .. vegetables headed abroad are monitored along the food chain: farmers grow the organic vegetables on plots of land that are often less than an acre, then bring the harvest, usually by hand-pulled cart, to a company processing plant, where it is inspected. Plant employees.. wash and prepare the vegetables—all by hand. Before leaving the factory, the vegetables are put through a double metal detector. …“The Chinese are super careful,” echoed Rozelle. The vegetables destined for foreign supermarkets are inspected by government employees before they leave the country. “They know if they get to the port and find residues, it will be rejected.”   

Overseas trade is a huge balancing act. Depending on US markets for the wellbeing of the Chinese population certainly keeps them from extreme military measures; slowly their population is becoming consumers who will begin to be their own best customers.

The Cinnamon Challenge – How Much is Healthy, How Much is Safe?


June 21st, 2012

Looking for sustainably & ethically harvested Ceylon cinnamon? Enjoy the photos and stories of  La Cannelle plantation.

 

Cinnamon has several health benefits, a  source of manganese, fiber, iron and calcium. It’s believed to help with anti-clotting abilities, help stabilize sugar levels for those with Type 2 diabetes, lower bad cholesterol, and fight infections.

 

There are two kinds of cinnamon, but product labels do not usually identify the type. Cassia, “common” cinnamon, usually from China, is redder, stronger in flavor, and cheaper. Ceylon (from Sri Lanka, Vietnam) or “true” cinnamon is a pale tan color; it is milder, sweeter, and more expensive than cassia.

 

Ceylon cinnamon sticks are tight rolls of thin layers; cassia sticks are hollow tubes of thicker, rougher, bark. They are generally ground into powders.

 

Not sure which type of cinnamon to use for your food? Penzeys offers a helpful guide.

 

CINNAMON AS ALLERGEN

Cinnamon also contains as essential oil called cinnamal, which can act as an allergen in a fair amount of people. Those who are allergic to cinnamon can suffer from contact dermatitis. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, cinnamon can also cause a severe allergic reaction that can lead to anaphylactic shock. We can only hope that someone who knows they are allergic to cinnamon would politely decline the challenge; but for someone who wasn’t aware of the existence or severity of an allergy, the results could be … challenging.”

 

CINNAMON AS NATURAL TOXIN & PESTICIDE.

On the plus side, cinnamon can be used as a natural pesticide known to be unkind to mosquito larvae, moths and ants … and most famously, rats.

Cinnamaldehyde is the organic compound that gives the spice its flavor but,  used in concentration,  is a pesticide and fungicide that causes internal hemorrhage & death.  EPA warns of acute dermal toxicity; acute oral toxicity; eye irritation; dermal irritation and dermal sensitization. When cooking, use recommended portions.

 

CINNAMON AS MEDICATION.

Cinnamon contain substantial amounts of coumarin (also present in the tonka bean, from which it’s name came, and other plants).  Coumarin is better known by its trademarked name, Coumadin, an anti-coagulant used to keep blood from clotting. Although coumarin itself has no anticoagulant properties, it is transformed into the natural anticoagulant dicoumarol by a number of species of fungi. Eating cinnamon, by itself, will not help your heart disease.

 

Coumarin is a possibly carcinogenic substance that can cause liver inflammation and can affect blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. In people who are sensitive, coumarin might cause or worsen liver disease.

Ground cinnamon can lead to a bronchial constriction that can be life threatening. For anyone suffering from asthma or COPD, this can be very serious.

 

Cassia cinnamon contains .5% coumarin. Due to concerns about the possible effects of coumarin, several years ago the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment warned against consuming large amounts of Cassia cinnamon. One teaspoon of cinnamon powder contains may be above the Tolerable Daily Intake for smaller individuals.

 

Ceylon contains only .0004% coumarin and is unlikely to be problematic. If you enjoy cinnamon but are at risk, consider cooking with Ceylon.


Sustainable Shoes


August 14th, 2010

I’ve been pondering how my shoe shopping decisions can be both kind to the environment and to the people that make them. Though buying quality second-hand shoes is suggested as being most sustainable, the original shoe may not have been made sustainably. I depend on comfortable, well made shoes and wear them til they won’t stay on my feet or the soles are worn through.

On the human rights front, most shoes seem to be made in China, South Korea Indonesia other countries with a history of poor worker rights. Sadly, even those made in more developed countries are often made by exploited recent immigrants such as in Italy. If yo

Employee dismissal for asking for better wages & working conditions is occurring in Adidas, Nike contract plants and those of their suppliers such as Freetrend. Sadly they have a history of moving their contracted manufacturing to another country, with poorer labor rights enforcement, when profits are challenged. Oliberté offers ethical & locally sourced leather sneaks which may be my next purchases. New Balance seems to be the only major brand that effectively monitors to human rights at the manufacturing level.

Smaller companies, including those that make vegan shoes are under even more financial pressure to keep manufacturing costs down and often do not even know who their manufacturers actually are. Verite,Workers\’ Rights Consortium (WRC) WRC (Workers’ Rights Consortium created by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) formed independently of corporations and plans to focus exclusively on the part of the industry producing college apparel. FLA (Fair Labor Association) does factory monitoring though it is funded by Nike & other manufacturers with less than stellar sweatshop reputations.

The second piece are the materials and chemicals used in manufacturing. Leather is my material of choice because I have very sweaty feet and it breathes well and is very strong. Sadly the human and environmental by-products of tanning are well documented. I do favor a simple shape with few individual leather pieces on the presumption that less leather must be used to make it and fewer seams to break down.

Tom\’s Shoes has young, causal offerings and donates a pair for each pair sold; each factory is periodically audited by a third-party inspector.

I’m going to post this unfinished but hope to get back when I’ve done more research. In the meantime, don’t shop before thinking about options.  I look for those that might be made in the USA or EU on the presumption that there are stronger worker rights. There are many Fair Trade choices online. Campaigns for ethical treatment of workers include the Not For Sale fighting the global slave trade which includes economic slavery in company plants.