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Redesigning the fashion industry from linear to circular

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 8, 2017

In what is being called a revolutionary document, A New Textile Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future characterizes the current system of textile and clothing production as a “wasteful, linear system”  which “leads to substantial and ever-expanding pressure on resources and causes high levels of pollution. Hazardous substances affect the health of both textile workers and the wearers of clothes, and plastic microfibres are released into the environment, often ending up in the ocean.”  To improve the societal and environmental impacts of the industry, the report fleshes out the means to achieve four fundamental objectives:   1.  Phase out substances of concern and microfibre release 2. Transform the way clothes are designed, sold, and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature, 3. Radically improve recycling by transforming clothing design, collection, and reprocessing, and 4. Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs.  Benefits to consumers are emphasized, and benefits to workers seem to flow from a reduced exposure to the toxic chemicals used in manufacture.  There is only vague attention to  “A better deal for employees. Because a circular economy is distributive by design, value would be circulated among enterprises of all sizes in the industry, rather than being extracted. This would allow all parts of the value chain to pay workers well and provide them with good working conditions.”    The report was released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Fibres Initiative, with Stella McCartney adding star power.

A greater focus on the working conditions in the global clothing industry comes from The Clean Clothes Campaign . Greenpeace International has been promoting the fight against toxic chemicals in fashion for several years in their Detox My Fashion campaign.

China: collective resistance against iSlavery

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, October 23, 2017

Review of Goodbye iSlave: a manifesto for digital abolition by Jack Linchuan Qiu (University of Illinois Press, 2016)

When 15 young workers jumped or fell from the upper floors of Foxconn’s factories in China in five months of 2010 – 13 of them to their deaths – it made international headlines. People across the world felt outrage at the oppressive working conditions in which iPhones and other high-tech products are made.

Much less well-publicised were the collective resistance movements that flowered at Foxconn and other big Chinese factories in the years following the “Suicide Express”.

In April 2012, 200 Foxconn employees at Wuhan took pictures of themselves on the factory rooftop, and circulated them on social media, along with threats to jump if the company kept ignoring their demand for a wage increase. The company backed down.

This action “differ[ed] qualitatively from individual acts of suicide. Instead, it became a collective behaviour that successfully pressurised Foxconn to increase wages”, the Hong Kong-based activist and university teacher Jack Linchuan Qiu writes in Goodbye iSlave (p. 134).

Qiu describes a world – our world – in which the latest technological devices are made by workers who are subject to dehumanising super-exploitation, and are also used by those workers in organising collective resistance to their conditions.

The main focus of the book is Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer. Its workforce of 1.4 million, mostly in China, make most i-products for Apple – including iPads, iPhones, iMacs and MacBooks – and devices for HP, Dell, Nokia, Microsoft, Sony, Cisco, Nintendo, Intel, Motorola, Samsung, Panasonic, Google, Amazon and others.

Qiu describes how, after the slew of Foxconn suicides in 2010, the Chinese state – which had always, at central and local level, supported and encouraged the company’s bosses – felt compelled to act.

The authorities sent an investigation team to Foxconn Shenzhen. Its findings, leaked to the press by a trade union official, were that Foxconn workers were being compelled to do up to 100 hours of overtime a month, while the legal maximum was 36 hours; and that the company’s “semi-militarised management system” put too much pressure on workers, both when they were at the factory and when they were off duty (p. 126).

The friction between the authorities and Terry Guo, the multi-millionaire owner of Foxconn and a Chinese media darling, was real enough – but, as I understand it, was aimed at containing and dampening worker resistance at the giant factories.

If that was the idea, it didn’t work. Foxconn workers found new ways of fighting back , and students and others in China found ways to build solidarity.

The dark side of Christmas: the impact on sweatshops

By Amoge Ukaegbu - New Internationalist, December 8, 2016

It’s not elves, but underpaid Chinese workers working around the clock that will enable you to unwrap your presents, writes Amoge Ukaegbu.

Television screens are filled with Christmas advertising, propagating the apparent need to buy something, and above all electronics, apparel, toys – the most popular Christmas gifts. The festive countdown is well underway.

Three points specifically define the ‘festive’ season: advertisements and commercialisation, shopping and spending, and increased revenue for the Western economy. Data from Capgemini and new in the UK’s industry association for e-retail, the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), reveal that in 2015, British retailers took in over £24 billion (roughly $30 billion) during the Christmas period alone, more than the entire GDP of countries like Nepal or Honduras. This spending craze is linked with advertisement and the increasing consumerism promoted by mass-, and now social media.

US discount events, hyperbolically labelled ‘Black Friday’ and Cyber Monday’, have been transposed across Europe, with the periods before Christmas and between Christmas and New Year’s Day becoming the busiest spending times in our annual calendars.

Over last year’s discount weekend, British consumers spent a whopping £3.3 billion ($4.16 billion). Masses took to the internet to buy, spending £968 million on Cyber Monday alone, causing the websites of large UK retailers, including Argos, Tesco and John Lewis, to crash. Struggling to cope with the surge of online purchased goods, courier firms imposed daily caps on the number of orders accepted from online retailers.

Working for Corporations, but Failing Workers and the Planet

By Genevieve LeBaron and Jane Lister - New Internationalist, November 24, 2016

In recent years incidents such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in April 2013 and the exposé by The Guardian of slavery and human trafficking in the Thai shrimp industry in 2014 have focused attention on the supply chains of global corporations.

What has been reported less is that both of these incidents, and many others, took place within ‘certified’ and audited supply chains. The Thai shrimp in British supermarkets had been ‘ethically’ certified by an NGO that sets voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural products and encourages producers to adopt ‘safe and sustainable practices’. Similarly, in Bangladesh the Rana Plaza factory, which made clothes for Matalan, Primark and Walmart amongst many others, passed a compliance audit just months before it collapsed.

Many key questions and serious concerns hang over the ethical audit regime. These include: are audits effective in identifying non-compliance and driving up standards, what does the audit regime mean for governments and NGOs, where does power lie within the audit regime and, ultimately, in whose interest is the ethical audit regime working?

To monitor and verify standards, NGOs have developed transnational ‘sustainable production’ certification standards, such as the Rainforest Alliance certification, Marine Stewardship Councils and Fair Labour programmes.

These certification standards are voluntary and rely on private audits, designed and paid for by corporations, to assess standards. NGOs have also increasingly partnered with firms to develop bespoke voluntary programmes: Greenpeace has worked with Coca Cola to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and Oxfam with Unilever to integrate smallholder farmers into its supply chains.

As such, the contemporary governance of global supply chains is increasingly reliant on an ethical and voluntary ‘benchmarking regime’ supported by both corporations and civil society groups, which has audit inspections as its cornerstone. This auditing regime comprises company codes of supplier conduct, voluntary certifications, standardised metrics (e.g. the Higg Index for ‘ethical’ clothing) and aggregated indexes for comparing corporate environmental and social performance (e.g. the Global Reporting Initiative).

Corporations can choose whether to use independent third-party auditors or in-house auditors. Third-party auditors are generally deemed more neutral and hence legitimate, but even third-party auditors are not impartial. Walmart, for example, applies its own criteria for selecting a list of whom it deems ‘acceptable’ auditors.

Auditors are bound by rigid confidentiality clauses and clients exercise full discretion over what audit information is reported. Auditors produce standardised metrics and rankings that give the appearance of transparent and neutral monitoring; yet the information audits provide is selective and fundamentally shaped by the client. Information about abuses and non-compliance is rarely made available to governments or consumers and, as such, they are rarely resolved.

Auditors typically offer advice to help factories prepare action plans to address non-compliance findings. However, auditors have no influence over a company’s eventual business decisions; their advice can be ignored; and there is no external accountability for the action plans.

Corporations have embraced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals and ethical audits as an opportunity to preserve their business model and take responsibility for supply-chain monitoring out of the hands of governments. Corporate adoption of CSR has brought the ‘supply chain ball’ back into their court, and away from governments.

Through the presentation of active monitoring and ‘continuous improvement’, corporations have been able to deflect pressure for stricter state and international regulation that might otherwise curb business growth. This enables the preservation of existing business models and profits.

Adopting ethical audits has also enabled corporations to position themselves as responsible companies. This helps drive sales as retailers increasingly recognise the importance of ‘eco’ and ‘ethical’ products for consumers. A 2013 study of 1000 brands found that 28 per cent of brand value relates to corporate social responsibility.

The increasing use of private audits to monitor supply chains is serving to restructure the global regulatory system to privilege the private interests of business growth, profit and market advantage over the public interest and social goods of improving labour standards, general wellbeing and ecological protection. In a nutshell, the audit regime is ‘working’ for corporations, but failing workers and the planet.

The increasing use of audits as a tool of governance is bolstering corporate interests and influence over consumers and policymakers and, ultimately, deepens corporations’ power to make their own rules and norms and evaluate and report on their own performance.

Whilst audits give the impression of active supply-chain monitoring and ‘continuous improvement’, the regime actually reinforces endemic problems in supply chains. It deflects pressure for stricter, state-based regulation and legitimises unsustainable global production models – in particular, a retail economy that promotes consumption and environmental degradation.

Through voluntary certification programmes, and with state support, the structural problems within the audit regime – deception, failing to detect or ignoring problems within supply chains, and a compliance mentality – are being swiftly institutionalised within global governance mechanisms.

Ethiopian wages at $21 a month have US corporations excited

By Richard Mellor - We Know What's Up, August 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Back in December 2011, Hilary Clinton visited Myanmar in the wake of the military dictatorship’s introduction of reforms.  Ms. Clinton was accompanied on that visit by corporate leaders looking for lucrative investment opportunities and cheap labor. Military dictatorship’s can be a bit too unstable for investors looking for profits sometimes, but with a firm grip on dissent and unions they can be good business partners.

US president Barack Obama has just finished a 5-day visit to East Africa with the same goal in mind.  “Africa is the final frontier in the global rag trade—the last untapped continent with cheap and plentiful labor,”  the Wall Street Journal wrote prior to Obama’s exploratory mission.  What with Chinese workers waging successful struggles for higher wages and the Cambodians following suite, Africans are in the sights of the garment industry investors.

Even the poverty stricken garment workers in Bangladesh who earn at least $67 a month are too expensive for the likes of WalMart and other Western retailers. PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger and VF, parent company of brands that include Wrangler, Lee and Timberland, are looking to descend on Africa like vultures on a dying animal.  JC Penney and Levi Strauss have been moving production to Africa as well. Ethiopia is a particularly attractive location as economic growth has been pleasing Wall Street and the country has no minimum wage.  Ethiopian garment workers were earning $21 a month as of last year according to the Ethiopian government. Despite lacking in infrastructure and a relatively untrained (for sewing garments) labor force, the apparel companies are “still drawn to the cheap labor and inexpensive power…” the WSJ writes.

EcoUnionist News #57

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 23, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

EcoUnionist News #53

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 23, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism

EcoUnionist News #49

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 26, 2015 (Image: Judi Bari stands defiant outside of the Oakland Federal Building, ca: 1996).

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Special Note: Due to the recent (voluntarily, fortunately) location of this site's main administrator, some of these stories are a little delayed. We apologize for any delay in timely reporting. Bear with us; we're all working class volunteers. ;-)

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Gulf South Rising:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #48

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 20, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

May Day:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Bread and Roses:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #24

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 17, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Other News of Interest:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

The Fine Print I:

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