Greenpeace links Italian fashion to destruction of Amazon rainforest

Last year, I reported about how Timberland’s former CEO dealt with 65.000 angry emails. The background of the post was an HBR article in which the Jeff Swartz explained how he reacted to mails of angry Greenpeace activists complaining that Timberland might be connected to the destruction of Amazon rainforests: Basically he looked into the issue and tried to understand his supply chain better.

Greenpeace now reports that the situation in Brazil is about to worsen:

In part, this non-compliance can be traced back to the proposed changes to Brazil’s Forest Code, the law which protects the Amazon rainforest. If these changes go through (the Brazilian president is due to consider them in the coming weeks), then the area available for legal deforestation will increase enormously, as well as letting off anyone involved in previous instances of illegal deforestation scot-free.

It now demands from Italian fashion designers to pressurize the comapnies in Brazil selling the leather to stick to their promises. Look at this clip.

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Penelope Cruz’s contribution to unfair trade

Various scholars have analyzed celebreties’ involvement in ‘fair trade’ (Goodman or Richey & Ponte). Has anyone looked at how celebreties contribute to “unfair trade”? Let’s do it. Recently, Penelope Cruz (PC) pops up all over Zurich again on ads for the Swiss company Charles Voegele (CV).

Charles Voegele (626 Million CHF turnover & 62 Mill losses in the first half year 2011) sells rather cheap, low quality clothing for relatively low prices (but the PC campaign is for higher segment clothes). The Swiss NGO Declaration of Berne and the Asian Floor Wage Campaign recently criticized CV for not committing to pay living wages (to my information CV also only employs less than one person to improve working conditions, which is too little to really change things):

In this situation, does Penelope Cruz contribute to poor working conditions (i.e. unfair trade)?

According to the dead American political philosopher, Iris Young, poor working conditions are the mediated result of complex structures, into which different actors are embedded and to which they all contribute. She claims that no one is singularly responsible for poor working conditions (no company, no supplier, no consumer and also not PC), but all share a forward-looking responsibility to better working conditions. She suggests that power, privilege, interest and collective ability define what responsibility single actors share to make the things better and argues that we should discharge our responsibility through collective action.

In the Cruz case, the actor does not need to collectively engage, it simply seems sufficient, if she does not support a company that seems to support unfair practices: She certainly does not need the few millions she earns with the ads; she has the power and privilege to say no to advertise for a company that does not support high wages (she could select a fair trade company). She might not have the collective abillity to change the situation, but she can choose not to contribute (last year her whole family travelled to Switzerland and was the star at a CV event and not she is an ‘ambassardor’ and certainly leads women to buying at CV). I would thus argue that Cruz has the shared responsibility not to advertise for a company that is criticized for doing little to prevent poor working conditions. Simply: PC is not PC.

Please not that this is nothing personal against PC – on the contrary, I Almodovar’s movies in which she plays belong to my favourite ones.


US taxpayers pay $147 mill/year for US cotton farmers & to keep farmers in West-Africa in poverty

Two weeks ago the Fairtrade Foundation UK (FF) published the report “The Great Cotton Stitch-up“. The report criticizes that cotton subsidies of totally $47 billion since 2001 by the four major cotton producers (USA, China, EU, India) have been preventing the four West-African cotton producing countries (Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad = C-4) from benefiting from their comparatively advantageous cotton production. The problem is that millions of people in West-Africa are dependant on selling cotton.

According to the report, the WTO liberalization policies and the “DOHA Development Round” (and thus the countries promoting such politicies) have not kept up to their promises to stimulate growth, opportunity and wealth through free trade: The West-African cotton farmers “who are more dependent on cotton than on any other commodity for their export revenues, are still suffering from the effects of huge trade subsidies in the US and the EU”. This aid, cotton in Africa is much cheaper than in the US (and it wastes less water, as it is rainfed): While the production of one pound of cotton in Benin costs 0.35$, the average costs of production in the US is 0.80$. But the subsidies, the report shows, help the US farmers sell their cotton to competitive prices. And while US and EU agriculture policies destroy the livelihoods of farmers and their families in rural Africa, EU & US aid programmes support the poor farmers in Africa, the FF criticizes.

Main culprit in this situation is the strong lobbying system in the US, which protects high and stable cotton prices for the US farmers. Studies cited in the report estimate that subsidies reduce cotton prices in West Africa by 5-14%. Similarly, a study by Alston et al. argues that “if US cotton subsidies were eliminated, world cotton prices would increase by 6–14% and cotton producer incomes in West Africa would be 8–20% higher”. Also the case of the EU subsidies is seen as relevant to the cotton farmers in Africa. While the EU pays lower cotton subsidies in total ($353 Million in 2009/10) because only little of cotton worldwide is produced here, they top the US subsidies by far in subsidies paid per pound of cotton ($2.51, compared to $0.14 in the US).

This is far from new, but the report sums up nicely the main arguments – and it was published as a lobbying tool to help influence important decisions that are soon taken at the EU and US level. In addition, the FF argues that reform of the system „depends on communicating the expenses of subsidies to policymakers and the public“. Two current policies are seen as central: The European Commission recently released a draft proposal for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and in 2010 the US Congress “started negotiating a new Farm Bill replacing the current $288bn five-year programme of US agricultural support”.

But are trade distorting subsidies not incoherent to WTO rules? Brazil indeed recently filed a legal complaint against the US within the WTO dispute settlement system, it is reported, and with success. But the report informs us that the US taxpayers now pay $147 million a year to Brazilian cotton growers in the form of a ‚technical assistant fund’. This must seem absurd, not only in the eyes of supporters of free-trade. And why do the C-4 not file a legal complaint? The report argues that it is difficult for poor countries like the C-4 „to ‚challenge’ a big power like the US in a legal case within the WTO: „Powerful economies have many opportunities to put political and economic pressure on small and vulnerable states“ (p. 21). So basically, US and EU farmers get their „Fairtrade premium“, while conventional cotton farmers from Africa do not. The report argues that cotton must be part of the CAP negotiations in 2013, which momentarily they are not. It also argues that the role of subsidies in China and India must be watched in order to improve the situation in Africa.

What is to be done? In the foreword to study the British MP Dr. Vince Cable argues: “The current system of subsidies cannot be right and certainly is not fair. The problem is being addressed through Fairtrade, which is a robust economic and business model. But ultimately, the aim must be to make all trade ‘Fair Trade’. The principles of Fairtrade need to be integrated and reflected in the global trading system, to ensure that poor producers receive a fair price and are enabled to take control of their own development.”

The main conclusions of the report are that there need to be changes in the US and EU agricultural policies and in the WTO architecture. Finally, Fair Trade cotton is presented as a good alternative for African cotton farmers.

See also:

Bassett’s recent article in Geoforum 2010 might also be interesting, which analyses two Max Havelaar programmes in Mali and Burkina Faso: Slim pickings: Fairtrade cotton in West Africa.

To understand why the US subsidize their farmers: Rivoli or Jost & Kleineidam.

Also see the documentary “Let’s make money” on the problems of cotton farmers in Africa (in french):


CCC/EvB publishes company ranking regarding working standards

Today, the Swiss EvB/CCC (together with other NGOs from the CCC network) published a ranking of 80 companies (fashion, outdoor, streetwear, skatewear and sportswear). The ranking evaluates the CSR policies companies untertake to improve the working conditions in their supply chains. It is based on questionnaires the companies were asked to fill in and research by the EvB/CCC.

Of the 80 companies four are ranked as “advanced”. FWF members are not automatically evaluated as “advanced”, as some people have been criticizing the CCC’s evaluation of companies’ memberships in standards initiatives: For instance, the Swiss FWF member “Blackout” is evaluated as “average”, wheras the Swiss BSCI member “Remei” is ranked as “advanced”. Most companies are evaluated as either “average” or “beginners”. Finally, 13 companies are ranked as “denied”, most of whom did not fill in the questionnaire: e.g. Burton, Carhartt, Diesel, New Yorkers, Y.Yendi.

The ranking evaluates four criteria: (1) transparency, (2) monitoring, (3) code of conduct, (4) code implementation – and to produce the spider-diagramms (see graph) 27 issues with several questions were taken into account. However, the evaluation does not show in more detail, where which company collected its points.

You also find a brief comparison of the BSCI and the FWF, which I was invited to write based on the results of my PhD.


11 Cents per hour: Workers talk about their working conditions

These days, NGOs in Germany and Switzerland talk a lot about the poor working conditions in Asia, and particularly about living wages. The EvB in Switzerland today published the following video, in which it criticizes Charles Vögele, who invited Penelope Cruz to the Swiss Fashion show, while paying low wages to the workers:

The German public TV-station ZDF today reported about the “discounter-tour” of the CCC in Germany, where workers and theri representatives from Bangladesh talk about their working conditions, e.g., the 11 Cents they get per hour. Here you find the 2 minutes TV-report. And here are the dates and programmes of the tour:

Bonn (02.11.2010)
Stuttgart (03.11.2010)
München (04.11.2010)
Hannover (05.11.2010)
Leipzig (08.11.2010)
Berlin (10.11.2010)
Hamburg (11.11.2010)
Bremen (15.11.2010)
Münster (16.11.2010)
Oberhausen (17.11.2010) Fachtagung Oberhausen (17.11.2010)
KOBLENZ (18.11.2010)


The CIR-Aldi conflict continues…

After Aldi threatened to process against CIR if the NGO continued to spread a persiflage about the discounter (I reported), CIR and the CCC apparently today have a special supplement on discounters in the German Tageszeitung today. After the conflict, I would certainly like to read it, but I doubt that you can buy the Tageszeitung in Zurich. Does someone know an online link?


Living wages: Tour and online discussion

The CCC in Switzerland just finished their campaign on living wages and collected more than 30.000 signatures. From November, 2nd until 18th, a representative from the German CCC together with two workers from Bangladesh and representatives of the Asian Floor Wage Campaign from Bangladesh and Indonesia are touring through Germany until November to discuss the issue of a living wage. They will be in Bonn, Stuttgart, Munich, Hannover, Leipzig, Berlin, Hamburg, Rellingen, Bremen, Münster, Oberhausen, Koblenz (here is a plan of the tour).

You might also join an internet discussion that was initiated by the “CSR professionals” group on XING on the need for a living wage. The moderators asked:

  • Is the demand for a transnational living wage helpful?
  • Whom shall it address?
  • What shall German companies do?
  • What shall governments and civil society do?