Update June 29, 2010

Hey Readers,

Sorry for the lack of posts for the last few months. Our writers just completed their first years of college and are enjoying a well deserved break. But a few of us are still taking summer classes. While I’m busy studying for physics in the upcoming weeks, I’m going to try to write some new blogs every so often. Some topics I’m going to cover include how to shop at Walmart (if you have to), ethical clothing companies, and the role of technology in globalization of markets.

David Axe


Latest Developments in Labor Relations

So, have we seen any recent developments in the news about labor relations? Yes, in fact.
Perhaps the year’s biggest news on this topic came April 9, when the University of Wisconsin-Madison (usually referred to as Wisconsin) decided to end its licensing agreement with Nike over worker rights concerns.
The university wanted an explanation from Nike of why it closed two factories in Honduras without paying severance to workers. When Nike refused to address the issue, it violated Wisconsin’s code of conduct for companies making products with the university brand.
This is a very big development because of how Nike dominates the college sports world. Athletic departments earn lots of money for big schools like Wisconsin as long as the teams are successful. To have good teams, you must recruit good athletes. The sad but true fact is that a surprising number of athletes choose a college based on its uniform contract; in most cases, they want to wear Nike products. Actually, Kent State recently signed a football uniform contract with Nike because they were losing recruits solely due to having uniforms made by New Balance.
For Wisconsin to but worker rights over athletic success is very impressive and shows the strength of organizations like United Students Against Sweatshops.
One other piece of good news came in April from Wham-O, which is known for making popular toys like the Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Slip ‘N Slide and Super Ball. Wham-O had moved its manufacturing to five Chinese factories in January 2006, but has decided to move much of it back to the United States specifically because of labor relations.
Also, during a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I learned about the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, which works to improve workers’ rights in the Northwest United States. NWJP formed in 2004 and currently prioritizes a campaign against wage theft. An example of wage theft is a contractor hiring a day laborer, sending him or her miles away to work for a day and abandoning him or her there to find his or her own way home. More common forms of wage theft include not paying a worker for overtime or not giving a worker his or her final paycheck after he or she leaves the job.
While the NWJP focuses mainly on the state of Oregon, wage theft is an issue across the United States and results in workers having billions of dollars stolen from them every year. The most reported cases of wage theft come from industries like agriculture, poultry processing, janitorial services, restaurant work, garment manufacturing, long term care, home health care and retail.
Interfaith Worker Justice runs a website that posts a few new wage theft news articles every day at wagetheft.org, and its main website, iwj.org, has a Workers Center Directory where workers can get help for unfair workplace treatment. Organizations are trying to collaborate nationally more than ever so that they can easier educate the nation on campaigns to improve conditions for workers. I invite you to look at IWJ’s various campaigns, which also include affirming the right to join unions and urging Wal-Mart to provide more benefits to its employers.

By: Jody Michael

Unethical Companies: McDonald’s

Mostly everyone will enjoy McDonald’s every once in a while, even if you aren’t a fan of fast food. While the food may be cheap, it may come at more of a cost to the environment and the global economy than one might think.

McDonald’s has a negative impact on the environment in more ways than one. Aside from the pollution from factories where the food is produced, the unusable waste from nearly all the food they sell, and the massive amounts of power and energy that are required to keep all of the branches up and running, this corporation is destroying natural rain forests. According to http://www.dmoz.org/Society/Issues/Business/Allegedly_Unethical_Firms/McDonald’s/, McDonald’s likes to purchase their meat from privatised farms, which is not a problem in and of itself. The conflict arises when these privatised farmlands are built on the land where a lush rainforest once resided. So not only is McDonald’s polluting our air, but they are destroying a large part of what would help to clean it out. The trees that are levelled do more than just clean the air, though. They are also homes to thousands of animals that are likely killed or made homeless as the trees are torn down. This is not exactly a healthy step in making our world a better place.

The people at McDonald’s treat their employees no better than they treat our environment. McDonald’s staff are frequently underpaid for the amount of time that they work (which often extends into illegal amounts of labour hours), get little to no benefits along with this gross underpayment, and are oftentimes forced to work in unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. The farmers from which they get their food are also generally underpaid for the amount of produce and meat which they sell to the corporation, particularly considering the cost that many of these farms have regarding the environment and health of the farm workers.

McDonald’s claims to give back to the community and the environment by working with schools and local organisations, but what they repay isn’t nearly enough to cover the damages that they’ve caused.
By: Jennifer Reese

What Constitutes as an Unethical Company?

Ethics has often been a touchy subject, as it is almost completely based upon one’s opinions. This blog does not necessarily deal with all questions of ethics. For our purposes, we will simply be talking about moral and immoral decisions on the part of corporations and, to a lesser extent, those of the consumer.

A company, in the context of this blog, is categorised as ethical or unethical based upon their treatment of their employees those who are paid to make parts of whatever product they might sell and of the environment.

Many companies will attempt to portray an environmentally sound and economically prudent façade, as well as that of a friendly working situation. They may do this through the use of commercials, being locally and globally “active” to help the environment or those in need, or any other number of devious means of advertisement. However, that is not always the case, and this sort of propaganda is usually spread to make the companies look good, endorse the product, or generally encourage people to buy the product.. The majority of these companies pay their workers minimum wage, and pay the people who provide them with the means to make their products even less. The company will hire someone to find the cheapest way to make a certain portion of their product, and often that means paying someone in a foreign country less than a dollar a day to make hundreds or thousands of the same things for nine or more hours a day. These people, along with the continental employees, are often subjected to poor and unsanitary working environments, and are provided few (if any) benefits to help them keep up with bills and the general costs of daily life on these low salaries. The toll that these companies are taking on the environment is not much better. Rainforests are destroyed, factories spew out massive amounts of smog and other pollutants into our air, and small homes, local businesses, natural reservoirs, etc. are taken over, just so that the corporations may have a little more room to expand business and make more products, so that they may continue to make a huge profit by spending as little as they can on labour and the people whom they employ.

It would be hard to consider anyone who engaged in such activities to be “ethical.” And that is why, for the sake of this blog, that is the standard definition of an unethical company.
By: Jennifer Reese

Do Ethical Companies Exist?

Being an ethical business in the world we live in today is almost impossible. It is difficult in our capitalistic economy, where more profit equals more success, to be ethical with the constant pressure to succeed. Many companies will throw away their morals, so they can be more successful, which means exploiting as many people as possible. This is how capitalism works; the rich take advantage of the workers because the only way to make profit is by taking advantage of human labor. Corporate owners will employ workers for the cheapest price possible until they can find labor in another country that is more profitable. This is why large companies build new plants in foreign countries because they can make the most profit by making these workers work long hours in poor working conditions for below minimum wage. This is one of the main problems with our society today because we, the consumers, do not realize what we are buying and where we are buying it from. As consumers, we have to be conscious about what we buy.

There are some businesses that try to follow ethical procedures, and the purpose of this article is to highlight these businesses as positive role models for other businesses to follow. The purpose of a business should not be to make the most products at low quality to maximize revenue. The purpose of a business is to give our society what it needs through fair practices while making only a minimal profit. An ethical business should follow these standards. First, the employer should promote a workforce that is educated in their field of work and give their workers good conditions to work in and fair salaries. The investors should be ensured that their money is safe. The consumer should have complete information about the products, and how it was made. The business should not cheat in any way to get an unfair advantage over the competition, and all unlawful activities such as bribing should be discouraged. Finally, industries should try to minimize pollution and abide by government rules and regulations. Unethical businesses of course overlook most if not all of these rules and regulations.

Organizations should realize the positive effects of being ethical, humane, and considerate. It is not surprising that most of these ethical companies have a competitive edge in the market. A more ethical business in theory should attract more and better workers. Some of the ethical businesses to name a few are the following: FPL Group, AFLAC, New Balance, The Hartford, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Marriot, and IKEA. The following information was provided by http://ethisphere.com/worlds-most-ethical-companies-rankings/. Buy a pair of New Balance shoes instead of buying shoes from Nike that were made in a sweatshop. Unethical businesses should follow the example of these ethical businesses, which are just as successful because of their principled standards. As consumers if we buy more products from ethical companies then maybe the money driven unethical companies will get the hint. This is my challenge to you, think about your individual purchasing power and make a difference. Buy from ethical businesses.

Unions and Globalization

The relationship between businesses and unions has been tedious at best, both in the United States and on an international scale. Despite the creation of labour laws as well as the formation of national and international labour organizations, employees still find themselves at the leniency of their employers. And, in an increasingly globalized world where companies are investing more and more in foreign markets, it becomes a substantial challenge to monitor labour rights and treatment, let alone human rights violations. This growing interconnectedness between business industries finds itself at the fore-front of international labour disputes.

Nationally within the US, there has been a constant struggle by unions for greater pro-union legislation as well as more stringent monitoring and prosecution of companies who try to prevent workers’ rights to freedom of association. Under the National Labor Relations Act (otherwise known as the Wagner Act) passed in 1935, “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing…”(http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/29/usc_sup_01_29_10_7_20_II.html). This part, referred to as an employee’s Section 7 rights, allows those who wish to form a union to do so but also for those who are part of a non-union company the right to “…engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…”  (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/29/usc_sup_01_29_10_7_20_II.html ). Meaning, they have the ability to discuss and protest issues that deal with their hours, wages and working conditions. Working for American unions are the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (A.F.L.-C.I.O.), which has about 11 million members and the Change to Win federation, representing more than 5 million workers, among others. Roughly 16 million American workers are in labor unions, though the percentage of unionized workers has declined.

Recently stated in a New York Times article… “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12.4 percent of the American work force belonged to a union in 2008, down from 35 percent in the 1950s.” (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/l/labor/index.html?scp=1&sq=national%20labor%20relations%20act&st=cse). The author also notes the large disparity between the private and public sector as it relates to unionization rates (7.6% vs 36.8% in ‘08) which is not a particularly new trend but still markedly different. Reasons given for the lessening percentages have been that “…companies have closed many unionized operations and moved them overseas and [that] many employers have grown more sophisticated in beating back unionization efforts” (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/l/labor/index.html?scp=1&sq=national%20labor%20relations%20act&st=cse). There is also the contention that, since conditions for the growing work force have improved since WWII, there is not such a strong need for union representation.

The author further comments on this affect of globalization by providing the example of the 1980’s growth within the Japanese economy and auto industry and how it placed pressure on US auto manufacturers. He also points out how the low cost of labour in China as well as the booming information technology industry in India has encouraged many companies to outsource jobs. “The movement of so many jobs to the developing world has lifted living standards in many once-impoverished countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but has raised concerns that workers in some of those countries toil in sweatshop conditions”. (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/l/labor/index.html?scp=1&sq=national%20labor%20relations%20act&st=cse). Such labour problems as outsourcing have also been proven an issue in Europe.

Internationally, there has been a similar push for unions. Not only in developed countries but in those considered as having an emerging market economy, there are organizations working, globally, on behalf of workers, employers and governments. One such organization, that has this tripartism approach, is the International Labour Organization (ILO). Within this is the International Trade Union Confederation which, itself, is comprised of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) and eight other national trade union organizations. Organizers wanted “…to give workers a stronger voice in meeting the challenges of globalization and allow the union movement to remain…” an essential contributor within the “economic climate” (http://www.ilo.org/public/english/region/ampro/cinterfor/news/press49.htm). Its efforts’ focus on improving productivity as well as working conditions, outcomes which will ultimately provide better quality products without sacrificing employees well being. “The ITUC’s primary mission is the promotion and defence of workers’ rights and interests, through international cooperation between trade unions, global campaigning and advocacy within the major global institutions” (http://www.global-unions.org/spip.php?rubrique12). The most encompassing though, is that of Global Unions which is, basically, the collection of all international trade union organizations. All such organizations under this group “…share a common determination to organize, to defend human rights and labour standards everywhere, and to promote the growth of trade unions for the benefit of all working men and women and their families” (http://www.global-unions.org/spip.php?rubrique25).

A problem arises with union intervention on a national and international stage in combating globalization. Because the issue or more so, the effects of globalization are so hotly contested, the idea of a nation industrializing under (for lack of a better word) the constraints of union laws and practices does not provide foreseeable outcomes. So, if one is to argue that developing nations today that are industrializing are in a way “catching up,” then the presence of unions will hamper that process. The US, Russia, parts of Europe, etc. did not formerly industrialize with unions present, let alone stringent labour laws. But, as mentioned before, not only is the argument that globalization will allow for countries’ development purported but it is also disputed. So, in that situation, labour unions would serve well at protecting employees, if not from the workers’ own countries, then from international interests.

But if the matter is international solidarity for the cause of social justice, then the efforts of labour union organizations may effectively be no different than the proponents of globalization who contend that it is an increasing international solidarity for the means of economic equaling.

For more information on globalization and/or unions, visit www.wto.org, www.global-unions.org, www.ilo.org

By: Monique Brunatti

What is an ethical consumer?

Some of you may have wandered onto this page, wondering what exactly is an ethical footprint, or what it means to be an ethical consumer. You have come to the right place. As all of the members of this blog, we have been studying about postcolonialism this year, and have learned a great amount of knowledge about colonialism, globalization, and ethical consumerism. Through this class we have become more conscious of the world around us, as consumers, but mainly as human beings.

During this class we have discussed what it means to be an ethical consumer. we have learned many different things from our professor, Dr. Massod Raja, who happens to be a very ethical consumer. Many of his clothes were either purchased from second hand stores, or directly from his native country, Pakistan. We have learned that it is possible to buy food that is also grown ethically. Our professor has told us that shopping at farmer’s markets is one way of finding food that was ethically grown. After learning about his ethical ways, we decided that our class project should be a blog informing people of ways they can help the environment and the people who produce every little product we use.

An ethical footprint is a way of measuring how much of an ethical consumer you are. In this blog, we will be trying to inform the people that happen to stop by here about ways that will help reduce their ethical footprint. While looking for definitions of what an ethical consumer is, I found very few good definitions, but one stood out above all:

“An ‘ethical consumer’ looks for products which, above all, are both friendly to the environment and also the people who produce them. An ethical consumer is therefore aware of the consequences of production, consumption and disposal. They have clear expectations of how they expect a company to behave and expect ethical companies to conform to ethical standards” (Marketing Profs).

With this definition in mind, your idea of what is ethical and non-ethical can be completely different from someone else’s idea. Your idea of what is ethical will most likely be affected by your own ethics, customs and values. In our opinion, ethical consumerism involves the public having the knowledge of how the products they consume on a daily basis are made and sold. Many of the other students in my class have given good examples of stores and companies that are ethical and non-ethical.

We believe that there are many people that would try to be more ethical consumers, once they were informed of the things that go on in this world. There are links on this page that will help you gain the knowledge about products. As I was looking for definitions of what an ethical consumer is, I came upon a website that rates different companies based on how ethical they are. There are about 170 buyer’s guide comparisons that you can subscribe to with a subscriber’s fee (www.ethiscore.org). On this same website, there are a few reports that are actually free to the public. There is actually a magazine from the UK, that also gives good ideas on how to be a more ethical and green consumer (www.ethicalconsumer.org). The only downside to these websites, as is true with many others, is that you have to pay for this knowledge.

By: Agata Jagusztyn