Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shoes with a Dignity - Fair Labor

Workers at the Seagate Wuxi China Factory

The next time you purchase a pair of shoes made in another country, imagine finding a hand-written note in the box – a note written by the person who made your shoes, describing the abusive working conditions that resulted in the creation of your purchase. As CNN recently reported, that is exactly what happened to a lady in Oregon in 2011 after purchasing a Halloween decoration from a Kmart store.[1]

Our world is becoming increasingly smaller through global supply chains. In addition, we rely even more on goods that are produced in other parts of the world. Ensuring that labor practices are fair and basic human rights are recognized becomes increasingly harder for companies to regulate. If the host country is not active in protecting workers from abuse, who does that responsibility fall on? The producers, the suppliers, the customers?

Is There Anybody Out There?

There are currently no formal international regulations that address labor rights nor is there an international governing body to ensure suppliers are utilizing fair labor standards. The International Labour Organization is a branch of the United Nations that creates labor standards. However, these are merely guidelines and recommendations to be used by countries that ratify them.

What Can Be Done?

Multi-national companies can take a big role in helping to protect labor rights. Big name companies can write into their contracts with suppliers fair labor rules that must be abided by. The threat of the company terminating the contract may be enough for suppliers to adhere to the labor rules.

We, as consumers, can also ensure that the products we purchase are made in favorable conditions. Become a conscious consumer by knowing where your goods come from and only purchase from reputable companies that source goods from suppliers that adhere to fair labor practices. You can utilize non-profits, like the Fair Labor Association, to seek companies that follow fair labor standards. Additionally, some packaging might advertise fair labor standards. The enjoyment of new pair of shoes, a new gadget or food should not come at the expense of the person’s dignity who produced it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Food, Your Problem

Soybean fields in Brazil
Ensuring enough food to feed the world requires a global effort. However, accomplishing this huge feat should not come at the cost of other’s well being. Increasingly, countries rely on global supply chains to meet the food demands of their own population. People in China rely heavily on soybeans grown in Brazil as a source of protein (an overwhelming percentage goes to feed livestock, which humans then eat). China does not have enough land to meet its own demand, nor does it have adequate amount of water resources. As China’s population grows and middle class grows, this demand will only increase. Brazil has both the land and adequate water resources necessary to meet the growing demand of China. However, in doing so, unless adequately managed, meeting the needs of China could come at the cost of Brazil.

Brazilian soybean production has risen drastically in recent years. Between 1989 and 2009, soybean production grew from 20 million tons to 63 million tons. Soybean production has grown an average of 8% between 2000 and 2010. Additionally, in between 2000 and 2009, Brazilian soybean exports to China rose from 16% (1.8 million tons) of total soy exports to 56% (15.9 million tons). From a land perspective, predictions show an increase in farmland from 21.5 million hectares to 26.5 million hectares by 2019.[1]

What do all of these numbers mean? Basically, Brazil is growing a lot of soybeans and will be growing more soybeans to meet the rising demand in China and elsewhere. This will require even more land than is currently in soybean production. Where does this agriculture land come from? Almost half of the 5 million hectares increase is predicted to come from the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which is abundant in pastureland that can be converted to soybean production. More than half of Mato Grosso is comprised of the Amazon rainforest. As soybean production increases in this region, efforts must ensure that the increasing pressures of cropland aren’t causing deforestation within the Amazon, whether from deforestation for cropland or deforestation for pastureland.[2] Essentially, meeting growing demands must be met in a sustainable manner.

The impacts of deforestation include the loss of Amazonian habitat and biodiversity, the release of CO2 emissions from a once forested carbon sink, soil erosion and nutrient runoff, species fragmentation and water pollution. This can affect local, indigenous tribes and have more globalized effects, as well. Already, deforestation within the Amazon region averaged 1.95 million hectares/year from 1996 to 2005.[3]

Multinational corporations, governments, NGOs, farmers and indigenous peoples must collaborate in order to ensure that global supply chains are not having negative effects on the producing country. Some strategies already in use include government regulations, establishment of protected areas, incentives to producers and suppliers and certification of products.

For more information, check out the source materials below.

[1] Brown-Lima, Carrie, Melissa Cooney, David Cleary. “An overview of the Brazil-China soybean trade and its strategic implications for conservations.” 2010. The Nature Conservancy. 8 February. soybeanatrade.pdf. 
[2] Greenpeace (2006). Eating up the Amazon. Amsterdam, Greenpeace International.

[3] Nepstad, D. et al. (2009). "The End of Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon." Science (4 DECEMBER): 1350-1351.
Photo Credit:

Sunday, October 6, 2013


This is a forum to discuss my thoughts on the link between humans and the environment - in every day lives, locally and globally. Feel free to comment and thanks for reading.