Did you know that billions in public tax dollars now perpetuate and subsidize sweatshops and child labor abuses? Incredibly, public school district, city, state and other government agencies across the country routinely purchase goods such as law enforcement uniforms, computers, office supplies and sporting goods that were made by sweatshop labor.

Global competition requires that countries vying for foreign investment keep their production costs low and so many of these countries have fallen into the habit of reducing worker protections in order to entice multinational corporations to set up factories in their countries. The penny-pinching corporate habit of seeking “discount bargains” has now spread to the consumer market and it is creating a fatal squeeze on factory owners and their employees. The result is forced overtime, low wages, punishments and fines for slow work and mistakes, worker intimidation, child labor, and other abuses—otherwise known as sweatshop conditions.

According to the United Nations Human Development Reports for 2002 and 2003, extreme poverty and hunger, after decreasing in the 1970s and 1980s, have both been increasing in the 1990s, particularly in countries that have adopted the one-size-fits-all World Trade Organization rules for trade and economic development. (The United Nations argues that policy changes, not charity, are necessary to overcome poverty).[1]

Sweater: employer who underpays and overworks his employees, especially a contractor for piecework in the tailoring trade. ( Standard Dictionary of the English Language, 1895)

Sweatshop: A usually small manufacturing establishment employing workers under unfair and unsanitary conditions. (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1993) Read the rest of this entry »

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“A purely reductionist science, biotechnology reduces all life to bits of information (genetic code) that can be arranged and rearranged at whim.”  –Ronnie Cummins, Campaign for Food Safety & Organic Consumers Association

What are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

Through genetic engineering, an organism’s DNA can be manipulated to highlight a desired trait- for example, the gene for drought resistance or pest resistance can be isolated in one organism and transferred to the target organism to produce a plant that now has an internal genetic resistance to drought or particular pests. This could and has been accomplished for thousands of years through traditional plant breeding methods, but proponents claim that genetic engineering speeds up and makes more precise this process through bioengineering. It should be noted that the majority of the scientific community opposing genetic engineering stress the fact that we would need to understand completely the processes of ecology, genetics and biology before ensuring that we can understand and anticipate all of the effects of creating, growing and consuming genetically engineered foods. This requires numerous, lengthy and rigorous testing of these products before placing on grocery store shelves for consumers. The most extensive studies have been done by the biotech corporations themselves and they are not sharing with the consuming public- and are not required to currently, as those findings are protected by law as confidential business information.

The most famous of genetically modified organisms thus far is Monsanto’s Bt gene being used in corn and cotton plants. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacteria that produces insect larvae lethal crystal proteins. This integration of the Bt genes into the corn allows the corn to produce its own pesticide, specifically against the European corn borer (Whitman, p.1).

Some food for thought… Read the rest of this entry »

For centuries the success of a community has depended on their ability to navigate the delicate process of sustainable food gathering and production. The Mesopotamian culture learned this lesson when the once rich soils became over irrigated, water logged and salinated. Rome destroyed the fertility of its North African provinces’ land due to over cultivation of grain, which resulted in desertification, soil erosion, watershed depletion and food supply depletion. Egypt seemed to be one of the only regions to dodge unsustainable agricultural practices, that is until industrial agriculture and the Aswan dam destroyed that delicate balance that had been maintained. Egypt, once self-sufficient, now imports 40% of its grain stocks.

During Columbus’ second visit to the America’s he brought with him sugar cane – this was an extremely rare and valuable commodity on the European market (they were addicted to tea!) and their diet. It was cultivated on plantations throughout the West Indies and north-east Brazil and became one of the major staples of the gruesome triangular trade between Africa, the Caribbean, etc. and Europe. This success of this trade system and the resulting capital accumulation of European markets relied on the slave labor of stolen Africans and the ripe, fertile land of the Caribbean and the Americas. Agriculture was transformed from a subsistence method of food production and survival to a commodity production method for a capitalist cash economy. It was the beginning of communities forced to work the land. That same land today is some of the most destroyed in those regions and the native populations are some of the most impoverished in the world.

“The extraction of surplus from the land, its forests, its plant and mineral wealth, was crucial to capital accumulation on a world scale. And it was accompanied by the exploitation, both direct and indirect, of the women and men of peasant and forest dwelling communities throughout the world.”[1] Read the rest of this entry »

Plastic… waste is not just a national problem in the US, it’s a national disgrace… America faces a growing mountain of plastic… waste with all of the resulting social and environmental consequences.” -Pat Franklin, Executive Director of the Container Recycling Institute in Washington, DC.[1]

Every year, about 300 billion pounds of plastic is produced around the world, and only a fraction is recycled. Despite the convenience and durability plastics afford our lives on-the-go, its overall impact on our health and the planet are far too dangerous to ignore any longer. Research has found that specific kinds of plastics (petroleum-based) leach dangerous chemicals into foods they comes into contact with and the manufacturing and disposal of these products are laying waste to our communities, health and planet.

In this article you’ll find information on:

Plastic Myths

American Annual Plastics Statistics

Plastics Most-Wanted List

Most Dangerous Plastic Marked #7

Plastic Health Risks

Do you know what your plastic cutlery is made of?

Plastic Environmental Impacts

The Skinny on Bioplastics

Alternatives and Solutions

Do you know about the North Pacific Garbage Patch?

Read the rest of this entry »

Oral History of Jean D.*

“We seek beyond history for a new and more possible meeting.” –Audre Lorde

This is a retelling of  Jean D.’s story in an adaptive form. In the way that the Indian Shakta tradition has reclaimed their history by adapting the Bhagavad Gita to a form more comprehensive and pertinent to their particular experience in the form of the Devi Mahatmya and the Devi Gita. I have decided not to include certain factors in this retelling, such as race, for Jean’s ancestry is European American and this is just her story. Other factors have also been left out due to length of this project and the complexity of the interconnectedness of all of them, this project would become infinite (issues such as occupation by invasion and immigration). Mary McGee described stories such as this as “women-centered” stories in her essay, “The Virtuous Hindu Woman as Icon and Agent.” She also agrees with A.K. Ramanujan, who asserts, “that women’s tales ‘present an alternative way of looking at things. Genders are genres. The world of women is not the world of men’”. In this way, women become significant agents in defining morals and consequently bringing about change. The deviant behavior that results (according to the contemporary social norms) is backed up with moral justifications- the benefit of their families, friends, etc. The adaptive history can be very useful in empowering women to change their own perceptions of the “ideal woman” and in turn change similarly held perceptions of women by men. In essence, “the icon (ideal woman as represented in the story) becomes agent” (McGee 1994: 4).Although the women in Jean’s family are strong within the context of contemporary social ideology, I did not wish to create conflict between their adaptive and historical stories. Instead I wanted to impart on them even more strength in the form of divine power as expressed in their roles as the centerpieces of their families, as mothers, daughters and wives.

“…it is undeniable that the male symbolism of deity has been a major contributor to the exclusion of women from positions of respect and authority in Western society and religion.” –Rita Gross Read the rest of this entry »

Female Sacred Sources of Empowerment: Indian Hindu Women Full of Strength and Power Since Time Immemorial

Women, Religion and Social Change; New College of California; Fall 2004 Research Paper

What is feminism? What is the women’s movement? Is it a frill? Another aspect of individualism? An imperialistic western product? It is none of these things…The woman’s movement is a major, global and most profound shift in both human relations and thinking in modern times. Who is thinking and acting? It is the women who are at the bottom of the social structure. Margaret Mead, the eminent anthropologist, when asked about the most important periods of human development in all history, identified four such periods: …evolution; …ice age; …industrialization; …and —the period of the Woman’s Movement. After these periods nothing was the same again, she said. What is changing? Everything! When women begin to move, the whole social structure begins to shift!…Going to the great religions of the world, she [woman] finds her experience there largely encapsulated in man’s language and patriarchal structures…What, then, do women really want?  They seek to reclaim their lived experiences in past history in all fields of knowledge. They want their experience to be part of the present. Finally, they want to ensure that their lives and experiences will be included and counted significantly in a vision of a better world for the future…to see their experiences and contributions become an integral part of the world knowledge and a dynamic for structural change in human relations and social justice. -Frances Maria Yasas, “Woman Reclaiming Her Experience”

The Goddess, in Hindu religious tradition, encompasses both creative and destructive capacities, and as a myth model for women this duality serves as both a divine role model and an immanence to be experienced here on Earth.[1] The Goddess’ presence plays such a vital and essential role in women’s lives in India, I believe, because of some of the cultural obstacles they face on a daily basis. Vedantic law in general, the Laws of Manu, the Stridharmapaddhati and the Yatidharmaprakasa are just a few of the texts that place restrictive measures on all aspects of women’s lives. For example, in these texts, women are not to do things independently of their fathers or husbands; spiritual independence cannot be achieved even when a woman has devoted herself to a ‘proper’ life as a wife; there are six conditions that assist in a woman’s descent into hell: recitation of sacred texts (japa), performance of austerities (tapas), going on pilgrimage, renunciation, mantra chanting and deity worship (temple worship is included in this) and the only auspicious way to perform these things is to meditate on her husband as God, meditate on his deity of choice, assist with any of his ritual duties, and so on.[2] Although the West assumes that these laws are strictly adhered to, there is evidence of popular alternative stories, myths, scripture and female leaders in Hindu culture that show that women are not always willing to emulate the static icons of traditional womanhood. Read the rest of this entry »

Surge of Non-Profits After WWII

On the subject of volunteering, Susan J. Ellis, who wrote By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers, noticed while writing the book that surges in volunteering occurred right before and after every war. She says, “Military action evokes citizen action, and such activities have been remarkably similar from war to war…the first American peace/resistance movement began at the time of the Revolutionary War” (p.1).  And on the topic of nonprofits in particular (the notion of nonprofit, here, meaning the formal organization of volunteers into a professional entity), Peter Dobkin Hall of Yale University claims there was no conscious sector of nonprofits before 1970. Before this point (just before 1950), arts and culture organizations were structured and run as for-profit entities but they eventually migrated into the nonprofit domain, with tax incentives as the main instigation for the move. Interestingly, in the area of health, hospitals before 1920 that were nonprofit, made up only a quarter of hospitals in the United States. By 1970, more than half had converted to nonprofit status, one third government run and only 12% were private. He ends his essay with, “And there’s the whole issue of the shift of nonprofits from being donative/voluntary entities to being commercial enterprises operated by management professionals” (p.1). I must admit, that that is as far as I could get with respect to finding information on the history of nonprofits. I tried to research this by using other key words, such as “philanthropic organizations,” “history of nonprofits,” etc. That I could not find much information on the general topic (there was an overload of historic summaries for individual organizations) says much in itself. There seems not to be such an interest in knowing how nonprofits came to be. Although there is an interest in researching the emotional, positive aspects of people engaged in volunteerism and nonprofit work, but not much talk is centering on the fact that many people are choosing to make this a paid way of life now. Is this indicative of the refusal to accept that we as a society are not as altruistic as in previous eras? Were we more altruistic in past eras? Are people so disconnected with their own communities, that to “effectively” engage in this type of activity requires that they receive pay to work on ways to improve other people’s lives? Who is entering the nonprofit sector as professionals? People of color? People of privilege? Poor people?  Also, as Hall points out, the nonprofit historical picture is incomplete when public universities, endowed public libraries and parks are not included in this sector.

As far as surges in the numbers of nonprofit member organizations in Interaction’s database, I found that there were two large surges of nonprofit organization creation (and/or incorporation): 1940-mid 1950’s and 1970-1980’s. Thinking back on Susan Ellis’ essay, I would have to say this makes sense with regard to the surges surrounding war, with WWII and the Vietnam War. It would be interesting to further research whether the surges during these times were international or domestic efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo was created in Argentina as a direct result of the Proceso’s (as the military regime was known to the populace) repressive environment and subsequent mass disappearances of the population. Las Madres started informally on April 30, 1977 with the first group of women gathering in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. These women were gathering because of their inability to find satisfactory answers to their questions about the disappearances of their children. They were politically inactive housewives that felt they had no other recourse but to publicly gather to demand that the government and the world pay attention to the disappearances of so many Argentinians. Many were Catholic and requested the help of the Church in addition to their pleas to the government, but found the Church to be an unwilling advocate. It remained, for much of the regime’s rule, to be an ambiguous player in the fate of the disappeared; they spoke on behalf of the families to the military but seemed unwilling to take further action. Many people turned to the humanitarian groups throughout Argentina to fill the gap.

Azucena Villaflor de De Vicenti was one of the women that became more and more enraged with the endless dead ends she was directed down by the military and the Church and the limited successes of the human rights groups. One day it occurred to her that she could take matters into her own hands and told a friend, “We are wasting our time. This is not where we must look for out children. We have to go to the Plaza de Mayo and then speak with Videla (the junta’s army commander-in-chief), because he does not know what is happening” (Eckstein 2001: 250). Villaflor knew that the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires was a significant spot because it was at the heart of the government buildings and was a very visible place because it was a favorite tourist spot. Her natural leadership continued to successfully guide and inspire women all over Argentina during the Proceso and afterward. In fact in 1979 the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (the grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) formed as a splinter group as did many other mobilization groups in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

WHO IS HUNGRY IN AMERICA?

There is a hidden epidemic in the United States. All over this country it is striking Americans of every age group and ethnicity, whether they live in cities or rural areas. And so, despite the diversity of targets, those suffering in this silent epidemic have two things in common: they are poor or low-income, and they are increasingly going without enough food. Although politicians talk about “poverty in America,” decision-makers avoid specifically mentioning the growing, and often deadly problem of hunger. George McGovern said in 1972, “To admit the existence of hunger in America is to confess that we have failed in meeting the most sensitive and painful of human needs. To admit the existence of widespread hunger is to cast doubt on the efficacy of our whole system.” Three decades later, evidence indicates that the existing system is failing a vast number of Americans. This Fact Sheet documents the epidemic.

Basic Hunger Facts Food insecurity has been described as: “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the acquisition of acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”1 Given this definition, it is estimated that 1 in 10 households in America goes hungry or is threatened by the possibility of hunger.2

  • Acccording to a Cornell University sociologist, the need to use food stamps is a common American experience that at least half of all Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 (four out of ten Americans in their adulthood) will face. 3 Of this group, 85% of African Americans will need to use food stamps.4 Of those that are eligible to use food stamps/program services, only 30% are successful in qualifying5 while of that group, only 15% of recipients report that their food stamp allotment lasts through the end of the month.6 Meanwhile, this already burdened food safety-net program which was designed to alleviate hunger and food insecurity, is under attack by threat of reduction of funding and ease of enrollment by policy makers.7
  • In 2002, 34.9 million people were food insecure, up 1.26 million from 2001. African American and Hispanic American households suffered the worst rates of hunger and food insecurity with 22% and 21.7%, respectively. Among the hungry, 39.1% are male, while 60% are female.8
  • 11.5% of rural families suffer from food insecurity; this is slightly lower than inner city areas, but significantly higher than suburban areas.9
  • Studies show that money which is devoted to food is the most elastic part of a family’s budget,10 as limited funds usually get allocated to fixed payments first, such as rent and utilities. Because of an increase in the nation’s poverty rate, this means food purchasing is the most compromised portion of the average family’s budget. So far in 2004, 35% of Americans have had to choose between food and rent, while 28% had to choose between medical care and food.11
  • Requests for emergency food aid increased by 19% in 2002; of this newly emerging rise in hungry and food insecure Americans, 48% of the recipients were families with children and 38% were adults with jobs. Due to the rise, shelters and other emergency food providers are reporting a reduction in supplies and therefore a forced reduction of number of times recipients can receive food.12
  • 63% of emergency food aid recipients hold a high school degree, as compared to the 84% overall US rate.13 Read the rest of this entry »

Compiled by Shannon Laliberte with Ambika Chawla in 2005 for Oakland Institute*

Under current law, legislators can only vote yes or no on the pact — they cannot amend it… [CAFTA] has become a referendum on broader trade policy that many House Democrats, organized labor and some Republicans believe is fueling a growing trade deficit and harming U.S. workers. The opposition, so far, has been too much for the administration to overcome. ‘I can’t see the president taking it to Congress until he has the votes. If he had the votes, he would have sent it already,… 1

CAFTA-DR (Central America- Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement) grew out of the Bush administration’s failure to advance negotiations in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), designed to extend North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras (all three have officially ratified CAFTA to date), Nicaragua and Costa Rica. On August 5, 2004, the Dominican Republic signed onto the agreement, thereby making it the Central America- Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).

CAFTA-DR promises improved worker well-being, respect for workers’ rights, as well as abundance to farmers, consumers and corporate America; additionally, proponents promise that ratification of CAFTA-DR would result in “level[ing] the playing field for American workers, farmers and businesses and strengthens democracies in our neighborhood.”2 Unfortunately that has not been the case for CAFTA-DR’s predecessor, NAFTA, whose policies have resulted in hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, Americans and Canadians losing their jobs, thousands of family farms facing foreclosure and public interest laws taking a back seat to secret NAFTA court negotiations and rulings.

The FTAA was the initial effort to expand NAFTA throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean (excluding Cuba); negotiations started directly after NAFTA was ratified in 1994 and were supposed to be finished by January 2005.3 CAFTA-DR was designed to ease the rest of the Western hemisphere into the integrated market and the Bush administration is putting increasing pressure on the countries of Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina to either amend the agreements now or be left out all together. FTAA negotiations have not been successful due to strong resistance from social movements as well as opposition from national governments throughout the continent. CAFTA-DR faces the same opposition.

Corporate America, the real beneficiary of any of the free trade agreements with the Central American countries, is anxious for Congress to approve CAFTA-DR by May of 2005; additionally, numerous ambassadors from the CAFTA countries are courting U.S. corporate interests and Congress in support of the agreement. Labor rights, human rights and environmental rights groups are just some of the organizations at the forefront of the resistance movement against the ratification of CAFTA-DR. Additional groups fighting CAFTA-DR’s ratification are the textile and sugar industries, thereby ensuring some normally pro-trade Republicans will also not support CAFTA-DR. Read the rest of this entry »