Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Water, Water, Everywhere.

It's not often that something a large corporation does gets me excited, at least not in a good way. But in the last three days I've had two experiences that make me think that there's hope for us to save the world, after all.

I had previously read an article in The Chronicle about how some universities were finding it challenging to implement certain green practices -- chiefly, trying to reduce the number of plastic water bottles thrown away on campuses everyday. Some schools were installing water bottle refilling stations, and decreasing the places where bottled water could be purchased on campus. One institution went so far as to distribute portable, reusable water bottles to all of their plant operations and facilities staff (eliminating the need for the $20k spent annually on bottled water for those employees alone!) Far out!!! I had little hope of seeing such stations on KSU's campus, however, because despite participating in a nationwide study of sustainability in higher education, KSU is a benchmark institution. (Read: KSU is signed up to participate, but doesn't actually have to take any initiatives, so that those schools who do can have their progress measured against our stagnancy.)

Being aware of this, I was so thrilled when I came across the following in the Social Sciences building earlier this week, that I had to snap a picture as proof that it was real!

One particularly nifty feature of this filling station is that it
has a counter to track the number of bottles it is keeping
from being thrown away. Clearly, it had only been recently installed, as the number was only at 9 when I took this picture. However, passing by a mere 1.5 hours later, that number was already up to 16. It had nearly doubled! Now, this is the only filling station I've seen on campus so far, but I really hope it's the beginning of a trend. I personally tend to refill my own water bottle about twice a day, on average. Just imagine, on a campus with nearly 25,000 students, faculty and staff, if only half of those people used this once a day instead of purchasing a bottle of water, how many hundreds of thousands of bottles we can eliminate from landfills, and even from the need for expensive and energy-draining recycling!!! (Ok, maybe I'm getting a little too excited about this, but is anybody with me??)

An interesting fact about that Chronicle article, though. Some of the schools who were trying to initiate measures such as these were coming up against some harsh obstacles -- in the name of corporations such as Coca-Cola who have very lucrative vending machine contracts with such institutions, and who do not want to see their profits diminish for the sake of a measly little thing like the environment. (*Ahem* Coca-Cola Crimes, part II, anyone?)

The second thing that happened this week that made me think there's hope for America is that I had the opportunity to participate in a survey for a large company (though I can't say who) that runs a major U.S. attraction and is trying to prioritize their environmental initiatives based on the feedback from their audience. Given the questions these guys were asking, they're not just talking about greenwashing, either. They're looking at some truly significant ways to make their operation more energy efficient, environmentally friendly and responsible, and to support sustainable sources and practices at every level of their operations. Some of the things they were inquiring about are really exciting. I only hope that other survey participants share my enthusiasm for what they are trying to do, and will express their support of these efforts. It just goes to show that companies will listen, if we the consumers will just speak up!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

coca-cola crimes: part 1

Since this blog has already tainted my enjoyment of coffee, chocolate, chicken, toys, technology, and clothing, I was wondering what I could add to the list of things we love to consume as United Statesians, but destroy our planet and the lives of other people around the world. What could be dearer to the hearts of Atlantans than Coca-Cola?

I most definitely limit my consumption of Coke for nutritional reasons, but have for years sung the praises of its tastiness and unquestionable superiority to Pepsi. What I’m saying is: I drink Coke. But should I? Should you? Does the Coca-Cola company have any skeletons in their closet?

As usual, I shared my desire to ruin Coke for my readers with my husband. As usual, he had something interesting and helpful to share with me: He often works at the Georgia World Congress Center, which is very close to the World of Coke museum in downtown Atlanta. He told me that he has seen an advertising truck driving around Centennial Olympic park promoting the web site and playing music and messages over loudspeakers to raise awareness about “killer coke.” Hmmm . . . Is this a health issue? Nope. To my incredible surprise, is trying to raise awareness of Coca-Cola bottling plant abuses in Guatemala and Colombia. Further research showed that coke has also created quite a few enemies in India as well. First, the story of Coca-Cola in India:

Coke opened a bottling plant in the Plachimada community in India in 2000. Since then, the companies practices have contributed (greatly) to a lack of water for the community (because Coke’s wells are sucking up all of the water) and pollution (because Coke’s waste and product are toxic). Local farmers have been affected the most. Aside from their water supply being depleted, they are being pandered to by the company by having Coke’s “toxic sludge” marketed to them as fertilizer. This “fertilizer” has been shown to contain high levels of cadmium, a carcinogen that can build up in the kidneys causing serious illness. The cadmium has now spread to the ground water as well. (More here:

The high levels of pesticides (yes, pesticides) that have been found IN the actual Coca-Cola products in this region have led many farmers to simply spray Coke on their fields rather than purchase the actual pesticides themselves! Other farmers who cannot take watching the destruction of their crops and land have simply resorted to suicide—over 20,000 farmers in Western and Southern India have commit suicide in the last ten years. Not all of these can be blamed directly or only on Coca-Cola, but the company is definitely playing a role in the devastation of this region of our planet. And while the people suffered, Coke’s profits soared since it was withdrawing the water for free and paying very little for waste disposal. (This situation is further detailed here: AIYER, A. (2007). THE ALLURE OF THE TRANSNATIONAL: Notes on Some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India Cultural Anthropology, 22, no. 4. And here:

Stay tuned for the story of violence against union organizers in Latin American bottling plants . . .

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

everything kind of sucks right now

Another old blog entry from July of 2008 that I feel fits in well here. Considering no one ever read anything I wrote back then, I am happy to repost here for your reading pleasure.

As an American who celebrated the birthday of her country the other day, I must say I am disappointed. I am disappointed in myself and in the rest of this country. I read this article:

America's Bad Mood

and at first I agreed with it. Yeah, everything kind of sucks right now. Yeah, the rest of the world despises us. Yeah, we have more than anyone else has ever had. Yeah, people are still depressed. Yup, yup, yup. But why? I can give an answer--it probably won’t be very popular. I’m giving it anyway:

We are all lazy, greedy escapists who don’t want to admit that our lush lifestyle is destroying the rest of the world. We all know it in the back of our heads, though, and so we feel empty, sad, and scared and we try to claim that we don’t know why.

Are you feeling depressed? Have you lost all joy in life?

Well maybe that is because your subconscious mind understands that while you sit in bed feeling sorry for yourself and worrying about the price of gas there are children in Africa who are starving to death or dying of AIDS. There are funerals for innocent victims of terrorism all over the world. Our own young men and women are sacrificing their lives in Iraq for you. How does that make you feel? They are there for you. So you can put gas in your car and drive to the mall and buy shit you don’t need. Aren’t you proud of them? They volunteer to go to war so they can pay for college or support their families or become citizens. Can we not offer our young people a better option? Do you think they really support the war or even understand why they are fighting it? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t--I can’t speak for them. But I can speak for myself and I say I am willing to sacrifice my lifestyle so we can end this thing. And when I say “this thing” I don’t just mean the war in Iraq. I mean the famine around the world because we are taking their corn to make ethanol, the fighting in Darfur, the AIDS epidemic, the energy crisis, pollution, global warming, poverty in our own country, the worlds’ low opinion of Americans in general. Are you willing to do that? I sincerely feel this way, which is why I label myself as a Socialist. I just don’t understand how people who live in million dollar homes that sit half empty and use thousands of dollars in energy can sleep at night. If you have more than you can use why don’t you share it with others? Now I understand saving for retirement, education, etc., but who really needs millions of dollars in boats, vehicles, electronics, property, etc.? It is ridiculous and it is destroying this country and the rest of the Earth. The decadence is disgusting. We sit in our homes and watch the horrors of the world on TV and tuck ourselves in tight and sleep soundly hoping that someone else will take care of it. Well, guess what: that ain’t gonna happen. If we don’t change our ways we are doomed. We might be doomed anyway, but we can at least try to make things better. And please don’t think I am pointing the finger at others, because I am guilty of these things myself. I don’t own a million dollar home, but I do play video games, watch satellite TV, drive my van, and buy things I don’t need. It’s my fault, too. I just wish it wasn’t.

carbon footprints were all the rage

I wrote this back in 2008 and came across it tonight. It is a diatribe on what I called "pop environmentalism." Not exactly a human rights entry, but I do think it is an interesting commentary on what we are willing to sacrifice to feed our consumerist tendencies. Enjoy:

Many people are suddenly talking and thinking about their “carbon footprints.” If you don’t’ know what that is referring to, I will paraphrase: it is the impact that your actions have on the Earth’s environment. I think it is great that people are finally thinking about their actions rather than polluting, wasting, and consuming without a second thought, but has it become just another trend? A fad? Will this conscious effort to conserve pass out of fashion with last season’s shoes? I hope not, but I already see how even the good intentions of being “green” are not so great for the planet. A few examples of pop environmentalism are telecommuting to reduce pollution and using alternative fuels in vehicles. Are these really solutions to the problems of our planet or just sound bytes that make people feel “greener?”

Living in the Atlanta area, I know what it is like to drive in traffic. And not just slight congestion and small backups at a traffic light—I’m talking stop and go traffic for 20 miles on I-75 North for hours trying to get home from the city. And that is not an anomaly, but rather the expected and everyday occurrence. Because of this and for other “environmental” reasons many people are being encouraged and are telecommuting: working from their homes, rather than driving into the city to an office. This saves fuel, time, and reduces the emissions from vehicles on the road. It also lessens the amount of repairs and maintenance needed on our roads because they are not being used by as many cars. Not driving your car to work does save you gas, but what about the energy being used to power your computer at home and at your office? What about the energy being used to cool your home and your office? What about the energy being used to power and cool the servers in the enormous building where all of your data is being stored out there in cyberspace? Because it is a real place and it is using real fuel, too. Now I do believe that working from home is a HUGE improvement to commuting to an office every day, but I am challenging you all to see that even a “green” solution is not completely without adverse effect.

And if you do need to drive your car to work every day, why not try using an alternative fuel to petroleum? How about a renewable resource—corn, for instance! Sounds great. Let’s power our cars with corn (ethanol) and we can grow more when we run out. [Cheers heard from the entire country]. CORN: solving our fuel problems, one kernel at a time. Only it isn’t. Ethanol has created a huge demand for corn, putting extreme pressure on farmers and reducing the amount available for consumption as food. This is a major problem because many people in the world rely on corn as a staple that they cannot live without. And now that we are processing it to use in our vehicles, famine is springing up all over. We are burning food in our cars. Does this sound right? I am not willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent people so I can drive back and forth to Target three times a week. Are you?

In the holy trinity of environmentalism you have: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reduce is first! REDUCE, REDUCE, REDUCE!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Going Unchecked

This is a video published by Human Rights Watch showing how Philip Morris International benefits from forced child labor. The company has been buying tobacco from farmers that abuse migrant workers and utilize child labor. It is amazing how a corporations as big as Philip Morris can go unchecked for so long without being exposed of their irresponsible behaviors. Hopefully, the company will follow through with the recommendations.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

2 Birds With One Stone (Humanely)

I have struggled, as you might have been able to tell in earlier posts, with the coffee part of this whole idea. Originally, I thought this would be the easier part. I even wondered, with my focus on more ecological human rights, that if I didn't finish the coffee I already had would prove me to be wasteful and so on. And I really thought: ya know, if I throw this coffee out that I have, I would be wasting something and would be throwing away something that someone worked incredibly hard to have in my cupboard. So, for mainly environmental reasons I finished what I had at home, coffee that wasn't fair trade.

BUT then I found out that I already had another bag of coffee that was, in fact, fair trade. A friend of mine informed of that, and said that the company absolutely refused to buy anything that wasn't a few years before and it was all over the news in the UK. So...I finished that coffee too and felt better about it than the first batch. When I ran out is when the rubber truly hit the road for me.

I usually shop at Publix despite their anti-union this or that, and they are the closest to where I live. I was convinced I didn't have to drive 30 mins away to a farmers market or a whole foods just to find fair trade coffee. I was right!

It wasn't easy though. A few employees looked at me like I was nuts when I asked them if they had fair trade coffee. I even had one tell me, "Sorry, we don't carry that 'brand.'" I had to explain... I was told by multiple people that they didn't carry it, whether it was a "brand" or not. I scanned and scanned the coffee aisle looking for, trying to distinguish by color or design of the bag which one would be fair trade or organic or something--anything other than the usual.

Hilariously enough, I found that Publix's Greenwise coffee is both organic AND fair trade! My roommate was ready to kill me and sneak a can of Maxwell house in my cart just to get me out of there. I realized that I was "killing 2 birds with one stone" to use a (less humane) colloquialism. I realized that I am able to ensure that I satisfy both of my goals: of supporting the environment and supporting the labor of those who produce the products we buy in a fair and reasonable way!

Also, the whole idea that buying organic and fair trade is impracticable and expensive is, frankly, a whole bunch of BS. The coffee was on sale too! The only disappointing part was that the Publix employees had no idea that they carried it and that it was their own brand that was the only one that was fair trade certified.

I must say that the first cup of my organic and fair trade coffee was incredible. I bought it whole bean and ground it up at home. It smelled great and really was quite exciting. It was good to know that I was enjoying a product of someone else's labor in which they were getting adequately compensated--the living conditions acceptable, possibly making education a reality, and being able to put food on someone's table. At least, I hope that if I have to have my coffee, it shouldn't come at the cost of someone else's poverty. Still, I feel myself and others still have a long way to go.

I hope that by sharing this more personal story, that others can realize it as a reality and that inaction is only a perpetuation of the conditions as they are.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

the cost of apple

My friend, Alex’s response to my last blog post (via Facebook) led me to read about Foxconn—an electronics company owned by the Taiwanese group Hon Hai—and working conditions at their Shenzen, China “plant.” I put “plant” in quotations marks because this place is more like a city than a factory. About 300,000 people work in this location and live on the campus or very close by.

There are several interesting aspects of this situation.

First, Foxconn is a major provider of Apple products. They also supply Dell and HP and many others. But they are Apple’s primary source of products and Apple is their largest client. The company has had complaints against it in the past, resulting in an audit of the company by Apple: All in all, the audit was pretty positive and it sounded as if all the problems that were occurring at the time would be rectified shortly. That was in 2006.

On the surface, the Foxconn campus looks like a super-cool college dorm, except instead of going to class, you work incredibly long hours (more on that in a minute).

Click on the link below to view more pictures of the Foxconn “plant.”

The line workers at Foxconn were, until recently, paid China’s minimum wage: $140 per month. Most of the workers make over double that, though, through CONSTANT OVERTIME. This is not “forced” overtime, but without it, these people are only bringing in $140/month! So, for what it costs an American to buy one iPhone, a Chinese worker has to put in crazy overtime for one month. And according to that Apple audit in 2006: “The single largest complaint (approximately 20% of interviewed workers) was the lack of overtime during non-peak periods.”

Foxconn’s employees are working incredibly hard. Unfortunately, some of them have not been able to handle the stress and since the beginning of 2010, ten workers have commit suicide. Following is an excellent look at the current situation by the Financial Times:

It is obvious that even with the amenities, free housing, and opportunities for overtime and advancement, the repetitive work is not satisfactory to many employees. What can Foxconn do to make its workers happier? The company has decided to increase wages by about 20% for most employees. And as a result of this, Foxconn is raising its prices to Apple, etc. (All the boring business details here: )

So, what do you all think? Is raising salaries going to stop people from committing suicide? Do you think people were killing themselves because they didn’t think they were making enough money? What else could/should Foxconn do to increase worker satisfaction? Is Foxconn’s treatment of their workers a human rights concern? Is it a violation of Chinese human rights that their labor is worth so much less than American’s? Is this communism’s fault? Is this capitalism’s fault? What say you?