Green Claims in Europe

Green Claims

The last few years we saw an increasing amount of environmental (or ‘green’) claims and labels appearing on the products in several sorts of shops. As a consumer they looked interesting and could have been a guide to choose better or environmental better products. Those Green claims also could enable businesses to highlight the environmental impact and qualities of products and services to help consumers make informed buying choices. For the businesses it can also enhance their reputation and demonstrate that they are acting responsibly to their consumers, business partners and regulators by providing credible information. Often these actions can steer the market towards products with a reduced environmental impact.

But there comes the angle. To my regret I got sting a few times as well.  As a consumer preferring to buy biological and environmental safe products, I also spend some times more money in buying a labelled cacao product. But three years ago I saw the first documentary on those labelled chocolates, what they promised to do for the children of those regions, the farmers and for nature. Then it was shown that those companies did not fulfil their promises and three years later the documentary makers checked it again and showed us how desolate the schoolbuildings in construction still were and children were still working on the plants.

Environmental claims and labels

As consumer we do expect environmental claims and labels to be credible but some research proved that several brands are not respecting ethical codes and are misusing the labels to mislead the consumers.

The latest EU opinion poll shows that a slim majority (54%) of the 25,000 respondents to the Eurobarometer report, released on Friday 5 July “sometimes” buy environmentally-friendly products, though 80% of Europeans are concerned by the environmental impact of their purchases.

Large majorities of EU citizens believe both that buying environmentally-friendly products can make a difference to the environment (89%) and that environmentally-friendly products are as effective as regular products (74%).

There is strong agreement across the EU about the ethics of environmentally-friendly products: 95% of respondents agreed that using environmentally products is ‘the right thing to do’, 91% agreed that buying environmentally-friendly products sets a good example and 80% agreed that their family and friends would think it was a good thing if they used environmentally-friendly products.

Availability

Just over than half of EU citizens think that environmentally-friendly products are easily available in shops (54%) and a similar proportion believe that it is easy to differentiate environmentally-friendly products from other products (51%). Environmentally-friendly products were most likely to be seen as easily available in Sweden (81%) and least in Estonia (40%).

Respondents who do not buy environmentally-friendly products but intend to, are significantly less likely to believe that environmentally-friendly products are easily available compared with those who sometimes buy them (42% versus 54%). This suggests that environmentally friendly products should be more carefully presented so that they could be more easily differentiated from other products.

Statements about the environment

Around a third of EU citizens believe that concerns about the environment are exaggerated (37%). Bulgarian respondents are most likely to share this view (48%), with Slovenians least likely to believe this (16%).

Around two-thirds of EU citizens (66%) are fully or fairly confident that products indicated as environmentally-friendly will cause less damage to the environment than other products.

Confidence that products labelled environmentally-friendly are less harmful to the environment is highest in Portugal (84%), Malta (82%), France (81%) and Belgium (81%). However,  confidence is significantly lower in Germany (44%), Romania (46%) and the Netherlands (47%). Confidence is close to the EU average in Croatia (68%).

Disaster to wake up the West

Bangladesh Rana Plaza factory disaster

Bangladesh eight-story commercial building Rana Plaza factory disaster on 24 April 2013

About half of Europeans would be willing to change their purchasing habits for environmental reasons but feel they lack information and distrust manufacturers’ green claims. With the documentaries screened in the previous months no wonder consumers are going to mistrust the manufactures more. The Rana Plaza factory disaster in Savar, a sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area, the capital of Bangladesh with brands like Benetton, Joe Fresh, Mango, Matalan, Zara, Bonmarché,  and H&M first denying that they did business with the company which brought so many people (1,127-1,300) into death and 2,500 injured, makes you question even more. The Australian television showing enough letters of Benetton and Mango to that slave company, owned by Sohel Rana, allegedly a leading member of the local Jubo League, letting those people working for a few dollars per month while charging their western customers tens to hundreds of dollars for just one piece (cfr. the Children’s Place, El Corte Inglés, Primark, Walmart). Why where they not honest straight ahead? According to me that proofs that they new those companies were not kosher. It was the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry, but when you hear how many fires there were last month in factories with bars in front of the windows showing how trapped like in a prison those workers are.

Ignored problems and hard times

Before the accident there had been an “electrical problem” and large cracks were showing up. The frightened labourers did not want to enter the building again, but they had to go back, being told if they did not they would loose their job. With wooden sticks they were even beaten to go back into the building to find a few hours later their worst nightmare.

Teargas, live ammunition and baton charges were used in Savar to break up a demonstration by former workers of the Rana Plaza factory.

Atiqul Islam, the director of the BGMEA, said it was a very hard time for the industry.

“We have to learn lessons and all get together – retailers, buyers, suppliers – and see how we can go forward,” he told the Guardian.

The garment industry in Bangladesh employs about 3.5 million people, mainly young women, and more than four-fifths of its $20bn (£13bn) production goes to the west. Pay at factories is better than other industries and despite long hours, abuse from employers, poor job security and danger, sewing is less arduous than alternative employment such as agricultural labour, construction work, cleaning homes or ship-breaking.

Is it right those people have to work for about 8000 Bangladesh Daka or about 102 US Dollars per month, under such bad circumstances, while those Western companies sell the products for such a higher prize?

Use of children for the Industrialised countries

But it is not only the cloth industry where we see such awful situations of not respecting the work of the labourers. In West Africa we can find lots of child labour. Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and they are told the pay is good. Other children are “sold” by their own relatives to traffickers or to the farm owners, and it has also been documented that traffickers often abduct the young boys from small villages in neighbouring African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali.

Exposed to a dangerous work environment and deprived of an education

Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever. When a child is delivered to the farm by a family member, that relative collects a sum of money either up front or at the end of an agreed duration of labour. Unfortunately, the relatives do not realize that the children will be exposed to a dangerous work environment and deprived of an education. In addition to the hazards of using a machete, children are also commonly exposed to agricultural chemicals on the West African cocoa farms.

cocoa childlabour

Cocoa child-labour

In Asia and Africa depriving the children of an education makes that those countries can not grow like it should and that the fraudulent factory or plant-owners can continue their exploitation. For those poor children there is little hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty.

Bondage

In recent years, cases have been documented in which children and adults on cocoa farms, clothing factories, quarries, a.o. were retained against their will and forced to work. While the term “slavery” has a variety of historical contexts, slavery in the cocoa and clothing industry involves the same core human rights violations as other forms of slavery throughout the world. Consumers could here disgusting news from such bondage, but they kept liking to get the goods as cheep as possible, notwithstanding at the cost of those children working in bad conditions.

Political instability, political and industrial corruption may lay at the base of all the problems and it is getting high time the political parties of the industrialised countries take serious measures.

Liars, environmental racism and injustice in the industry

Self Declaration

Some eco-products are self-declarations, where producers or marketers make positive environmental claims about their own products. The problem with self-declared labels is they are hard to verify and they need to be addressed by government policies to avoid deceptive advertising. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, for instance, has issued guidelines for making environmental claims.

The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation who has successfully campaigned on eco-labels warns consumers against false eco-labels.

They warn:

Complain about false eco-labels!

Write to the manufacturer and complain, or send in any labels with suspicious eco-labels to the Good Environmental Choice secretariat of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. We fight against these false eco-labels by reporting the worst cases to the government.

Third Party Certified

Labels that rely on certification by an independent third party often display a seal-of-approval labels, where a logo is used to denote that a product is environmentally superior to other products in its class based upon a specific set of award criteria. There are also third-party programs, which certify single attributes, such as recycled content or biodegradability, and utilize a logo indicating the certification.

Governments in most industrialized and many industrializing countries sponsor third-party environmental labelling programs. The first such program was the German Blue Angel, which began operating in 1978 and now covers 3,000 products. Most other programs were created in the early-to-mid 1990s. There are now approximately 27 countries with environmental labelling programs, not counting all of the countries covered by international programs, such as the Nordic Swan and the European Union Ecolabel. Most of these third-party programs are seal-of-approval programs, which develop labelling criteria for product categories and license the use of their logo for products meeting the criteria.

Info on labels on products

Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, said:

 “In 2013, the EU will decide on crucial rules on origin labelling. Our survey clearly shows that this info ranks high when people buy food. Making origin labelling meaningful and easy to find should be legislators’ yardstick.

“Producers go to great lengths to make consumers believe their food has a special regional character. German feta cheese promoted in Greek font or Chinese tomato sauce with Italian flags are poor marketing tricks to mislead shoppers. Such dishonest practices are unacceptable and should be stopped.”

Surety

The consumers today have no sure way of knowing if the chocolate or the clothes they are buying involved the use of child labour or slave labour. There are many different labels on chocolate bars today, such as Fair Trade Certified, however, no single label can guarantee that the chocolate was made without the use of exploitive labour. In the clothing industry we slowly see more labels being introduced also, but can we be sure those certifications are sincere and being checked regularly? In 2010, the founders of the Fair Trade Certification process had to suspend several of their West African suppliers due to evidence that they were using child labour. And I found out that certain bars of labelled chocolate I bought was from factories which did not take it so close with human rights.

No one wants to live near industrial pollution, yet some neighbourhoods — especially low-income communities and communities of colour — are disproportionately plagued by facilities that fill their air, land, and water with contaminants. When this environmental injustice affects communities of colour, it is known as environmental racism.

Among the industries that engage in environmental racism is animal agribusiness, which operates massive factories, each housing thousands of animals raised for food. These factory farms not only exploit animals, but they generate vast amounts of waste. Neighbours routinely suffer respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders and must endure a never-ending infestation of flies.  Related to these operations are slaughterhouses, which, along with factory farms, are frequently located in communities where the land is cheaper.

Need to create a more just and sustainable world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices

Food Empowerment Project, founded in 2006 by Lauren Ornelas, is one of the organisations which tries to bring some change and seeks to create a more just and sustainable world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices. They encourage healthy food choices that reflect a more compassionate society by spotlighting the abuse of animals on farms, the depletion of natural resources, unfair working conditions for produce workers, and the unavailability of healthy foods in low-income areas.

All people should be aware that we do have the responsibility to make the right choice for any product we want to buy or use. By making informed choices, we can prevent injustices against animals, people, and the environment.  As consumers we can have more power than many think and we should also work to discourage negligent corporations from pushing unhealthy foods into low-income areas and empower people to make healthier choices by growing their own fruits and vegetables.

Laws to be made and followed up

Since Lubbe v Cape plc, involving a worker for a South African subsidiary company who contracted an asbestos disease, it has been possible in English courts for workers abroad who have injuries from health and safety violations to bring claims against the multinational corporations who use their products.{House of Lords Lubbe and Others and Cape Plc. and Related Appeals [2000] UKHL 41 (20th July, 2000)} The law has changed since significant litigation was launched after the Bhopal disaster in 1984.

The Flemish Karel De Gucht, current European Commissioner for Trade, warned that retailers and the Bangladeshi government could face action from the EU if nothing is done to improve the conditions of workers – adding that shoppers should also consider where they are spending their money.

Pressure at last

At last, under pressure of some reacting consumers, IndustriALL Global Union, a global union federation representing textile and garment workers’ trade unions around the world, launched an online campaign in support of the Bangladeshi unions’ demand for labour law reform in the wake of the disaster. The campaign, hosted on Labour Start, calls for changes in the law to make it easier for unions to organise workers, as well as demanding improved health and safety conditions.

With environmentally-friendly products being generally more expensive, the issue remains over how to get consumers to go green.

EU-wide methods for companies to measure and communicate their ‘greenness’ and the environmental footprint of their products

Not long after the EU announced a consultation with businesses, citizens, NGOs and other organisations on improving ways of measuring the environmental impact of products the European Commission Survey came out and several European citizens looked with hope at the proposed EU-wide methods for companies to measure and communicate their ‘greenness’ and the environmental footprint of their products.

The voluntary scheme, called Building the Single Market for Green Products, will make use of the EU Joint Research Centre’s controversial “lifecycle assessment” method (LCA) for calculating the environmental performance of a product.

A three-year testing period will begin after the Commission adopts the communication, aimed at developing product-specific green rules and benchmarks, easing the application of environmental footprint methods by companies, and assessing different compliance and verification systems.

Green credentials of products and organisations

The EU executive will also weigh different strategies for communicating the green credentials of products and organisations to consumers, including packaging and pricing signals.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik told reporters on Tuesday 9 April: “To boost sustainable growth, we need to make sure that the most resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly products on the market are known and recognisable. By giving people reliable and comparable information about the environmental impacts and credentials of products and organisations, we enable them to choose. And by helping companies to align their methods we cut their costs and administrative burdens.”

Companies now wishing to highlight their green credentials must handpick from the many different methods recommended by governments and private organisations, which often confuse consumers and incur high costs.

The communication proposes EU-wide standards as well as recommendations for companies and organisations on how to carry them out.

Lifecycle assessment

In March, three major European industrial associations wrote to Commission President José Manuel Barroso expressing their concerns at the use of environmental footprint methodology in EU legislation.

The consumer organisation ANEC, the engineering industries group Orgalime, and the automobiles association ACEA – whose members include BMW group, Daimler, Ford of Europe and Fiat – said the methodology risked exposing companies to unfair competition and market distortion as consumers may base their buying decisions on unreliable and misleading information.

Supply chains

They also claimed the green methodology would not do justice to the complexity of global supply chains.

ACEA’s secretary-general, Ivan Hodac, said: “LCA ignores the complexity and diversity of products and supply chains: the current ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ of the suggested methodology overlooks the diversity and variety of the different products made available to consumers. Only the making of an engine, for example, consists of a multitude of different components, parts and materials that are sourced in complex, multi-layer, global supply chains”.

Eurocommerce, the European retail and international trade group, said it supported the environmental methodology but called for the Commission scheme to remain voluntary.

Christian Verschueren, director-general of Eurocommerce, said of the EU paper:

“This is a step in the right direction. It should provide all actors with clear guidance to help them calculate their environmental footprint. However, the proposed methodologies are just one of many options. Retailers and wholesalers already use a variety of effective means to calculate their environmental impact. One size will not fit all in this instance. It is therefore essential for the commerce sector that the implementation of this new European proposal remains voluntary.”

According to a recent Eurobarometer poll, 48% of European consumers said they were confused by the wealth of environmental information and various certifications on the market.

There are more than 400 environmental labels and 80 mainstream methodologies and initiatives worldwide, the Commission said.

Adrian Harris, the head of Orgalime, the European engineering industry association, told EurActiv that the EU’s current Ecodesign label was sufficient and that new approaches could increase costs and complexity for consumers, with questionable benefits.

“We don’t want to introduce a wishy-washy concept, which is not useful for our industry, when we have a methodology which is defined, which has been tried and tested,” he said.

Positions:

ANEC, the European consumer interest group on standardisation, said:

“We believe the survey confirms what is known regarding consumers being confused by the number of environmental claims that can be found on the EU market, as well as about their reliability and clarity.

“However … labelling/product information is often not the right way forward to achieve sustainable consumption and should, on the contrary, be considered carefully. It has been shown that priority must be given to the establishment of regulatory product requirements – such as those we have in the Ecodesign, Energy Labelling Directives and the Ecolabel Regulation – ensuring that poor performing products are eliminated from the market.

“With regards to the high interest of consumers for green claims it needs to be noted that a survey often collects more idealistic than realistic replies, the actual behaviour of consumers in real life may differ greatly.”

Sylvia Maurer, a safety and environment analyst at the European consumer organisation BEUC, said:

“The survey supports our request that the EU should consider extending the guarantee period of products in order to increase the purchase of green products. 66% of respondents say that they are willing to pay more for a product if its guarantee was extended to five years. This is a route we urge policy-makers to take. It is in this respect encouraging that the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee wants to introduce a longer guarantee period at EU level and where appropriate align it with durability requirements set under Ecodesign rules.”

Reflecting a benefit to the environment

Three-quarters of respondents (77%) to the Eurostat report – carried out across social and demographic groups in all 28 EU countries – say that they would be willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly products if they were confident that the products were truly green, which is a good sign.

More than three-quarters of respondents are willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly products if they were confident that the products are truly environmentally-friendly (77%). Therefore we should get a system where products are labelled, stating the place of origin, mentioning if the basic products used are gained in an ethic way, respecting for example the forest or agriculture, animals and people.

Four out of five think that lower taxes on environmentally-friendly materials and products can play a role in reducing people’s impact on the environment (83%).

Slightly more than half of EU citizens feel that they know (55%) about the environmental impact of the products they buy and use, with 14% saying they ‘know a lot’ and 41% saying they know about the most significant impacts.

These knowledge levels are similar to those found in 2009.

Consumers, clearly understood, and genuinely reflect a benefit to the environment. This guide provides links to a range of tools and resources for both mandatory and voluntary schemes to help business provide useful and accurate information, which is fair and not misleading.

Considerations to take into account when buying products

No doubt it is a very good sign that the environmental impact is an increasing concern for EU consumers. Consumers have become more environmentally conscious in recent years. Energy consumption and the ease of disassembling products into recyclable components have joined basic performance and design as criteria for choosing which product to buy. To appeal to these customer needs, push forward the correspondence to various environmental labels so that consumers can appreciate the different products’ environmental performance. But those environmental labels should be a trustable tool for making environmental declarations and providing other information about a product’s environmental features or performance. Though the requirements for environmental labels are prescribed by various groups, including the International Standards Organization (ISO) there should be a controlling organisation so that consumers can be sure what is said on the labels is true. Environmental claims and labels must be credible to consumers, clearly understood, and genuinely reflect a benefit to the environment.

EU citizens take several considerations into account when buying products. The most important consideration is the quality of the product, which 97% believe to be very or fairly important. The next most important aspect is the product’s price, believed to be important by 87%, followed by the product’ s environmental impact, which 84% believe to be important. The least important of these factors is the brand name of the product, which fewer than half of EU citizens believe to be important (46%).

At the moment the EU Ecolabel scheme is a voluntary labelling scheme designed to help consumers identify products with the lowest environmental impact. Companies who believe that their products can meet the demanding Ecolabel standard must have this independently assessed and verified before being allowed to carry the distinctive EU Ecolabel Flower logo. Looking for the Ecolabel Flower logo makes it simple for consumers to have confidence in the reduced environmental impact of the product that they are buying.

Concerning food, there are a range of different voluntary labels related to the environmental impact of the products. Labels often focus on single environmental issues like ‘organic’. But there is increasing interest in reducing the environmental impact of food across a range of environmental indicators to improve the sustainability of our food supply long term (see The Foresight project Global Food and Farming Futures report. The viability of food eco-labelling is being explored across Europe at various levels including the industry-led EU Sustainable Consumption and Production Food Round Table and through the Eu Ecolabel.

False or misleading claims and labels

Although two-thirds of the respondents are confident about the labels stating that green products cause less damage to the environment than other products, they are less likely to trust producers’ self-claims about the environmental performance of their products.

Six out of ten think that current product labels do not provide enough information about their environmental impact (59%) and a third more believe the information is unclear for some products (32%).

Respondents were also asked where they would like to find environmental information about a product and they could give several answers. Most people would like to find environmental information on product labels (81%), with fewer people supporting listing such information on the shelf containing the product (55%) or in advertisements about the product (41%).

It’s not easy for EU consumers to find out where their food or clothes comes from as origin information remains absent from many products sold in European markets.

When manufacturers do declare the origin on a voluntary basis, writing “made in” or “product of”, it’s often also impossible to figure out if a product was only processed, transformed or farmed in the given country.

The voluntary labelling scheme EU Ecolabel scheme is continues to grow year on year, in both the number and range of different products that it covers. the local governments and organisations should encourage more this growth.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 requires all information to consumers to be fair and honest. If the consumer or a producer believes that a claim is false or misleading, even after explanations from the retailer or manufacturer, they are entitled to take this up with the relevant enforcement body.

The bodies with a role in enforcing or regulating environmental claims, where you can go for advice or further information, are for example the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which is responsible for consumer protection legislation or the National Measurement Office (NMO) in the UK which is responsible for enforcement of eco-design of energy using products and European energy labels requirements, plus your local authority trading standards service, or your local authority, will be able to advise you on how to take forward any complaint. The Advertising Standards Authorities can take complaints about all advertisements and promotions, including broadcast adverts, which ensures standards are adhered to through the application of the advertising standards codes (CAP and BCAP codes). Also the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) (who writes the non-broadcast Advertising Code) provides pre-publication advice via its CopyAdvice service.

Disasters to happen first

Often something disastrous has to happen first before something is done. The tragic disasters in Bangladesh of the last few months have resulted in important developments in Bangladesh with a specific focus on fire and building safety. These include a National Action Plan, developed by the tripartite partners (government, employers and worker representatives) with the support of the International Labour Organization; and an Accord on Fire and Building Safety supported by unions and brands. High-level advocacy is also being planned at Parliament level (in Bangladesh), for better protection of the workers; freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.  { See more at: http://www.solidaridadnetwork.org/bangladesh-steps-taken-garment-sector-death-toll-climbs-factory-disaster#sthash.V6sqkCbG.dpuf}

In the wake of the horrific clothing factory building collapse which killed  as many as 800 workers  near Dhaka, Bangladesh, international brand name retailers whose apparel products may have been produced there are under mounting pressure both to contribute to a compensation fund and to provide financial support for improving safety at some of the country’s 4,000 garment factories. For international anti-sweatshop organizations such the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, such steps would be appropriate—indeed, morally required—examples of corporate social responsibility, examples of a sort of corporate code of conduct to which firms should subscribe, even if they are not legally required to do so. In fact, in the wake of a previous deadly fire in November, Wal-Mart had already pledged $1.8 million to train Bangladesh plant managers in safety techniques.

Such “CSR ” pressure aims to force firms to meet a so-called “triple bottom line” that considers not just profit but working conditions and impact on the environment, as well. It can actually be thought of as a form of corporate philanthropy—the voluntary (albeit under pressure in this case) re-direction of profits to social causes. As the Harvard Kennedy School’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative has put it, “throughout the industrialized world and in many developing countries there has been a sharp escalation in the social roles corporations are expected to play.” {The Bangladesh Disaster And Corporate Social Responsibility}

I am looking forward to find serious labels on the products in Carrefour and other shops but also at the postorder companies La Redoute, Peter Hahn, Trois Suisses, Klingel, a.o. which are offering cheaper clothing.

Buyers such as Walmart, Carrefour, H& M and others also have a critical role in terms of fair pricing and should take care that the consumer can trust their choices of products. Because in case the customer has no clear view the danger exists that they are going to boycott products from certain countries.

I agree with Ifty Islam of Asian Tiger Capital Partners who wrote in the financial Times:

It would be quite wrong for buyers to simply shift production to other countries or indeed for consumers in export markets to boycott Bangladeshi garments. This would transfer the problems to other poor economies. And it would hurt the 4m Bangladeshi workers in the sector, the majority of whom are women, whose families rely on their incomes. The challenge of recalibrating consumer expectations to “fair and sustainable” prices and away from “everyday (ie rock-bottom) pricing” is the responsibility of the fashion companies and of retailers. Human rights activists in developed countries should apply the necessary pressure.
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Bangladesh’s politicians need to give up their addiction to economically-disruptive strike politics or risk killing the garments goose that lays the golden egg. {After the Rana Plaza disaster, Bangladesh needs independent, well-funded safety inspectors}

As consumers we should not only get the information on the origin of all the included elements of the product. Origin labelling should become mandatory for all meats, milk, unprocessed foods, single-ingredient foods such as flour and sugar and ingredients that represent more than 50% of a food, but also for the cotton, silk, wool and where fabrics where made so that can be checked if the prize for the product would be at the right value and in proportion to what the makers of the product really receive for it, so that not the wrong people would be running away with the majority of the earnings.

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Please do find:

Bangladesh factory collapse leaves trail of shattered lives
In the neighbourhood where many workers lived, survivors struggle with grief for lost relatives and the threat of destitution
… after flooding and land disputes, they know can no longer provide them with a living.
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Most of the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse have had their hospital expenses paid by the government or the Bangladesh Garment and Exporters Association (BMGEA), an industry body representing owners. Many families have received an immediate payment of 20,000 taka to cover basic funeral expenses. As most of the victims have been buried in distant ancestral villages, the money is barely adequate, their relatives say.

Building collapse in Bangladesh

Excavators clear debris at the collapse site. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

A further sum of between 100,000 and 600,000 taka is to be disbursed by the government to bereaved families at an unspecified date. Some cash has been pledged by big western retailers such as Primark and Matalan, which sourced goods from Rana Plaza.

Majority of Bangladesh garment factories ‘vulnerable to collapse’

Survey conducted in wake of Rana Plaza factory collapse reveals three-fifths of such buildings are cause for concern.
Three-fifths of garment factories in Bangladesh are vulnerable to collapse, according to a survey by engineers in the country.
“Somewhere around 60% of the buildings are vulnerable,” said Prof Mehedi Ansary, who leads the team. “This doesn’t mean they will collapse in the next week or month, but it does mean that to leave them unchanged would be irresponsible.”
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The factories in buildings not intended for industrial purposes, both in Dhaka and Bangladesh’s second city of Chittagong, are of most concern. Many were set up without any regulatory oversight in the early years of the garment industry boom.

Ansary said that “there may be lots of very vulnerable [factories] we don’t know about” but the team “did not want to create panic so we are saying they can run for the moment”.

Anger in Dhaka as death toll climbs

Bangladeshis pay the high cost of cheap clothing

The butterfly effect Chinese dorms and Bangladeshi factory fires

Bangladesh Safety Accord implementation – moving forward
The broad coalition of trade unions – led by IndustriALL and UNI – and 80 market leading clothing brands and retailers today announces the next steps to implement the historic Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

Walmart/Gap Bangladesh safety plan: pale imitation of Accord
IndustriALL and UNI, reacting to the announcement by Walmart and Gap today of another toothless corporate auditing programme for Bangladesh factory safety, stated that these companies are only repeating the mistakes of the past.

Campaign for workers’ rights continues in Bangladesh
The process leading to the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was not easy. Still in March, as the world’s ten leading clothing brands and retailers accepted the invitation of IndustriALL Global Union to come and discuss in Geneva, there was an amazing level of complacency among them. I saw no sense of urgency, despite the deadly factory fires and building collapses in the past.

Bangladesh Collapse: The Garment Workers Who Survived

The gap between the buildings is where the Rana Plaza stood until a few months ago. More than 1,000 people were killed when the building collapsed April 24. It was the worst disaster in the garment industry's history.

The gap between the buildings is where the Rana Plaza stood until a few months ago. More than 1,000 people were killed when the building collapsed April 24. It was the worst disaster in the garment industry’s history. – npr

A visit to one of the hospitals provided a glimpse into the sort of injuries they sustained while Rana Plaza buckled: giant metal screws protrude from arms and legs literally holding limbs together.

Slavery in the Chocolate Industry

More recently, three journalists from a daily newspaper were detained by government authorities in the Ivory Coast after publishing an article about government corruption related to the cocoa industry.
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Cases often involve acts of physical violence, such as being whipped for working slowly or trying to escape.
There have also been cases documented where children and adults were locked in at night to prevent them from escaping.

Child slavery and chocolate: All too easy to find
After a series of news reports surfaced in 2001 about gross violations in the cocoa industry, lawmakers in the United States put immense pressure on the industry to change.

“We felt like the public ought to know about it, and we ought to take some action to try to stop it,” said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who, together with Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, spearheaded the response. “How many people in America know that all this chocolate they are eating – candies and all of those wonderful chocolates – is being produced by terrible child labor?”

Chocolate: the Bitter and the Sweet
There are an estimated six million cocoa farmers around the world with another thirty-five million people whose livelihood relies on the production and distribution of cocoa beans and cocoa products like cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa cake and cocoa powder.
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Though chocolate is enjoyed the world over, many cocoa farmers have never even tried chocolate. The business end of chocolate is still the realm of the super elite with over 80% of the world chocolate market controlled by a handful of corporations. The European cocoa trade lineage has stayed virtually unsevered as corporations in the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland continue to be the major players. Controlling nearly the entire chain from bean-to-bar these corporations have the power to dictate beneficial versus harmful trade and labor practices. Cocoa beans are a commodity and the tonnage is high enough (three million tons traded annually) that fractions of a penny have major financial implications.  The most controllable cost variable is people –the cheaper the labor the cheaper the cocoa beans.

Chocolate Slaves… confronting issues of social injustice
While many people enjoy the sweet taste of chocolate, they don’t realize that at the same time there are children being forced to harvest cocoa beans in harsh, brutal, and not so sweet conditions. Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans, so there are many cocoa-producing companies in this location.  In many cases, cocoa companies have slaves in their harvesting line, and the conditions are atrocious. Recently, slavery is becoming more widespread in the cocoa harvesting industry. Companies that previously had legitimate workers now have slaves incorporated into the harvesting service. In many cases, this happens only to save a little money. Not all hope for the children’s lives is lost though, for many people and organizations are trying to make a difference.
+> Chocolate Slaves
There are children being brutally forced into slavery, but not all hope is lost as there are many ways a person can help stop this injustice. A high school student can get involved and help put an end to this injustice. While there is no perfect solution to completely expunge the slavery, much can be done to slow it down. There are many organizations in existence today that are aimed towards child slavery, abuse, and other related topics. One of those organizations is “Free-the-Children” , an assembly of people, including teens, that work together to solve problems overseas. A student could join this and come up with ideas and solutions to pull the slaves out of labor, and get them to a sanitary location with food, water, and education. Another organization is “Anti-slavery.org,” the website is dedicated to helping people find ways to help solve global slavery problems. There are many other organizations like “Free the Children” and they can make a massive difference to the slaves and the rest of their lives!

Clif Bar: Raise the Bar on Child Slavery!
Isn’t it disappointing when a “socially responsible” company refuses to be transparent?

Clif Bar acknowledges on their website “that food matters to our families, our communities, and our planet — as our food choices affect the physical, social, and environmental fabric of our lives.” They even pledge a commitment to communities worldwide. Yet this now all seems to be empty rhetoric.

How Clean Are Your Clothes? Pollution from China’s Textile Industry
More than 6000 water pollution violations from apparel factories in China – that is just one revelation in a stunning new account of water pollution from the Chinese textile industry, courtesy of noted Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun and his Green Alliance of activist partners. The violations included serious threats such as illegally dumping untreated toxic wastewater into rivers and streams.  And these are the just violations we know about! Given the general lack of enforcement of environmental laws in China, there are likely many more violators out there that simply did not make the official record books.
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To protect their brand reputations, (and to make truly sustainable products), international companies must take much more aggressive steps to ensure that the factories that make their goods are not polluting the communities where they are operating.

Home to more than 50,000 textile mills, the environmental footprint of the textile industry in China in massive. Just 1 ton of fabric put through the dyeing and finishing process can result in the pollution of up to 200 tons of water!

Factor in the amounts of energy used for steam and hot water, and that pair of distressed blue jeans is looking a little less rustic. (Said author admits to wearing a pair of distressed blue jeans while writing this very article.)

The NRDC and a group of clothing retailers, including Walmart and H&M, have joined forces, spearheading the Responsible Sourcing Initiative (RSI), to address the rapidly increase global effect from the industry. The Initiative is part of NRDC’s larger “Clean by Design” effort, meant to address all major steps of the industry, from fiber sourcing to consumer care.

NRDC: five steps to a cleaner textile industry

Major Retailers Join NRDC to Clean Up Textile Industry
The Natural Resource Defense Council, a powerful US environmental action group, has called for a new ‘Five Step Program’ to significantly reduce the use of toxic chemicals in the global textile and clothing industries. This approach, says the NRDC, will go a long-way to helping brands and retailers to implement their stuttering responses to the Greenpeace ‘Detox’ pledges. NRDC Director Linda Greer reveals her thoughts to Ecotextile News.

Loblaw pledges to stay in Bangladesh, improve safety after building collapse
Loblaw Cos. Ltd. is committed to staying in Bangladesh and will work to improve worker safety standards after a garment factory at which Joe Fresh clothing was made collapsed last week, executive chairman Galen G. Weston said Thursday.

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. is committed to staying in Bangladesh and will work to improve worker safety standards after a garment factory at which Joe Fresh clothing was made collapsed last week, executive chairman Galen G. Weston said Thursday.

NGO–government partnerships for disaster preparedness in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is exposed to significant flood, cyclone and earthquake hazards. Vulnerability to these and other hazards is exacerbated by socio-economic factors, including one of the highest population densities in the world, rapid and often unplanned urban expansion, poor infrastructure, weak institutions and a lack of diversity in livelihoods, with a high degree of dependence on agriculture. Widespread poverty, with 60% of the population living below the poverty line, further limits the ability of people and communities to protect themselves and their assets against disaster.

In such a context, effective disaster preparedness is especially important. To achieve this, capacity-building at all levels is needed: from communities, where simple steps can be taken to build awareness and help vulnerable people protect themselves, their families, their homes and their assets; through the tiers of local and regional government, all of which have important roles in preparing for disasters; to the national level, where robust legal, policy and disaster management frameworks must be established and implemented. This article examines attempts to support capacity-building for preparedness, with a particular focus on collaboration between government actors and civil society.

Bangladesh: Steps taken in garment sector, as death toll climbs in factory disaster

While improvements are made in the sector, the benefits of growth are not shared equally among the actors in the supply chain. The well-being of the workers in particular is being ignored. Factory owners for example tend to put profit before the needs of workers by accepting orders beyond their capacity, knowing they are not likely to deliver on time. Lack of long-term planning by buyers creates uncertainty and contributes to the unprofessional behavior in the sector.

The improvement of working conditions has now become a major concern along with fair wages and labour rights. Despite these developments, there is also every possibility of less favourable trade relations or the boycott of garments made in Bangladesh. From a human rights perspective, if trade restrictions are imposed on Bangladesh garment products; this will create another disaster. Such a move will result in millions of poor women and men in the entire supply chain losing their jobs, and exacerbate negative social consequences; among these violence against women, as well as trafficking of women and girls. Solidaridad believes collective efforts are needed towards the development of more sensible entrepreneurship in the Ready-Made Garment sector.

Guest post: after the Rana Plaza disaster, Bangladesh needs independent, well-funded safety inspectors
The “China relocation trade” saw Bangladesh benefit from shifting production even faster than optimists had expected. But Rana Plaza, the Tazreen factory fire in November, and politically-motivated strikes disrupting production this year, has driven a rapid swing from optimism to pessimism.

Investigators looking at the immediate cause for the Rana tragedy are examining allegations of indifference to worker safety, coupled to poor building safety and construction standards.

Videos: US Urged to Push for Labor Rights After Bangladesh Disaster
+ Tragedy in Bangladesh: Retailers Seek Amends for 1,100 Dead
+ Bangladesh Factory Collapse: Workers May Never Get Compensation

+ Can Bangladesh Find Justice after Factory Tragedy?

The collapse of Rana Plaza, slideshow, FT

Ask Warner Bros. to Ensure Harry Potter Chocolates are Slavery Free

Make garment factories in Bangladesh safe

About the Safer Products Project

Steps to Clean Production

Eurobarometer: Attitudes of Europeans towards building the single market for green products (July 2013)
European Commission: Single Market for Green Products Initiative

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  • 9. ARE you prepared to deal with the environmental issues? (teikokuink.wordpress.com)
    Products sold in EU are subject to various regulations such as RoHS, WEEE, ELV, etc. Even if a company does not export its products directly to EU, if its products are incorporated into another company’s products that will be exported to EU, the products will be regulated by these directives.
  • An environmentally friendly battery made from wood (phys.org)
    Taking inspiration from trees, scientists have developed a battery made from a sliver of wood coated with tin that shows promise for becoming a tiny, long-lasting, efficient and environmentally friendly energy source. Their report on the device—1,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper—appears in the journal Nano Letters.
  • Why Hydroponics is a More Environmentally Friendly Gardening Method (fullbloomhydroponics.net)
    People don’t realize that tilling up the soil for a garden is destructive and can leave long-lasting consequences on the environment. Back in the 1930s, over-tilling by farmers contributed to one of the nation’s worst natural catastrophes, known as the Dust Bowl. Tilling up all the land weakened the topsoil by releasing its moisture and nutrients; therefore, strong winds were able to blow the soil right off the ground.
  • Europeans ‘confused by green claims’: Survey (News) (euractiv.com)
    Some 80% of Europeans are concerned by the environmental impact of their purchases but only one-quarter say they “often” buy green products, reveals the latest EU opinion poll.

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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6 Responses to Green Claims in Europe

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