Muslims in Fair Trade, Eco-Friendly Fashion

September 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Organic and Islamic” – Muslims Showcase Ethical and Fair-Trade Fashion
By Arwa Aburawa

Source: Green Prophet

Islam, fair-trade is more than just a fashion statement, it’s a deeply-ingrained value

Many people wouldn’t normally associate Islam with fair-trade and ethical fashion but that is all set to change as a growing number of Muslim companies rediscover Islam’s fair-trade message. Whilst fair-trade fashion would generally conjure up images of well-dressed hippies, there is a new generation of Muslims who are placing ethical concerns at the heart of their work and wardrobe. Not only does this indicate rising green and ethical awareness in Muslim businesses, it also means there is a growing demand from normal Muslims for environmentally-friendly options. I spoke to some of the people behind these unique companies from across the UK, Canada and the Middle East to find out more.

Muslims go Organic with T-shirts and Hijabs

Urban Ummah is a UK-based clothing line that sells fair-trade, ethically produced and environmentally-friendly printed t-shirts with catchy Muslim slogans. One t-shirt which caught my eye was the ‘Yes, I am Organic and Islamic.’ It explains on the website that going organic is not only good for your health but ultimately leads to a better quality of life for you and those growing the crops, who would otherwise suffer from the side effects of harmful pesticides.

“As Muslims, it is our duty to put a stop to this [farmers in third world countries becoming ill due to the use of chemicals in the crops they produce]. If we switch to a few organic products on our shopping lists instead of the usual rubbish we subject our bodies to, perhaps we can make a real difference to someones life. Becoming fairtrade, organic, ethical and environmental, is all expected of a Muslim, so please give a damn!”

But it’s not just t-shirts that Muslim businesses are providing; Artizara sells fair-trade hijabs for eco-conscious Muslimahs, and in Canada Queendom Hijabs offer a full range of eco-hijabs made from certified organic cotton and bamboo.

Organic cotton is particularly eco-friendly as it has minimal impacts on the environment, while bamboo grows at a rapid rate, requires very little pesticide and is 100% biodegradable. Founder of Queendom Hijabs, Abeer Al-Azzawi spoke to Green Prophet about why she decided that all her products would be environmentally-friendly.

“Islam promotes values of caring for nature and God’s creation,” she explained. “So it’s our responsibility to respect nature and do what we can not to damage it. If we have opportunities to contribute positively to environmental issues, we should seize them.”

Green Credentials spread to the Middle East

Aber, who is originally from Iraq, added that she hopes her green credentials will inspire the rest of the Muslim world to be more eco-conscious. In fact, an ethical fashion revolution seems already under way due to SHUKR Clothing, a company which is championing ethical and fair-trade practices in the Middle East.

SHUKR was launched in 2001 by Jaafar Malik and Anas Sillwood, both British citizens who have recently moved to the Middle East. Anas explained that like many other younger Muslims he struggled with the dilemma of trying to dress in ways that were faithful and modest on the one hand and fashionable and modern on the other. “SHUKR was, therefore, launched to meet the need for contemporary, fashionable Islamic clothing,” he explains.

“Interestingly enough, we soon found that members of other faith communities also seemed to have similar dilemmas to a certain extent, and it wasn’t long before we also had loyal Christian and Jewish customers amongst the SHUKR clientele.”

Anas explains that in terms of fair-trade, the majority of SHUKR’s raw materials – especially cotton – are purchased from Syria under fair, fixed prices which support cotton producers.

“Islam’s emphasis on fairness and justice spills over into a concern for fulfilling workers rights, the second main goal of the fair trade movement. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, famously said that the worker should be paid his wages before his sweat dries…”

“As for environmental sustainability,” continues Anas, “The Qur’an repeatedly informs us that wastefulness is an appalling trait, and traditional Muslims in the Muslim heartlands have internalized this message; they may not have had the exposure to widespread governmental “green” campaigns like we have in the West, but their religion has taught them, for example, not to waste.”

As SHUKR, Queendom Hijabs and Urban Ummah have illustrated, the green and fair-trade message is growing amongst the Muslim population who believe ethical standards are important as they are rooted in Islamic principles. Minimizing waste, protecting the environment and providing fair wages may have only recently become fashionable but they have always formed part of the Islamic ethic of fairness.

http://www.greenprophet.com/2010/08/muslim-ethical-fashion/

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Why G20 Protest?

September 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

In the days before the G20 summit in Toronto, much of the local debate centered around the right to protest/the right of the police to keep the area safe and clear. Many observers who were not involved were completely unsure of why people were even protesting, and simply dismissed protesters as troublemakers with an ambiguous set of causes. Though I agree that a few who showed up were simply troublemakers, the majority of the protesters had every right to be there and had very valid reasons for doing so. There were a large number of individuals representing different groups with specific aims, but I’d like to post an description from the G8/20 Toronto Community Mobilization website in the hope of giving a general picture of why thousands (around 10,000) showed up to protest:

The so called ‘leaders’ and bankers of the twenty richest countries are meeting in Huntsville and Toronto on 25-27 June 2010 at the G8 and G20 Summits. They are meeting to make decisions that will result in more exploitation of people and the environment. They want to ensure that the systems that increase colonization, wars and displacement are maintained. In direct resistance, we are coming together to create a just world that puts people before corporate and elite profit.

The Toronto Community Mobilization Network is collaborating for change in Toronto and in the world.  Join the process; everyone is a part of this work.

The network is a collection of Toronto-based organizers and allies, that will use the fleeting moment of the G8/G20 meetings in Toronto in June 2010 in Ontario to come together and share the work that we do every other day of the year.  We will build the momentum for a movement for Indigenous Sovereignty and Self-Determination, Environmental and Climate Justice, Migrant Justice and an End to War and Occupation, Income Equity and Community Control over Resources, Gender Justice and Queer and disAbility rights.

With power and vision, people of colour, indigenous peoples, women, the poor, the working class, queer and trans people and disabled people will create and lead alternatives; will decide for themselves; will transcend the systems that oppress them and keep them from talking to one another.

Source: http://g20.torontomobilize.org/getinformed

The Definition of a Sweatshop

September 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Definition of a Sweatshop” from the article “Global Sweatshop Wage Slavery” by Stephen Lendman

The term has been around since the 19th century. Definitions vary but essentially refer to workplaces where employees work for poor pay, few or no benefits, in unsafe, unfavorable, harsh, and/or hazardous environments, are treated inhumanely by employers, and are prevented from organizing for redress.

The term itself refers to the technique of “sweating” the maximum profit from each worker, a practice that thrived in the late 19th century.

Webster calls them “A shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages under unhealthy conditions.”

According to the group Sweatshop Watch:

“A sweatshop is a workplace that violates the law and where workers are subject to:

— extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living wage or long hours;
— poor working conditions, such as health and safety hazards;
— arbitrary discipline, such as verbal or physical abuse, or
— fear and intimidation when they speak out, organize, or attempt to form a union.”

It’s mainly a women’s rights issue as 90% of the workforce is female, between the ages of 15 – 25. But it’s also an environmental one as the global economy exacts a huge price through air pollution, ozone layer depletion, acid rain, ocean and fresh water contamination, and an overtaxed ecosystem producing unhealthy, unsafe living conditions globally.

According to the US Department of Labor, a sweatshop is a place of employment that violates two or more federal or state labor laws governing wage and overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation or industry regulation.

To understand the practice, it’s essential to view it in a broader globalization context. In their book titled, “Globalization and Progressive Economic Policy, Dean Baker, Robert Pollin and Gerald Epstein present the opinions of 36 prominent economists, asking:

Does globalization cause inequality? Instability? Unemployment? Environmental degradation? Or is it an engine of prosperity and wealth for the vast majority of people everywhere? They conclude that it can work for good or ill depending on how much control governments, corporations, and individuals exert, but also say:

“….most discussions of globalization hold that the power of nation-states to influence economic activity is eroding as economies become more integrated, while the power of private businesses and market forces is correspondingly rising.”

In other words, the dog that once wagged the tail now is the tail, the result of eroded state sovereignty and powerful private institutions, producing a race to the bottom conducive to exploiting labor – most prominently in poor countries but also in developed ones.

___________________

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. 

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

 

Article 24 states:

“Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”

Source:

“Global Sweatshop Wage Slavery” by Stephen Lendman

http://www.a-w-i-p.com/index.php/2010/02/25/global-sweatshop-wage-slavery

The Adbusters Take on Hipsters

September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

“We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality.”

I first read the article “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization” in Adbusters Magazine when the issue came out in 2008. I thought it was a great take on the hipster fad, exposing the so-called counterculture for the shallow consumer trend it really is. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.

An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it. The cultural zeitgeists of the past have always been sparked by furious indignation and are reactionary movements. But the hipster’s self-involved and isolated maintenance does nothing to feed cultural evolution. Western civilization’s well has run dry. The only way to avoid hitting the colossus of societal failure that looms over the horizon is for the kids to abandon this vain existence and start over.

Read the entire article: https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html

Personal Responsibility

September 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Lately I’ve been thinking about the motivations behind certain actions and their results or potential impact.  Though this may seem like a trivial example, when I recycle small items I wonder if I should even bother when the environment is being severely damaged by large polluters daily; what would my little piece of garbage matter when companies like BP have wreaked havoc on the planet?

The same sort of question could be asked about my desire to make ethical choices when I shop, purchasing fair trade products and trying to avoid sweatshop-made items. What would those small acts amount to in the face of such large corporations like Nike and the Gap who wield considerable power and influence all over the world? My purchasing power seems paltry in comparison – as does my small act of recycling – so why bother?

I have learned that if one wants to change the world, one must change herself first. Not only does it matter for the sake of being consistent and avoiding being hypocritical, but movements are based on collections of individuals who were faced with a decision, and made the change in their own lives.

The greatest motivating factor for me, however, is the knowledge that all I do is witnessed by the Judge of all things. God commands social justice and the care of all He created and I believe Muslims too often separate these ideas from popular understandings of religiosity. Ritual is only a part of being a good believer; care for others, animals, and our earth are also essential factors in what would constitute a good human being and a good Muslim.

I believe that when God commands goodness and forbids evil, social responsibility is a part of His command and we are personally responsible for what is in our power to do, and every action, small or large, counts. Many may simply interpret this as the imperative to care for the poor, but there are so many references in the Quran and Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet) that forbid oppression and describe it, and those who perpetrate it, in the worst of terms. We who live in the wealthy nations are a part of systems that are directly or indirectly oppressing small nations and/or their citizens. Are we not responsible as Muslims to help those being oppressed? And will we not be questioned if we are in fact capable of making change for the better within those systems?

Not only do our actions in working for social justice matter in changing ourselves and our world, in helping us to be better human beings and Muslims, and in helping us to work against oppression, but we are also promised reward by the Most Merciful:

As for anyone – be it man or woman – who does righteous deeds, and is a believer withal – him shall We most certainly cause to live a good life and most certainly shall We grant unto such as these their reward in accordance with the best that they ever did.” (Quran 16:97)

God also motivates us to this good in the Quran by saying:

“Verily, [only] they who stand in reverent awe of their Sustainer, and who believe in their Sus­tainer’s messages, and who do not ascribe divinity to aught but their Sustainer, and who give whatever they [have to] give with their hearts trembling at the thought that unto their Sustainer they must return: it is they who vie with one another in doing good works, and it is they who outrun [all others] in attaining to them! And [withal] We do not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: for with Us is a record that speaks the truth [about what men and women do and can do]; and none shall be wronged.” (Quran 23: 57-62)

A Sweeter Business Model

September 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

What I really like about Josef Zotter is that he not only created an environmentally friendly, socially conscious fair trade business, but that he also does not desire to advertise (advertising is huge mental pollutant in my opinion) nor does he wish to expand to become global company. Simple is better in his world. Too bad I would have to go to Austria to try his chocolate!

Local Chocolate, for Local Consumption

H. Lehmann

The Zotter factory in Bergyl, Austria, produces more than 200 varieties of organic chocolate.

By ALICE PFEIFFER
Published: September 2, 2010

BERGL, AUSTRIA — In 1996, Josef Zotter’s bakery business in Graz, Austria, was floundering. Facing bankruptcy, he decided to close shop and go back to his roots, a village named Bergl in the Feldbach district of Styria. There, with 2 of his 40 former employees, he set up a tiny chocolate factory in a converted cowshed on the farm where he had grown up.

His plan was to build a microbusiness, buying “fair trade” chocolate beans from smallholder producer cooperatives in Nicaragua and Brazil for the small-scale production of chocolate confectionery using local produce, for local consumption.

Turning out bars with flavors like apricot and sheep’s milk, he built a following among customers who liked the concept of Austrian specialty chocolate made in an environmentally conscious way.

Today, the factory has grown to cover more than 5,500 square meters, or 60,000 square feet, from its original 200 square meters. The company, Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur, employs 112 people producing as many as 50,000 to 80,000 bars a day in a range of more than 200 classical and exotic flavors.

Among the odder ingredients: Fish; soy; green tea; açaí berry; and ketchup and peanut butter — a tongue-in-cheek celebration of American taste, for President Barack Obama’s election victory.

Sales have grown by word of mouth. “We don’t advertise whatsoever,” Mr. Zotter said in an interview last month.

The company organizes factory tours, however, that bring about 150,000 visitors a year to taste and smell and also to sit on cocoa bean bags in the on-site “Cocoa Cinema,” where they can watch presentations on the brand’s history and ecological principles.

Other attractions include a “Drink Chocolate Online” room where a small cable conveyor system, like a miniature ski-lift, trundles bars of chocolate around the room, waiting for visitors to pick them off and turn them into cocoa drinks at an adjoining hot chocolate bar.

A recent visitor found crowds of children drinking from cocoa fountains at the entrance to the factory while their parents cut chocolate chunks from brimming samplers.

But behind this playful, almost whimsical, presentation lies a strong commitment to sustainable production and equitable trading relations with the company’s suppliers.

The company’s chocolate beans have been certified as “fair trade” products since 2004, meaning that it buys directly from the producers, offering them a higher price by cutting out middlemen. Mr. Zotter said he traveled regularly to Nicaragua and Brazil to meet with the producers, for whom he has financed the purchase of machinery and the construction of storage space.

“I know how much they earn, and how much of their salary such equipment represents,” he said.

Residues from grinding the beans are fed into a biomass converter to produce heat, power and fertilizer. Between the biomass plant and solar panels, 60 percent of the energy required by the factory is produced on the site. “We aim to reach full energy autarchy in the next 10 years,” Mr. Zotter said.

Since 2006, the factory’s output has been certified organic. Mr. Zotter uses dairy products from organic farmers in the mountains of Tyrol and specialty organic products, like seeds, fruit and nuts, from local farms. “I want to use as many local specialties, and specialists, as possible. Steiermark needs the jobs,” Mr. Zotter said, using the German name for Styria.

Mr. Zotter has also established an organic canteen on the factory site for his employees “so they get used to quality,” he said. “Also, I want them to work not just for money, but in a place they feel good in.”

Other environmental gestures include using water from local springs only, which is then recycled for cleaning; and using environmentally friendly packaging, without glossy coatings.

“You can make changes by paying attention to the smallest details of everyday life,” he said.

Applying the same principles to his private life, he says he has driven an electric car for the past 15 years and powers his home with a domestic solar/ biomass generator that produces more energy than he needs.

“My home energy production is really efficient,” he said. “I actually produce too much, so I wind up reselling it.”

In an extension of his fair-trade principles, Mr. Zotter is also involved in several social projects, including one in Colombia that aims to wean coca growers onto cocoa as a substitute crop, and his product line includes fund-raising chocolates, like the Zuki bar, a flavorsome blend of açaí, mango and brazil nuts.

The company says it donates 30 percent of Zuki bar sales to an aid project for Calcutta street children.

Mr. Zotter says he is not interested in developing a global presence or selling through large distribution chains. Franchising has no place in his strategy, and faster growth is not an object.

“I’ve reached my ideal size,” he said. “Plus, I don’t think we need yet another global brand. The world needs a completely new approach to making the economy work. I find it so frustrating to see the same products in every corner of the globe.”

“The world is changing,” he added. “There is a return to simplicity. Greed is over.”

Source:  The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/business/energy-environment/03iht-rbogchoc.html?src=busln#

Tariq Ramadan on Anti-Globalization Activists

September 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

In the article “Globalisation Critics are Naive” Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan –  a critic of globalization himself – highlights some of the problems within the current movement, discussing the imperialist language of Western activists, their ignorance of other nations and potential partners for the cause  in the Muslim world, and prejudice towards other minorities living in the West who are among those being fought for. Though I do not know enough about the anti-globalization movement in the West to say whether or not I agree with his arguments, I did find the article to be quite interesting. Here are some important points from the piece:

“To such an extent that it is not unusual to meet men and women championing progressive opinions on social, political and economic issues, while their cultural vocabulary still bears the imprint of an old colonial outlook. From forum to forum, one grows accustomed to meeting this new species of activist – a living contradiction of the contemporary left – economically progressive but culturally so imperialist; ready to fight for social justice but at the same time so confident and sometimes arrogant as to assume the right to dictate a universal set of values for everyone.”

-“To advocate another kind of globalisation armed only with Western rationalism against the uniform commodification of the world is not only contradictory, but profound nonsense. “

-“Amid the talk of democracy, social justice, of the struggle against discrimination in employment and housing, of the rejection of racism, of antisemitism and islamophobia, the populations most affected (those living in deprived urban areas, young people of ‘immigrant origin’, Muslims) are virtually absent from the numerous forums where one thinks for them, without them. If they do come along, they are questioned, suspected. ‘What do they want?’ This single question says enough about the contradiction.”

-“Although the impressive size of the protests against the Iraq war must be acknowledged, one has to ask what alternative was really being proposed (beyond saying ‘No to the war’) to counter America’s unilateral stance and its programme of supervised democracy. Absence of awareness about Islam, as much as the fear cultivated and shared at the heart of a caricaturally constructed West, have led those seeking another kind of globalisation to engage in superficial, if not dangerous talk on Islam. Where are the Arab and Muslim alter’-globalisers? How can we reach out to the millions of activists in the Middle East, Africa and Asia who could become the new life blood of the movement? Such is the fear, and so widespread is the suspicion, that it is unimaginable that Muslims, with their convictions and values, might themselves be agents of change.”

-“Blind to the dynamics of social, cultural, economic and political liberation underway across most of the Muslim world (and often expressed within and through Islam) and oblivious to the struggles being fought by European and North American Muslims, the ‘alter’-globalisers continue to cultivate too many prejudices. Convinced that they are progressive, they give themselves the arbitrary right to proclaim the definitively reactionary nature of religions, and if liberation theology has contradicted this conclusion, the possibility that Islam could engender resistance is not even imagined … unless it’s to modernity. In the end, only a handful of ‘Muslims-who-think-like us’ are accepted, while the others are denied the possibility of being genuinely progressive fighters armed with their own set of values: by doing this, the dialogue with Islam is transformed into an interactive monologue which massages ‘our ideological certainties’ just as Huntington wanted to ensure ‘our strategic interests’.”

To read the entire article, please visit:

http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_article.php/_c-327/_nr-15/_p-1/i.html

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