Business Insider: ‘WIKILEAKS: U.S. Fought To Lower Minimum Wage In Haiti So Hanes And Levis Would Stay Cheap’

June 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Business Insider

 

Robert Johnson | Jun. 3, 2011

A Wikileaks post published on The Nation shows that the Obama Administration fought to keep Haitian wages at 31 cents an hour.

(This article was taken down by The Nation due to an embargo, but it was excerpted at Columbia Journalism Review.)

It started when Haiti passed a law two years ago raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. According to an embassy cable:

This infuriated American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss that pay Haitians slave wages to sew their clothes. They said they would only fork over a seven-cent-an-hour increase, and they got the State Department involved. The U.S. ambassador put pressure on Haiti’s president, who duly carved out a $3 a day minimum wage for textile companies (the U.S. minimum wage, which itself is very low, works out to $58 a day).

Haiti has about 25,000 garment workers. If you paid each of them $2 a day more, it would cost their employers $50,000 per working day, or about $12.5 million a year … As of last year Hanes had 3,200 Haitians making t-shirts for it. Paying each of them two bucks a day more would cost it about $1.6 million a year. Hanesbrands Incorporated made $211 million on $4.3 billion in sales last year.

Thanks to U.S. intervention, the minimum was raised only to 31 cents.

These papers have come to light thanks to Haiti Libertea small Haitian newspaper with offices in Port-au-Prince and New York City.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/wikileaks-haiti-minimum-wage-the-nation-2011-6#ixzz1PPAl40Wn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NYT: ‘As China’s Workers Get a Raise, Companies Fret’

June 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The New York Times

By KEITH BRADSHER

Published: May 31, 2011

HONG KONG — Wages are surging this year inChina and among its main low-wage Asian rivals, benefiting workers across the region. But the increases confront trading companies and Western retailers with cost increases and are making higher prices likely for American and European consumers.

Bruce Rockowitz, the chief executive of Li & Fung, the largest trading company supplying Chinese consumer goods to American retail chains, said in a speech here on Tuesday that the company’s average costs for goods rose 15 percent in the first five months of this year compared with the same period last year. Executives at other consumer goods companies have encountered similar or larger increases.

Airline flights to Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and other low-wage Asian countries are packed these days with executives looking for alternatives to double-digit wage increases in China. But wages are rising as fast or faster in many of these countries, following China’s example, while commodity prices have surged around the world, leaving buyers with few places to turn.

Bangladesh raised its minimum wage by 87 percent late last year, yet apparel factories there are still struggling to find enough workers to complete ever-rising numbers of orders. “Everywhere you see signs saying ‘people wanted,’ “ said Annisul Huq, the chairman of the Mohammadi Group, a large Bangladesh garment manufacturer.

The Gap surprised financial markets on May 19 by announcing that a 20 percent jump in costs from suppliers by the second half of this year would depress its profits, prompting a 17.5 percent plunge of its shares the next day. Coach, the luxury handbag company, announced in January that it would try to reduce its reliance on China to less than half of its products within four years, from 80 percent now, by moving production to Vietnam and India.

Yet wages in Vietnam have been rising as fast as Chinese wages, or faster, while India has posed many problems for large-scale manufacturers. Mr. Rockowitz said that India’s infrastructure — roads and ports — was “really poor,” while labor issues, including government regulations, make it hard to build Chinese-style factories for tens of thousands of workers.

With costs rising in China and few alternatives elsewhere, “you have the perfect storm for raising prices,” said Bennett Model, the chief executive of Cassin, a Manhattan-based line of designer clothing. The company’s costs have risen 25 to 35 percent in the last year for cotton and fur garments alike.

Cassin has begun experimenting with garment production in Guatemala with some success, Mr. Model said, adding that many garment companies were still leery of buying from anywhere except China. “Everybody’s scared of the quality — you spend so many years training a factory” to meet detailed specifications, he said.

Yet with 14 million people, Guatemala has the population of only a single large Chinese metropolitan area like Shenzhen or Guangzhou.

Workers in developing countries all over the world are becoming more aware of pay elsewhere through the Internet and the use of social media like Facebook, increasing the pressure for higher wages, Mr. Rockowitz said.

Li & Fung handles about 4 percent of American retailers’ imports from China of virtually all kinds of consumer goods, according to investment analysts. The exception is electronics, which tend to be imported directly to the United States by other companies like Apple.

Mr. Rockowitz and other executives predict that the extremely high concentration of factories in southeastern China near Hong Kong will give way to a dispersal across the country in the next five years. Workers are becoming much more reluctant to spend up to three days on buses and trains from the interior to reach coastal factories, particularly when the growth of domestic spending in China is creating more jobs in the interior.

Even the recent opening of high-speed rail routes that cut travel times up to 80 percent has not been enough to revive the flow of migrants. “They don’t have to take a 1,000-mile trip to the coast — there’s a shortage of people, unbelievable,” said Douglas Hsu, the chairman and chief executive of the Far Eastern Group, a big Taiwanese multinational with extensive investments in mainland China.

And wages in China’s interior have been rising even faster in percentage terms than in coastal provinces, steadily narrowing what was once a pattern of much higher wages in coastal export zones.

Many companies have another reason for staying in China these days: that is where their sales are growing fastest. “If the market is in China, which in many cases it now is, there’s much less incentive to move,” said Charles Oliver, the senior partner of GCiS China, a market research company in Shanghai.

China has become the world’s largest market for a long list of products, like cars and steel. Producing and selling in China protects companies from later facing “Buy Chinese” policies, antidumping cases or other Chinese import restrictions.

Manufacturing in China allows companies to incur costs in renminbi, the same currency as a growing part of their sales. That insulates them from one kind of currency volatility even as the renminbifluctuates more against the dollar and euro.

Rising wages and strengthening currencies in Asia are making it less attractive to move higher-value industries like auto manufacturing out of the West. But little mentioned by almost anyone making or trading consumer goods in Asia these days is the possibility of moving these relatively labor-intensive manufacturing industries back to the United States or Europe.

Mr. Rockowitz was dismissive of the idea in his remarks on Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

“The Western world does not have the work force to do this kind of business,” he said. “For ‘made in Italy,’ the workers are old now and there are no new workers coming in.”

The City of Sao Paulo

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Featured in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the city of Sao Paulo has accomplished what we may deem an impossible task: it rid its public spaces of all advertising. Now that’s a place I’d like to see for myself!

Here is an excerpt of an article on the removal of publics ads in Sao Paulo from Bloomberg Businessweek:

São Paulo: The City That Said No To Advertising

The “Clean City” law passed last year by the populist mayor, Gilberto Kassab, stripped the Brazilian city of all advertising. 

by Patrick Burgoyne

A city stripped of advertising. No Posters. No flyers. No ads on buses. No ads on trains. No Adshels, no 48-sheets, no nothing.

It sounds like an Adbusters editorial: an activist’s dream. But in São Paulo, Brazil, the dream has become a reality.

In September last year, the city’s populist right-wing mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the so-called Clean City laws. Fed up with the “visual pollution” caused by the city’s 8,000 billboard sites, many of them erected illegally, Kassab proposed a law banning all outdoor advertising. The skyscraper-sized hoardings that lined the city’s streets would be wiped away at a stroke. And it was not just billboards that attracted his wrath: all forms of outdoor advertising were to be prohibited, including ads on taxis, on buses—even shopfronts were to be restricted, their signs limited to 1.5 metres for every 10 metres of frontage. “It is hard in a city of 11 million people to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what is and isn’t legal,” reasoned Kassab, “so we have decided to go all the way.”

The law was hailed by writer Roberto Pompeu de Toledo as “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash& For once, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

CTV: UBC named Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus

May 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

 Congrats to UBC for leading the way. Hope to see this on other campuses across Canada!!

UBC named Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus
CTV

By: Kendall Walters, ctvbc.ca

Date: Thursday May. 5, 2011 5:07 PM PT

There’s something different about the way the University of British Columbia wakes up and smells the coffee in the morning – the steaming caffeine poured into warm mugs across campus is fair trade.

UBC just became the first Fair Trade Campus in Canada. The Fair Trade Canada designation follows Vancouver’s recognition as a Fair Trade City this time last year.

Coffee, tea and chocolate bars sold at UBC and student society AMS-run eateries are ethically purchased and provide equitable compensation to farmers for their product.

The commitment does not include campus franchises – Starbucks, Tim Hortons and White Spot.

Kaan Williams is the director of fair trade with the UBC chapter of Engineers Without Borders. He was instrumental in pushing the designation initiative forward.

“It’s not just a recognition of past activity at UBC,” he said. “It’s also a commitment to retain the momentum that UBC has.”

The campus had already put into effect many policies fitting with Fair Trade Canada’s designation requirements. UBC has offered fair trade coffee for the past decade; the campus sold nearly 1.5 million cups of fair trade coffee in the last year alone.

“All the reactions I’ve heard so far were enthusiastic and excited,” Williams said. “People are excited to see some recognition for what’s going on here at UBC.”

Only a few extra steps had to be put in place to meet designation restrictions.

The campus dedicated itself to using fair trade products whenever possible, Williams said. That’s why it’s gone beyond the minimum requirements of the designation.

Fair Trade Canada asks that Fair Trade Campuses sell only fair trade coffee and offer at least three fair trade teas and one fair trade chocolate bar option.

Nearly all of the teas offered at UBC are fair trade and campus eateries are also selling fair trade tropical fruit such as bananas.

“We’re always looking for new things to use as well,” Williams said.

The designation has already fueled action by local businesses.

Vancouver-based coffee companies Milano and Ethical Bean have jumped on board. Milano produced its first fair-trade certified blend of coffee for UBC.

And there’s buzz in the air of fair trade designation hopes at several other Canadian universities. Williams has already been contacted by other institutions interested in following UBC’s example.

Andrew Parr is the managing director of UBC student housing and hospitality services. He was closely involved in the designation.

He said the campus wasn’t aiming to be the first fair-trade certified in Canada, but he said he thinks it’s a nice message to other institutions.

“This is something that is feasible and doable and worth doing,” Parr said.

The initiative is a matter of educating students on something more than the subject matter they study in the classroom, Parr said, adding he hopes the move can help UBC students become more socially-conscious citizens.

Williams agreed.

“That’s a nice way that we as an institution are able to make an influence in a broader community,” he said.

UBC joins 100 global universities that have already made the commitment.

T Magazine: ‘A Diamond in the Roughage’

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The New York Times Style Magazine:

On being fashionable, ethically, by Lynn Yaeger

Sometimes it’s wonderfully easy, sometimes not so very. Deciding to throw that dirty makeup towel on the floor of the hotel bathroom, despite the card detailing the environmental consequences of your wanton gesture in three languages? An ethical conundrum that can sully a whole day (or at least a morning). But slathering your visage with the wholesome-est creams, bedecking yourself in the finest ancient gems and even brooking controversy by maybe daring to don a few vintage pelts, all in service of saving, celebrating — even worshiping — the earth? Simple.

It’s already the second decade of the new century, and we are dealing with style questions, ethical and otherwise, that would have bedeviled our chic ancestors. We may pay lip service to sustainability and strive for a toddler-size carbon footprint, but who among us is considering the environment when our cupboards are stuffed with nonbiodegradable synthetic Marc Jacobs fetish frocks, shiny plastic Balenciaga houndstooth-check spring coats and truckloads of industrial-strength Spanx made of who knows what mysterious chemical compound? Not to mention the sheer quantities of merchandise that languish in our armoires, living as we do in a time when 30 pairs of shoes don’t raise an eyebrow, instead of the measly two (or maybe three or four, if they were really prosperous) that our forebears made do with.

Back then, life was so much easier. You didn’t need to worry about the ecological correctness of your cosmetics because they were made of good things like arsenic, which — fun fact! — some women in the 19th century used to drink in a vain (pun intended) attempt to look like the fair maidens of the Caucasus. Or — second fun fact — you could visit an “enameler” on lower Broadway who encased your face and neck with a lead-based coating; but bear in mind that if the enamel was applied with slightly too heavy a hand, the merest movement would cause hideous spooky cracks.

How delightfully times have changed! This morning, I doused myself with gluten-free vegan shower gel (odd when you think about it, since I didn’t plan to eat it); rolled on a deodorant made, at least partially, from chamomile and rice (though I didn’t intend to consume this either); and attempted to eradicate my under-eye circles with a soy/rice peptide (a third meal?). I lightened my coffee (yes, caffeine — I don’t want to hear it) with organic low-fat “happy” milk, which the bottle claims comes from a cheerful cow who has a name.

Want to know how much I care about a cow’s name? On the other hand, I do like to know the names of the people who once wore my jewelry. Of all the ways of keeping green, of embarking on the road that will make a responsible, socially aware person out of the gross, wasteful slob you fear you remain deep inside, wearing old jewelry is perhaps the most seductive path. I am actually thrilled to look inside a cameo ring and find it inscribed “For Darling Desdemona, Christmas 1887.” I even have a soft spot for the semirevolting subgroup of antique bibelots known as mourning jewelry, a Victorian conceit that employs human hair — the ultimate green material — woven in clever ways, and that is invariably decorated with the name and death date of the luckless soul commemorated. (Added bonus: If you fling a hair brooch into the trash by mistake, it will decompose delightfully in the nearest fetid landfill, unlike those big plastic and resin necklaces they’re selling all over town with four-figure price tags.)

So go ahead! Learn the name of that bovine whose teats were squeezed particularly for your delectation, coat your face with enamel, stick an 18th-century diamond tiara on your head, and sally forth confident in the knowledge that no aspect of our glorious planet was harmed in the process of making you so gorgeous.

CNN: ‘We take risks, others pay the price’ Naomi Klein

May 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

TED: ‘Addicted to Risk’

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

CNN: ‘We take risks, others pay the price’
By Naomi Klein, Special to CNN
February 20, 2011

(CNN) — When I met George Awudi, a leader of Friends of the Earth Ghana, he was wearing a bright red T-shirt that said “Do Not Incinerate Africa.” We were both attending the World Social Forum, a sprawling gathering of tens of thousands of activists held earlier this month in Dakar, Senegal.

Amid that political free-for-all — with mini-protests breaking out against everything from Arab despots to education cuts — I assumed that Awudi’s T-shirt referred to some local environmental struggle I hadn’t heard of, perhaps a dirty incinerator in Ghana.

He set me straight: “No, it’s about climate change.” Specifically, the combative slogan refers to the refusal of industrialized nations to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the hottest and poorest countries on the planet are being hit first and hardest by rising temperatures, that refusal will mean, according to Awudi, that large parts of Africa “will be incinerated.”

He was quick to clarify that he did not think that people from wealthy countries actively want Africa to “burn” — it’s just that they want “to hold on to their interests,” including “interests of profit-making.”

But there is something deeper at play too, Awudi said. “It’s a mentality that they have imported from the colonial days. A mentality of looking down upon people” from Africa. It is that mentality, he argued, that makes it possible to barrel ahead with economic policies that carry growing and glaring risks.

I decided to focus my TED talk on the psychology of reckless risk-taking, because I see that impulse at work behind so many of the catastrophes of recent years: the BP disaster, the invasion of Iraq, the financial sector collapse, and the ongoing refusal to take meaningful action in the face of climate change.

Again and again, policymakers ignore mountains of evidence warning of catastrophe, opting instead to roll the dice and hope for the best.

There are all kinds of explanations for what drives this sort of short-term decision-making, with greed and hubris cited most frequently. Less discussed, but possibly more important, is the phenomenon that Awudi referenced: that the people taking the risks often feel distinctly distant from, if not outright superior to, the people most endangered by their decisions.

Many of our greatest risk-takers are also convinced that they personally will be spared from the worst consequences should things go terribly wrong.

In most cases, this is not an irrational assumption. The U.S. government’s decision to invade Iraq was disastrous for Iraqis, whose country spiraled out of control, but in large parts of the U.S., that war is virtually invisible.

Multinational oil and gas companies are so hypermobile that a disaster in one part of the world just means concentrating on new “energy plays” somewhere else. And then there are the bankers who caused the 2008 collapse. Billions around the world have paid the price for their recklessness, but the financial sector itself has been largely insulated from all but the most token reprimands.

With climate change, the gap between those who created the crisis and those who pay the price is widest of all.

It is the historical emissions from the industrialized world that are responsible for the dangerous accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere. Yet in North America and Europe, where we have the infrastructure to deal with extreme weather (just don’t mention New Orleans), many of us feel we have the luxury to debate whether the phenomenon is even happening.

Meanwhile, African nations like Ghana, that contributed least to the crisis, are already facing crippling droughts and devastating floods, without the tools to cope.

All of this has led me to conclude that the central challenge of our time is tackling deep inequality, and changing the stories that we tell ourselves to justify our enormous privilege.

In a deeply divided world like ours, there is simply too much distance between the people with unchecked power to make grave mistakes and those who have to suffer the effects.

Only when we feel that our fates are genuinely intertwined will we understand that a fire that starts in Africa will eventually incinerate us all.

The Guardian: Apple’s Chinese workers treated ‘inhumanely, like machines’

May 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Guardian UK

Gethin Chamberlain
Saturday 30 April 2011

Investigation finds evidence of draconian rules and excessive overtime to meet western demand for iPhones and iPads

An investigation into the conditions of Chinese workers has revealed the shocking human cost of producing the must-have Apple iPhones and iPads that are now ubiquitous in the west.

The research, carried out by two NGOs, has revealed disturbing allegations of excessive working hours and draconian workplace rules at two major plants in southern China. It has also uncovered an “anti-suicide” pledge that workers at the two plants have been urged to sign, after a series of employee deaths last year.

The investigation gives a detailed picture of life for the 500,000 workers at the Shenzhen and Chengdu factories owned by Foxconn, which produces millions of Apple products each year. The report accuses Foxconn of treating workers “inhumanely, like machines”.

Among the allegations made by workers interviewed by the NGOs – the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom) – are claims that:

■ Excessive overtime is routine, despite a legal limit of 36 hours a month. One payslip, seen by the Observer, indicated that the worker had performed 98 hours of overtime in a month.

■ Workers attempting to meet the huge demand for the first iPad were sometimes pressured to take only one day off in 13.

■ In some factories badly performing workers are required to be publicly humiliated in front of colleagues.

■ Crowded workers’ dormitories can sleep up to 24 and are subject to strict rules. One worker told the NGO investigators that he was forced to sign a “confession letter” after illicitly using a hairdryer. In the letter he wrote: “It is my fault. I will never blow my hair inside my room. I have done something wrong. I will never do it again.”

■ In the wake of a spate of suicides at Foxconn factories last summer, workers were asked to sign a statement promising not to kill themselves and pledging to “treasure their lives”.

Foxconn produced its first iPad at Chengdu last November and expects to produce 100m a year by 2013. Last year Apple sold more than 15m iPads worldwide and has already sold close to five million this year.

When the allegations were put to Foxconn by the Observer, manager Louis Woo confirmed that workers sometimes worked more than the statutory overtime limit to meet demand from western consumers, but claimed that all the extra hours were voluntary. Workers claim that, if they turn down excessive demands for overtime, they will be forced to rely on their basic wage: workers in Chengdu are paid only 1,350 yuan (£125) a month for a basic 48-hour week, equivalent to about 65p an hour.

Asked about the suicides that have led to anti-suicide netting being fitted beneath the windows of workers’ dormitories, Woo said: “Suicides were not connected to bad working conditions. There was a copy effect. If one commits suicide, then others will follow.”

In a statement, Apple said: “Apple is committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base. Apple requires suppliers to commit to our comprehensive supplier code of conduct as a condition of their contracts with us. We drive compliance with the code through a rigorous monitoring programme, including factory audits, corrective action plans and verification measures.”

Islamic Relief: An Islamic Perspective on Fair Trade

April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The international relief and development organization Islamic Relief has published an in-depth analysis on fair trade according to Islamic principles:

An Islamic Perspective on Fair Trade

The growth of international trade has brought about significant economic benefits and prosperity to many. However, small-scale producers in many poor countries, particularly those whose livelihoods depend upon the farming of a single crop, are unable to compete in a world market controlled by large multinational companies and distorted by the subsidies provided by rich countries to their producers. As a consequence, farmers in poor countries have few options for generating an income and many live in poverty often unable to meet even their most basic needs. Fair trade is a response to these conditions.

European and North American Fairtrade labelling bodies, non-governmental organisations and various faith-based organisations have all been instrumental in promoting fair trade. Indeed, for ethical and moral reasons, many Christian faith-based organisations have adopted a clear and unequivocal position in support of fair trade. Is an Islamic perspective on fair trade also supportive? Do Islamic principles and teachings encourage Muslim organisations to be equally active? And does an Islamic perspective provide additional insights? In order to address these questions, this paper presents an Islamic perspective on fair trade. It does this by outlining the key principles upon which fair trade is based, such as sustainability, fairness, equity, and workers rights, and examines relevant Islamic teachings.

This investigation finds that the principles of Islam are not silent on issues of fair trade and trade justice. Indeed, there is a rich heritage in Islam of high moral standards, ethics, values and norms of behaviour, which govern personal, professional and business life. In the area of business and commerce Islam obliges buyers, sellers and consumers to act honestly, fairly and with integrity in their daily business practices – for business is not something that can be treated separately from all other aspects of social life. Islam also obliges workers to be treated fairly, and with dignity and respect. Since the fair trade movement is primarily concerned with fairness, equity and justice, it seems that the principles of fair trade and the teachings of Islam are entirely congruent. With references from the Qur’an and ahadith this analysis demonstrates that, from an Islamic perspective, there are indeed strong and clear faith-based reasons for supporting fair trade initiatives. Through supporting fair trade, Muslims can ensure that producers receive a fair price that guarantees a living income and decent working conditions with longer-term contracts that provide greater security and ensure more sustainable development.

Read full article: http://www.islamic-relief.com/InDepth/downloads/Islam_and_Fairtrade.pdf

Adbusters: “Ramadan Xmas”

December 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Ramadan Xmas”
By Sarah Nardi

Source: Adbusters Magazine
http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/87/ramadan-xmas.html

Most of us, whether we’ve experienced it directly or not, are familiar with the idea of a comedown. A comedown is what happens when a drug, usually a stimulant, begins the long, painful process of withdrawing from your system. As the euphoria of the high begins to wane and the anxiety washes in, you suddenly start to feel dizzy and disoriented. The drug, previously situated between you and reality, is wearing off and, as it goes, you’re left to navigate the void created by its absence. That means going through the process of reconnecting to yourself, to your body’s natural rhythms and your mind’s natural pace. And when it’s finally over, you’re left feeling listless, lifeless and blank … the soaring high replaced by a crushing melancholy.

That’s how I feel every year after Christmas.

Once the cheer I’ve been mainlining since the day after Thanksgiving dries up, I’m left with an emptiness I can’t quite describe. There’s nothing like the sight of Christmas decorations after the holiday has passed. Walking into a room strewn with yuletide detritus is like returning to the scene of Bacchanalian excess the morning after, when all you’re left with is a headache and a vague sense of shame. The thought of candy, cookies, credit cards – consumption in any form – invites feelings of guilt and disgust. I can’t wait to eat a salad, go to the gym. I vow never to go to the mall again. I just want to get clean. Coming down from Christmas – reconnecting to my body’s natural rhythms and my mind’s natural pace – takes days.

I doubt I’m alone. Most people seem a bit pallid and disconnected, not quite themselves, in the days following Christmas. It’s as if we’re all trying to traverse the void that the holiday, with its attendant excess, has left in its wake. But what if we were to introduce some elements of Ramadan into our celebration of Christmas? Muslims, during the month-long observance of the Islamic holiday, abstain from eating, drinking and sex during the daylight hours. The practice of fasting is meant to teach patience, humility and restraint. It is meant to inspire empathy and appreciation. It’s a way to achieve “God-consciousness” and repent for past sins and misdeeds. Above all, fasting is meant to bring one closer to one’s spiritual self. By denying the body, practitioners are strengthening the soul and the mind. It is an exercise in discipline and meditation that, once completed, should leave one feeling more connected, more whole.

Westerners have a long tradition of borrowing from other cultures to temper an immoderate nature. Yoga brings us calm, Tao brings us balance – so why not look to Islam for a bit of restraint? Maybe we can begin this year at the height, rather than the depths, of self.

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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