September 27, 2010 § Leave a comment
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.
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.”|
“Global Sweatshop Wage Slavery” by Stephen Lendman
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
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!
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
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:
August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment
In discussions about sweatshop labour, some of the big names that always come up are sports apparel and equipment companies: Adidas, Puma, Reebok, and of course the big one, Nike. In a conversation the other day, a friend of mine wondered what the alternative could be to supporting these companies, and even lower-end brands, since all sporting goods seem sweatshop produced. I’m sure this is a problem for a lot of conscientious athletes and people who just love athletic wear.
Today I was happy to find the website of a company that is committed to fair trade, green living, and to supporting charities! Fair Trade Sports seems to be a great alternative to supporting the mighty brands. Check them out:
August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment
These are the reflections of one activist who decided to go homeless for a week to experience the life of those suffering from poverty, and to draw attention to the issue of homelessness in America. May Allah reward his efforts!
By: Yusef Ramelize
In 2009 I went homeless in the first week of March, but it was nothing compared to doing my summer homeless project this year. Even though my homeless experience last year was in the middle of the winter and I slept in the subway stations and trains, my journey this year was much more difficult because I was sleeping outside in the street on a card board box every night. I was fasting during the day with very little energy and I was face to face with homeless people because of course the homeless are much more visible during the summer. It was a more “real” experience this year.
My days consisted of giving out fliers during the day or sleeping on park benches. When sunset arrived, I would walk to the NYU Islamic Center to break my fast. Most nights I’d walk to Park51 to say my tarawih (nighttime) prayers. I didn’t sleep much. After the night prayers, I’d walk to Union Square from downtown, spending hours trying to find a place to sleep.
This project isn’t about me finding a cure for homelessness; I want to inspire people to make their own sacrifices and become agents of change. Change doesn’t need to come from extreme means – it comes from someone simply paying attention to the issue of homelessness, striking up a conversation with a homeless person, asking them if they’d like some food, or simply giving them a smile.
I’ve learned that education about homelessness is very important. I’ve spoken to so many people that think homeless people are “lazy” and “don’t want to work.” One of my goals is to let people know how false this statement is. Anyone could become homeless. In fact, many of us are just one paycheck away from being homeless, especially in NYC and how expensive it is to live and survive here.
I am a Muslim and I see the beauty in it everyday, especially in the holy month of Ramadan. Going homeless for one week during this month helped me to reflect even further on the trials and tribulations that the less fortunate suffer from. I can choose to eat when I want. Not everyone has that choice. Support from my family and friends is what gave me the push to take on this journey and to not give up.
One of the most touching moments of my homeless experience was while I was sleeping on a bench in Union Square Park and I felt a stare that made me wake up. It was my sister and her eyes were filled with tears. She said, “Yusef… All my life I was living in a bubble, selfish, not concerning my self with the world’s problems. Not caring about any one’s problems but my own. This year seeing you go through this journey has made me realize that I desperately need to change.”
We talked on that bench and figured out all the different things she would volunteer for this year and in the years to come. Remembering this moment still brings tears to my eyes.
Knowing that I was able to inspire my sister means the world to me. It feels like the greatest accomplishment that anyone could ask for.
I hope that my journey was able to educate, inspire and change a few people’s hearts about homelessness.
August 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
“O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah even against yourselves, your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor, for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” Quran 4:135