Made in the USA Series: Clothing. What to do when there is no “Made in the USA” Choice?

Meg and I are pretty careful with our shopping choices. So we took the challenge and rummaged through our closets.  Almost none of our clothing is made in the U.S.A.  More than 50 % of my clothes are made in China with a smattering from SE Asia, Mexico and countries I have never heard of before.  Only a few things from St. John Knit, Eileen Fisher and Talbot’s, plus some really old clothes were made in the U.S. Meg’s clothes are primarily from China and SE Asia, with a few things made in Italy. The occasional “off” brand will be made in the U.S., but otherwise, the majority of our closets are filled with shirts, sweaters, shoes, bags, belts, etc. that have “Made in China” stamped somewhere.

So the issue for today is what to do when you shop for clothing or other items not made in the U.S.A.  It is really important to understand that all clothing made outside of the U.S.A is not the same.  One of the most important terms we had never heard about before this week was SA8000, a tool to implement UN conventions already in place. It has been described as the “first universal standard for ethical sourcing”.   Designed to advance human rights among workers on a global basis, it is a voluntary program based on setting standard for businesses. It was developed, and is overseen, by Social Accountability International, a non-profit organization.  It accredits and monitors organizations for the purpose of setting standards for ethical working conditions. SA8000 standards include:

1)    minimum age 15; 14 in developing countries;

2)    prohibits forced labor;

3)    provides safe and healthy work environment, access to bathrooms and potable water;

4)    respects the right of workers to form and join trade unions and bargain collectively;

5)    prohibits discrimination based on race, caste, origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union or political affiliation, or age; prohibits sexual harassment;

6)    prohibits corporal punishment,  mental or physical coercion or verbal abuse;

7)    limits work to 48 hours per week with overtime at premium wages up to 12 hours per week;

8)    requires living wage, no disciplinary deductions from wages.;

9)    requires companies that want to gain and maintain certification to integrate the standards of SA8000 into their management systems and practices.

Worldwide, as of 2010, companies in 62 countries were participating in the SA8000 certification process.  These companies employ more than 1.3 million people in SA8000 certified facilities, in countries such as China, India, Turkey, Viet Nam and Brazil.  Many U.S. companies are committed to contracting only with suppliers who are SA8000 certified, including such companies as Levi Strauss, Nike and Eileen Fisher.  We are struggling to find a list of U.S. companies that support SA8000, so if you can’t identify immediately whether a company is in compliance, we encourage you to ask.  We sure will!

UPDATE on 2/10/12: If you would like to see a list of Member Companies and Brands, please visit the following link:

Member Companies and Brands for Social Accountability Certifications

What is the United Nations Global Compact and why does it matter?

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

Anyone who cares about global competition and free trade, will also care about the United Nations Global Compact. Like SA 8000, a global social accountability standard for decent working conditions, it focuses on the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.  There are many prominent U.S. businesses that have committed to the principles of the compact: Levi Strauss, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Price Waterhouse auditors and Nike are all participants.

Each business that joins the UN Global Compact is expected to embrace the 10 fundamental principles of the Compact, to the best of their ability and within their realm of influence. As listed on the organization’s website, here are the 10 principles:

Human Rights:

1)             support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and

2)             protect against human rights abuses.

Labor:

3)             uphold the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

4)             the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;

5)             the effective abolition of child labour; and

6)             the elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation.

Environment:

7)             support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;

8)             undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and

9)             encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

Anti-Corruption:

10)          work against all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery.

The Compact is designed as a forum for businesses globally to collaborate within a practical framework to exchange best practices and facilitate the development of sustainable business methods. According to its website, www.unglobalcompact.org, the Compact has over 8700 corporate participants in 130 countries. With this kind of participation, there is certainly hope that businesses can start working together on a global level to infuse human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption ideals at a global level, and that those ideals can have an impact locally.

It should not surprise us that companies that take to heart the provisions of SA 8000 are often committed to a broader range of compacts focused on global equity, protection of the environment and protecting our natural resources.  We believe the principles of the UN Global Compact and SA 8000 are important in “shifting the balance” toward a healthier planet.

Made in USA Series: The Grocery Store

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

I have always made an effort to buy local. Usually this has translated into frequenting the local farmers’ market or perhaps stopping by a roadside stand. However, I still go to the grocery store for most of my food items. This is where the challenge begins.

The bulk of my grocery items tend to be fresh produce. I know a lot of people buy frozen veggies and canned goods, but something about fresh, crunchy fruits and vegetables just makes me happy. They smell better, taste better, and overall make me feel better. But does it matter where exactly they come from? I think so. Not necessarily for health reasons, though many would say this is a factor, but also for environmental and economic reasons. Buying locally grown produce helps support local farms (economic benefit) as well as increased sustainability (environmental benefit).

If you’re standing in the grocery store and you want to buy tomatoes, as I was the other day, most of the labels are likely to say “Product of Mexico” on them. (Please note, I have nothing against Mexico, or any other country where many things are grown, I just think it’s important to support U.S. farms and lower our carbon footprint by buying in the U.S.). However, if you search through the different tomato varieties, you can find some that say “Product of USA.” They may cost the same. The Mexico tomatoes might be a little cheaper. But think about the cost of getting those Mexico tomatoes into your grocery store compared to the USA tomatoes. It took more gasoline, they’ve likely traveled at least a day longer and are therefore not as fresh, and they’re not products of U.S. farms. It’s like outsourcing our call centers to India. We’ve outsourced our tomatoes to Mexico. But why? We certainly don’t need to if we can produce tomatoes here in the U.S. Well, I pose that it’s because when faced with the decision of which tomatoes to buy at the store, many people will still buy the tomatoes produced in Mexico. It’s not that they mean to choose between Mexico and USA, they just don’t think about it.

So here is my challenge to you, a challenge I am currently taking on myself. Try to buy fresh produce that says “Product of USA” on the sticker. It’s not as difficult as you might think. Sure, there are a few things you might sacrifice. Last week I couldn’t find any grapes from the U.S., nor could I find local bananas. But everything else has a U.S. grown version if you just take the time to look. Tomatoes, peppers, all kinds of lettuce, fennel, apples, oranges, berries…the list goes on.

Please feel free to share what kinds of produce you can find with a USA sticker, and what produce you can’t find. It will be interesting to see what kinds of U.S. grown fruits and vegetables are more easily available around the country.