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Posts Tagged ‘corporations’

What’s up with coke? Part one

Friday, February 16th, 2007

Union Busting in Colombia

By Elisabeth Perham

Red Can It’s a multinational juggernaut of a company turning over US$23 billion a year and one of the most recognisable brands in the world. Its corporate body speaks from Atlanta, Georgia, ensuring its consumers that the company adheres to the “highest ethical standards” and aims to be “an outstanding corporate citizen in every community we serve.” Why then have numerous colleges across the USA and around the world terminated their contracts with Coca Cola? Why was the 2005 annual Coca Cola stockholders meeting overtaken by activists demanding answers? What’s up with Coke?

Article Twenty-Four of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in part that “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” Some recent actions (and inactions) of the Coca Cola company in Columbia suggest they don’t rate this human right very highly. Many employees of the Coca Cola bottling plants belong to a trade union called SINALTRAINAL (the Columbian food workers union). In the years between 1989 and 2002 eight Coca Cola workers with connections with the union have been killed, forty eight have been forced into hiding and a further sixty five have received death threats.

In 2001 a lawsuit was made in Miami against the Coca Cola company by the union. It was reported in this lawsuit that years of intimidation of the Coca Cola workers belonging to the union was stepped up in 1996, reaching its highest point on December 5 when a squad of paramilitaries turned up at the gates of a Coca Cola bottling plant in the small Columbian town of Carepa. The paramilitaries shot and killed the gatekeeper, a member of SINAlTRAINAL’s executive board. An hour later another union leader was kidnapped and the offices of the union were set alight. The next day the paramilitaries returned to the plant, demanding the employees sign a statement saying that they resigned from the union.

ProtestIt was alleged by the union that both Coca Cola and the company which owned the bottling plant were collaborating with the paramilitaries and that in fact, the manager of the bottling plant had ordered that something be done to break up the union. Adding clout to this story were claims that the statements of resignation, which the workers were ordered to sign, bore the letterhead of the bottling plant. Coca Cola, unsurprisingly, vehemently denied the claims made by SINALTRAINAL in the lawsuit. However, the fact that they did not immediately condemn the actions of the paramilitaries did little to back up their cries of innocence. Any commentary from such a large and influential company could have halted any more killings and prevented any more terrorism of union workers. But no such commentary was forthcoming.

The en masse resignation of union members following the killing in December of 1996 worked entirely in the bottling plant’s favour. In the ten years to 2004, SINALTRAINAL’s Coca Cola membership dropped from 1400 members to 400 members. Those resigning were replaced quickly by workers who were able to be paid a third of the wage of their predecessors. No longer was the union present in the plant to speak for the rights of the workers

Union work in Columbia is not easy. Every year workers are killed in a bid to keep the employer supreme in the troubled country. This however is no excuse for Coca Cola. The company has money to burn and the sorts of savings made through such vulgar and inhumane means can never be worth the human cost. A company, which according to their corporate responsibility policy prides itself on human rights and ethical practises, should be the first to stand up in Columbia and fight for, not against, the worker’s unions.

Coke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke BottleCoke Bottle

What can you do?

Still wanting to enjoy the Coke side of life? If not there are several groups of protestors who have set up websites which you can check out:

And of course there is the option of making the decision not to drink Coca Cola on moral grounds. If everyone does it the company will have to sit up and listen, or face a fate even worse than that they have inflicted on their workers in Columbia and around the world.

Resources:


Look out for Part Two coming soon — Environmental Destruction in India

The confusion between sexuality and liberation

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Nicole Mathewson

barbiesHand in hand with celebrity worship and the “dumb is cute” motto for women (see my article Stupid Girls) is a sensation identified as “raunch culture”. The concept of “Sex-positive feminism” centers on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential part of women’s freedom. However, while the movement may have started off to create sexual equality, the modern and popularised version is now leading to women being exploited through a false sense of sexual liberation. Sex-positive feminism isn’t a new idea (it was formed in the early 80s), but it is becoming increasingly popular.

An example of raunch culture is the $100 million DVD series “Girls Gone Wild”, (where College-aged girls exploit themselves and each other by performing sexual acts for the camera). Bill Horn, a spokesman for Mantra Films which produces the series argues that women are much more in touch with their sexuality these days, and that women “line up around the block to get in our events.” [1]

This idea that women can now make their own sexual decisions and control their sexuality is challenged by Ariel Levy, author of ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’. She believes that if people weren’t so uptight in their attitudes surrounding sex (abstinence only education is taught in 80 percent of public schools in the US for example), they wouldn’t need to have such confining and limited shorthand for sexiness.

“Raunchy and liberated are not synonyms. If male chauvinist pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be female chauvinist pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.”

So it’s not about suppressing your inner sexiness and confidence, what it IS about is not compromising anything else (i.e. intelligence and dignity) in the process. It’s about being yourself and not exploiting yourself, or other women, for a false sense of empowerment. How is a wet t-shirt contest empowering? Why do women take part? Partly to attract the attention of opposite sex, and partly it seems, because they feel if they don’t, it will tell others that they are uncomfortable and embarrassed about their sexuality.

Ms Levy comments on Playboy Enterprises, a publication that has taken over the world with its merchandise brought mainly by women and girls. “Licensing is going extremely well because of the army of women and girls eager to sport the rabbit logo on their underpants or tank tops or pajamas, as an advertisement for their independence and sass.” playboy logoThat logo is also the emblem of a man (founder Hugh Hefner) who said in 1967: “I do not look for equality between man and woman … I like innocent, affectionate, faithful girls - and plenty of them.” Hefner is now in his 80s and has three official girlfriends, they range in age from 21 to 32 and all are platinum blonde and stick-thin. And these are the women who are going to teach us about liberation?

Even more worrisome is the fact that this kind of mentality isn’t just limited to adult women anymore:

“Gone are the days of voluminous, bulky and cumbersome underwear meant to be worn under layers of clothing. These days underwear has become briefer, bolder and more stylish. There is even underwear to complement different moods you wish to portray: frisky, seductive or mysteriously alluring.”

This advertising blurb isn’t talking about women’s underwear; It’s the way one British company, Jellydeal, introduces the latest trends in underwear for little girls - trends that have also become noticeable in Australian and New Zealand retail outlets for childrenswear. Children can now purchase padded and decorative bras in sizes 6 to 10 under the name of popular brands such as Barbie, Saddle Club, Disney and Bratz.

dolls face“Little girls like pretty things but do they need bras with padding? And should they learn so early that their bodies are for flaunting? More than just another nail in the coffin of childhood, these underwear trends contribute to the premature sexualizing of children with cynical disregard for the consequences,” says Angela Conway Victorian vice president for the Australian Family Association. [2]

Even the majority of popular music on today’s charts is adding to the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” idea. Groups like the Pussy Cat Dolls give the idea that acting and looking sexually suggestive is beautiful and empowering. The majority of mainstream rap, hip hop and hard rock videos also feature such scantily-clad women. But surely the fact is that it is actually confidence in yourself that creates beauty.

While in the past pop acts like the Spice Girls sometimes dressed skimpily and danced in suggestive ways, they also showed that you didn’t have to have model looks to be beautiful- you could be the girl next door or like sport. They also had their own personalities, and while they were stereotype personalities, it was much more than the bland-cardboard cutouts that are modern groups such as Girls Aloud and the Pussycat Dolls.

Some people may argue that groups like PCD can do what they like - they’re not paid to be role models, they didn’t choose to be. But because of the kind of job they have, they are. It doesn’t help when all forms of media (including advertising and even cartoons) reinforce the image. Even children’s toys are following the trend.

garterRecently a “sexy” pole-dancing kit was been pulled from the toys and games section of a website run by Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer, after protests from outraged parents. The Peekaboo kit, which includes a “sexy garter”, was sold in the supermarket’s toys and games section. “Unleash the sex kitten inside… simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go!” the blurb reads. [3]

After family campaigners slammed the kit’s status as a toy, Tesco removed it from that area of their site, but denied it was sexually oriented and said it was clearly marked for adult use. “Pole dancing is an increasing exercise craze. This item is for people who want to improve their fitness and have fun at the same time,” a spokesman said.

Bratz’ dolls promote an obsession with shopping, heavy make-up and provocative fashion. Some argue the Bratz phenomenon is no big deal, just toys and clothes with attitude.

However, according to Angela Conway:

“The ambiguities of the Bratz products’ images are creepily reminiscent of the kinds of fantasies and warped perceptions of women and girls so central to pornography,” “Defenders of raunch culture say turning pornographic imagery into a weapon of “girl power” liberates girls and women. But just how powerful will little girls be when, with pelvises thrust forward, they have learned the scripted moves and obsessions of the Bratz dolls, underwear, website and DVDs? They will take on a sexualized language they cannot possibly understand.”

Yes, parents should be responsible for how their kids dress and are allowed to act, but when all the kids are acting in this way (because they all want to fit in and be like each other and the “pretty and successful” girls on TV) it’s harder for parents to stop their kid from joining in. Parents aren’t immune to influence from the media either. They’re led to believe that this is just what kids do and look like these days.

We all believe it, because we’ve allowed media and advertisers to brainwash us into believing it. Real beauty and success comes in the form of being happy and confident with who you are — not from being a stick-thin girl wearing skimpy clothes and participating in wet t-shirt contests.

References:
Sex-positive feminism on Wikipedia

[1] “The rise of raunch culture - Feminists are torn: Is it porn or liberation of women’s sexuality?” By Mackenzie Carpenter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday, 12 October 2005

[2] “Young ones won’t be young for long - Stop stealing our daughters’ childhoods for cold commercial gain” By Angela Conway, The Australian, 2 Oct 2006

[3] “Outcry over tots’ pole-dancing kit” by David Braithwaite, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 October 2006

LEARN MORE

TAKE ACTION!

  • Challenge “raunch culture” by not falling for it!
  • Be yourself! If you’re not comfortable dressing or acting a certain way then don’t do it.
  • Live your life with your integrity

Walking Billboard: What does your t-shirt say about you?

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Eva Lawrence

What’s up with inane messages on t-shirts? This morning, as I walked along Cuba Street, in Wellington I saw one that said “Lets go for no writing on this one” Huh? That’s up there with the “Vote for Pedro” that I see plastered on guys’ chests. One of my bro’s favourites boldly states “I eat glue” — OK, so that one did make me laugh. And I’m not saying this is only a phenomenon for guy’s t-shirts. There is a veritable smorgasbord of t-shirts for gals as well with obnoxious, trivial or otherwise odd messages.

What is it that makes someone want to be a walking billboard for a pointless message? What inner message are they trying to convey? Is it “I’m being ironic and you don’t get it” or maybe it’s “I don’t give a sh*t”.

And then there are brands… don’t get me started… Nike, Dickies, Tommy Hilfiger, (add your cool brand here). What is the inner message here? Is it “I like Nike” or maybe, “I wish I was a pro sports player” or maybe, “I paid $50 for this t-shirt”. According to Naomi Klein, in her book No Logo, the branding of people (face it: a big brand on the front of your t-shirt is branding not just the t-shirt, but you) is a recent thing.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have messages on your t-shirt… I just don’t really get it. Why not brand yourself with a message that means something: “I give a sh*t” or “Save Happy Valley”. Or if being ironic is up your alley, how bout commenting on origins of the t-shirt: “Quality: just because it’s made using child labour, doesn’t mean it won’t last”
ironic quality ad

TAKE ACTION!

  • Make your own t-shirts — brand yourself and say what you wanna say
  • Buy t-shirts with messages you believe in (and understand!)
  • Go naked (or wear a top with no brand)


LEARN MORE

Read:
No Logo, by Naomi Klein
Branded: The buying and selling of teenagers, by Alissa Qurat

Watch a DVD:
“The Merchants of Cool” by Barak Goodman - a report on the Creators and Marketers of Popular Culture for Teenagers

“The Persuaders” - An exploration of the multi-billion dollar industries of advertising and Public Relations and the culture of marketing.

(all available from the GEC library - email: info@justfocus.org.nz).

Eating the media lunch

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Phoebe Borwick and Alyx Condon

newspapersOne would like to assume that they know what the news’ or media’ is if one referred to it in common conversation. In case not, here are some basic definitions:

News
Information about recent events or happenings, especially as reported by newspapers, periodicals, radio or television

Media
A means of mass communication, such as newspapers, magazines, radio or television.

Right. Now we’ve got that sorted, hands up who trusts everything they hear/read/see?

Sadly, most of the information that we receive as news has been filtered through the media machine and ends up containing some bias. Despite this, the information we glean from sources like television reports, the daily paper or the radio bulletins makes up our knowledge of the world around us.

Another major problem for us, the audience, is that our news is actually owned’. That is, people make money off of it. What does this all mean? That our perceptions of the world we live in can be skewed by spin doctors and press secretaries! As young New Zealanders, you and I need to be aware of what’s going on in the big wide world. As cheesy as it sounds, WE are the future. And contrary to the popular Split Enz song, history does repeat itself.

What is wrong with the media?
You want to sell someone a product? Easy. You dress it up in a spangly tutu and get it to tap-dance. You want to report a story on the stock market? Same deal. You make it sound exciting, keep it simple and voila! An audience is born.

Infotainment is entertainment masquerading as news. It links to sensationalism, which spices up a story to give it the oomph it needs to draw an audience. Skewing figures, exaggerating situations and fabricating events or facts are all methods used to make a story more appealingto a consumer (ie reader/writer). A quality piece of journalism would contain no bias, be wholly informative, entirely objective, thoroughly researched and devoid of sensationalism.

A journalist’s job is one that requires training and practice in order to be trusted as a reliable source. Biased reporting takes a side in whatever argument is being thrashed and it’s a journalist’s prerogative to eliminate this from their work so the readers can decide for themselves which side to take.
rupert murdoch
Our rights at home
In Kiwi country we live in a democracy; one that has ratified the UN Declaration of Human Rights which says that we all have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of press.

Mumbo-jumbo that basically means we can say and read what we like and our news doesn’t contain as much bias as there is in, say, China. Yet, we also have to deal with the issues of privatisation in the media — another fancy word that means that somebody owns it.

In New Zealand most of our major newspapers are privately owned: the New Zealand Herald, Sunday Star Times and the Dominion Post are just some of the more prolific names owned by one of either Fairfax (47% of all New Zealand publications) or APN News and Media (29%).

Why is who owns what important?
Because the number of journalists becomes limited and media outlets use the same sources and therefore end up saying the same thing.

Because there is little difference of opinion reflected and not so much diversity of view.

Because a CEO doesn’t give a hoot if you’re being fed the proverbial bull-puckey or not. (S)He cares about ratings and profit.

Yes, these are generalisations. But it’s also very important to understanding just why you and I need to look beyond what we’re drip-fed and form our own perceptions of the world.

The power of the dollar

In an independent journalist’s utopia everyone would have access to every newsbyte created. But to keep the media machine’s cogs well oiled takes money, and lots of it. To make that money, the machine is reliant on advertising.

The media is an industry. There is competition, there is profit to be made and there are audiences to attract. With so much of the mainstream media controlled by a select few, there often isn’t much room for diversity. The politics of business apply to the news we are presented with.

With profit as their goal, money and power are the two main factors that are usually at play when news content is decided upon. There is simply too much news out there for all of it to be reported and the selection of news rests with whoever is dishing it out, not by those who consume it.

Ultimately the advertiser decides what is — and isn’t included. US-owned CNN was reputed to earn a profit of $304 million in 2005 alone. That $304 million means that whatever is aired must reflect well on $304 million worth of shareholders, corporate power, associated companies, advertisers and political influence.

That’s a lot of people to please.Case in point: Chain-store giant Wal Mart has a lucrative advertising relationship with American broadcasters ABC and when Wal Mart was discovered to be abusing labourers’ rights, ABC refused to cover the story.

Other major news providers were happy to provide its’ citizens with the details, but ABC chose to run a only one story in which the department store was portrayed as a golden example of a workplace.
keyboard
Careful now…
The result? We are only offered news that will compel us to want more: that which invokes fear, creates stereotypes and misinforms the viewer.

We are told that Africa is starving and everyone has AIDS and that the Middle East is full of terrorists. AIDS and terrorism, of course, issues that need to be covered but the balance is unfair. What we don’t hear are the positive stories from these regions, or about people working for change in these hard environments. In a recent Global Education Centre survey, terrorism was cited as the number one global concern to young people in New Zealand. Yet, how big a threat is it to us really and what are the more real dangers that the media doesn’t highlight?

How can you stop being sucked in?
Back when TV was in black and white and radio was called the wireless’, journalism existed almost purely to inform and music to entertain. Over the years, the lines have become blurred. One is just as likely now to encounter political propaganda in a rap single as the latest pop trend on a 6.00pm bulletin. It is more important than ever for us as young people to shape our minds into ones that can see through the cut-throat profiteers’ tactics and form independent opinions.
tv reporter
TAKE ACTION!

  • Question, question, question:
  • Why is this story being told?
  • Has the full story been told?
  • Who wrote it and what stance are they likely to take?
  • Where did their information come from?
  • Does anyone stand to gain from this article’s publication?
  • Whose opinion is missing?
  • Why might the opinions stated be disagreed with?
  • Any other questions?
  • Create your own media: Shoot a video, write a blog or a zine or start a documentary library
  • Surf online to find decent journalism alternatives and independent media sources.
  • Some include:

We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us” — Virginia Scott

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock” — Ben Hecht

This article was originally published in Tearaway magazine as part of the Global Focus project.

Dressed to kill

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Hannah Newport

Excited doesn’t begin to describe how Jimmy’s feeling right now. He’s holding those pants like their God’s greatest gift, and he aint lettin’ go. “Thanks Mum!” he cries. “I mean, um, cheers… you can go now.”
clothes hanging
Little Jimmy thinks that the snaz new pair of Dickies his adoring mother has just purchased is going to solve all his problems. He truly believes. Finally no more spit-ball sandwiches from those dastardly 6th formers. No more childish treatment from the aloof and awe-inspiring 7th formers and certainly no more sickening pity from the teachers. Who knows, the girl with the pretty pig tails from science class might even smile at him.

Jimmy may be deluding himself just a little, but how many of us do the same thing? How many of us feel our adolescent problems solved by the power of a logo or a look’? A bit of retail therapy will calm our self-conscious nerves! We’ll happily pay the price for a branded t-shirt if it’s going to help us fit in with the crowd. We’re hooked on sweet, sticky conformism, and boy does it taste good.

But while expensive items tailor our “personal look” (to be like with everyone else’s), and boost young Jimmy’s cred, what do they really mean? Even those of us less creatively dressed are judged on our appearance. So what are your clothes saying about you? And what’s the true story behind the labels we love?

More often than one would like to believe, the clothes we buy in NZ were made in a factory where the conditions are hard and workers are not allowed to bargain collectively in unions. And many of the workers are teenagers. There’s a vague awareness of this among teenagers, but it’s just not a priority when it has no noticeably direct impact on our own lives.

So, things look rather unenthusiastic for the ethics of tomorrow. Or do they? Hidden among the wonderful sea of apathetic youth are the odd students who break the stereotype; they’re actually thinking about life, the universe, and clothes. They’re few and far between, but so are red M & M’s.
susie harcourt
“I’ve never wanted Chuck Tailors,” says one such rule-breaking individual. Susie Harcourt, a Wellington 7th former tells sweatshops where to go, on a regular basis. She’s been working as a volunteer at Trade Aid for more than a year now, and yes, she knows a thing or two about this and that.
trade aid logo
“I’d say teens are more materialistic than ever,” she says. “And also there’s more material to be materialistic about. People do have money, children do have money, and the advertising is more than ever before.”

“We see groups of 8 girls who have little variations, but mainly looked just the same. And with girls it’s more obvious, but then you look at boys as well; you think about it, and you look at it properly, and it’s like- you all look exactly the same!” Aha, so it’s about being part of the crowd. We are all in danger of letting the right label or “look” take over our own sense of identity or, even more frighteningly, our sense of morals.

Decades ago now, many NZ stores, including Glassons and Hallensteins, stopped printing “Made In New Zealand” on their labels as they began to manufacture overseas instead. It doesn’t take a genius to work out this was cost motivated. Profit won out over supporting local products (and therefore employment) and ignored the environmental damage caused by international transportation.

Enter individual number two. When it comes to matters of an un-conformist nature, Stephanie Cairns (best known as the keyboardist from rock quest band “Cybersex on Mars”). has got an opinion all right.
stephanie cairns
“People are just lazy,” she says. “They’re easily brainwashed and they’re easily persuaded. When you see a cheap shirt that you like, you want to buy it, because it’s cheap.”

Most people avoid thinking about the conditions the clothes they buy were made in. “A lot of people are aware of it, but they sort of feel that it’s not their position to do anything about it.”

And often, it’s not even as clear cut as knowing about it or not. There’s this whole other grey area, where un-conformist and “cool” overlap. “Fashion isn’t just about clothes, it’s often about ideas. The fashion when I started a high school was to buy organic food, buy fair trade shoes, things like that. But then when it went out, suddenly a lot of people who cared about that stuff suddenly stopped caring about it because it went out of fashion.”
pile of clothes
“It’s sort of like when those wristbands that came out that said, “Make Poverty History” on them and they were made by sweatshop labour,” remembers Stephanie. “People do have this thing on the surface, where they want to be seen as having a social conscience, want to be seen as standing up for things. They want to be seen to be “good people”, basically. But that doesn’t extend into the way they live their lives.”
no sweat sneakers
It could be a little daunting, for a first-time freethinker: How do I show that I care, without showing that I want to show I care? Bit of a paradox. Perhaps the key is just playing a common-sense game of “match the pair”, between the issues that you care about, and the manner in which you support them. Is buying a candy cane from New World really going to help dentistry in the Middle East?

The ultimate hypocrisy, both young women agree, is the use of Guevara’s image in popular culture. “Have you seen my t-shirt that says, “Che Guevara is not a fashion accessory?” asks Stephanie.

“People think they’re being so revolutionary by wearing this image on this t-shirt, but they don’t even know what it means,” agrees Stephanie. These clothes or items that are sold to us, in countries like NZ, have been made in sweatshops.

“Che Guevara was working for a world where people weren’t oppressed like that, and didn’t have to work for someone else’s profit. It’s sort of like this phoney radicalism. Just the fact that they’re wearing it on a t-shirt; it’s the most hypocritical thing, and nobody realises.”

We’ve hit the nail on the head. Sure, it is ironic that in our efforts to “fit in” we’ve ended up looking like clone teens. But the ultimate irony can be found in the manufactured ideas, which we buy into with each purchase, then sell on again when the fad ends.

For a few though, it’s frustration at this hypocrisy that sparks alternative antics. Nothing drastic, just little variations to keep the sanity. For Susie, it’s her volunteer shift at Trade Aid. Steph, on the other hand, vents her individuality on a sewing machine. “There’s lots of reason for making your own clothes. Number one is that it’s just cheaper. Basically, I’m a poor student, so it’s the best thing. And another reason is basically you’re not taking part in the whole capitalist machine. If you’re doing your own thing and making your own clothes then you’re not taking part in the cycle of exploitation.”
sewing machine
Whether it’s taking to fabric with a pair of scissors, or carving your own style through donating time to a cause, it’s about expressing yourself; stepping away from the clothes that “everyone” wears and from what they represent.

And while the masses are dressed to kill, these individuals among us question. What they’re finding out is not altogether comforting; a profiteer you’ve never met has made some very personal decisions for you; decisions about the shoes on your feet and the way of the world. But after all, hasn’t it always just taken a few individuals to lead the way to change?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

LEARN MORE

Trade Aid
No Sweat Apparel American company No Sweat says it “defines the market for goods that support independent trade unions - the only historically proven solution to sweatshops”.
The Fair Trade Foundation (UK)
The Good Shopping Guide (UK)
www.ethicalconsumer.org
Make Poverty History in NZ
global issues magazine
Global Issues magazine 15 (July 2005) “Trade: A Fair Journey?”

fabric
An interesting article on the web about things being made in China called “A Life Without China” . It’s about New Zealand-based reporter Mandy Herrick who renounces Chinese-made goods for a month to reveal the depths of our growing dependence on the mega-factory of the world.

TAKE ACTION!

  • Make your own clothes
  • Volunteer your time, eg at Trade Aid
  • Find out more about your own jeans brand, or Google where your t-shirt was made
  • Write to your favourite shop and tell them you love their stuff but want it to be fairly traded
  • Go op-shopping / buy second-hand stuff

Photos of Susie and Stpehanie by Hannah Newport.

Vegetarianism…make the move!

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Kayt Bronnimann

supermarket shelf of meatWhen you think of issues of global justice, vegetarianism is not one that immediately comes to mind. Many would think that choosing to become a vegetarian is less important than other issues that we should be campaigning for.

It may seem that vegetarianism is an individual choice has little effect in the wider scheme of things. However, the benefits of a vegetarian diet are widespread and effect more than just animals.

Vegetarianism’s links to global issues/why be a vegetarian:

  • compassion to animals/ animal rights
  • refusing to buy into another system of exploitation
  • a diet based on meat is no longer required
  • health benefits
  • compassion to our fellow human beings are great
  • environmental
  • hunger problems

Meat and the Environment/Pollution…
burger close upSince the industrial age the world has seen a rapid destruction of the environment around us, including increased pollution and global warming Much of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in order to make way for cattle ranches where cows are fattened up and slaughtered to become tomorrow night’s dinner. McDonalds in particular, along with all its other injustices, is guilty of this crime. (See the McSpotlight website for more info)

Unlike the indigenous Indians of the Amazon who use traditional deforestation techniques, including slash and burn, that allow the forest to renew itself after a time, the techniques that McDonalds some cattle ranchers employ ensures that nothing will be growing in that spot once they’re done. Eventually they exhaust the land and have to move on destroying more and more rainforest in their wake. The Amazon is responsible for a large part of the world’s oxygen yet we carnivores seem hell-bent on getting our products no matter what the cost may be.

It’s not only the big multi-nationals that are guilty of contributing to environmental pollution. Farmers are part of the problem too. For years, in New Zealand farming practices were unregulated, allowing the effluent from their activities to be dumped anywhere, most often in our waterways. Although there are much stricter laws concerning this now, with farmers being expected to build settling ponds, the damage has already been done. New Zealand used to be a place where people could swim and drink from most rivers or lakes around the country without fear of contamination, but this is fast becoming a thing of the past.

Many of the world’s plant and animal species are now extinct; hunted to death in a senseless display of man’s bloodlust. And it’s still happening at an ever-increasing rate.

World Hunger
World hunger is something that can be helped in part by adopting a vegetarian diet. A large number of the world crops are grown to be fed to animals that end up on the dinner plate of many a rich Westerner. A huge percentage of agricultural land is used to grow feed for animals. And the developing world also provides much of our animal feed. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this is an illogical system. With the crisis of world hunger growing worse every year, it is not justifiable to continue taking away valuable land and food from developing countries so that we can enjoy a nice Sunday roast.

sausage bbqIn terms of energy and protein it is much more efficient to grow food directly for human consumption. And with obesity becoming a problem in Western countries it is obvious we are consuming far more than our energy needs require. Our meat consumption is directly affecting the lives of billions of people.

Meat and Oppression
In her book The Sexual Politics of Meat’ Carol J. Adams links meat consumption to an oppressive, patriarchal, war mongering society. If we can so easily kill animals for our own gratification and not link the slab of meat (or more aptly put, corpse) in front of us to a dead animal, how can we be expected to spare a thought for the millions who have been killed in senseless wars over the years?

Pacifism and vegetarianism have often gone hand in hand - with the belief that it is hypocritical to condemn war, and killing around the world, while buying in to the culture of meat eating. If one can justify killing animals, it is only a small step to justify taking human life. Killing, whether of a human or a cow, should never be justified. What right do we have to take another creature’s (human or otherwise) life so that we can continue with our existence?
cow in a field
Challenge the status quo

This constant need for expansion, growth, consumption of more, More, MORE!! that capitalism advocates is destroying our environment, extinguishing species, and keeping the poor in poverty so we can enjoy our comfortable lifestyle.

Obviously vegetarianism isn’t going to solve all the world’s problems, but it’s a step in the right direction. We need to combat the apathy that we all seem to have, realise our privileged position, and think how our actions may be affecting the rest of the world. And extending this consideration to animals can’t hurt. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s time we opened our eyes and start giving a damn about the world we inhabit.

LEARN MORE

The Vegetarian Society
The Vegan Society
The New Zealand Vegetarian Society
McSpotlight

TAKE ACTION!

  • Become a vegetarian!
  • Join an animal rights group

The Pharmaceutical drugs industry: TRIPSy!

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Mariana Gledhill
assorted pillsEveryone in the world desires good health, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives everyone in the world the right to have access to medical care that allows them to have adequate health and wellbeing. Pharmaceutical drugs are often able to help provide this, and help people live longer lives. However, not everyone is able to afford the drugs that they need to take in order to live.

“Big Pharma”
The “Big Pharma”, which make up the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, set prices high in order to make big profits (Robinson, 2001). Patents are put on drugs in order to stop other companies making cheaper copies of them. The Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) aspects of intellectual property agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) backs these companies up. The WTO aims that by 2016, all countries in the world will have laws that will restrict companies from making drugs when they do not have a patent that will allow them to do so (Legrain, 2002).

The power of patents
The Big Pharma argue that honouring of patents is necessary, because they say that Research and Development is expensive. Without the honouring of patents, drug companies will not want to make new drugs. This claim has been disputed. The largest drug companies are the most profitable in the world and they only spend 15% of their budgets on Research and Development, which mostly involves the testing of the drugs.(Angell, 2004)

Where do the drugs come from?
bottle of pillsThe drug companies do not actually discover the new drugs; chemists who are based in universities and other training institutions do. Drug companies merely buy the compounds off these developers. Some of these compounds are existent in nature, but residents of the areas where they have been found do not usually benefit from them.

One example is the Neem tree, which is found in India. This tree is known in Sanskrit as Sarva Roga Nivarini, ‘the curer of all ailments’ and it has been used by Indians for thousands of years in various medicines and fertilizers (Davis, 1998). However, the rights to this tree were sold to W. R. Grace & Co. in 1988. Patenting of natural products by companies for the sake of profit is common, and existing intellectual property laws do not give indigenous people much room to claim the knowledge that their ancestors bequeathed to them (Davis, 1998).

Where is the money in pharmaceuticals?
Drug companies spend most of their budgets on the marketing of drugs, rather than research and development. Big sellers are drugs that are popular in the global North: drugs for conditions such as hay fever, and impotency. There is not much money in drugs for the diseases that attack the populations of the South, and even when there is, drugs are not often made available to these people.

When they are, drug companies milk a lot of publicity from them. This is not to say that they do not make huge differences to people’s lives. Onchoceriasis, also known as river blindness, was a disease that made everyone in Fougadougou, Mali, blind. Now Merek and Co. distribute a drug in this village that prevents onchoceriasis . This has given Fougadougou new life (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2006).

A personal example
Millions of people in the South are affected by AIDS and HIV. I know one of them. She is a girl whom I will call Juanita*. Juanita is barely ten years old and she has recently developed AIDS. She is a bright girl, who is ahead of the other girls in her class, despite having to take lots of time off school due to her condition. She is an affectionate girl who loves playing with dolls. She probably won’t have a 15th birthday. This girl comes from Peru, where the generic drugs that the big Pharma demonise cost about one US dollar a day. This is too expensive for many people in Peru. AIDS drugs made by the big Pharma, with their patents, cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Drug companies say that cheap drugs in the South will cut their profits. That is not true. Drug companies are not going to profit from poor people who often earn a fraction of what the drugs they need cost each year (Legrain, 2002). Drug companies provide drugs that often save lives, but that purpose seems to be in second place to making money, and agreements such as the TRIPS ones are encouraging this trend.
hands holding pills
So what is the answer?
Some people say the answer to the problem is greater regulation, (Angell, 2004) and others think that drug companies should be owned by governments, who can be voted out when they do not what is best for the voters. Drug companies are controversial at the moment. Award winning books have been written about their mistakes and an Oscar winning film has been made about the corruption that exists within them. If they are to improve the health of the world’s people, something needs to change.

* Her real name is not Juanita. I have changed it out of respect for her privacy.

LEARN MORE

Books

Angell, Marcia (2004) The truth about the drug companies : how they deceive us and what to do about it New York: Random House

Marcia Angell is a doctor who thinks that drug companies need saving from themselves. Her argument is very persuasive, and her insider status in the medical profession is valuable.

Legrain, Philippe (2002) Open World:/ The Truth About Globalisation London: Abacus

Philippe LeGrain has written a book defending free trade. I do not agree with much of what he writes, but the chapter that he is written on the drugs industry (Patently Wrong) disagrees with the TRIPS agreement and sets out a number of reasons why TRIPS is not only immoral but anti free trade’.

Robinson, Jeffrey (2001) Prescription games : money, ego and power inside the global pharmaceutical industry London : Simon & Schuster

Jeffery Robinson’s book is an attack on Big Pharma, and is easy to read. It makes for compelling and chilling reading. Warning: it might make you get quite angry!

Novels

Atwood, Margaret (2003) Oryx and Crake London: Bloomsbury

Margaret Atwood is a prizewinning author. Oryx and Crake is a book about what happens when drug companies have too much power and are not regulated. Although this book is set in the future, it touches on many of the ethical problems that the world currently faces with drug companies.

Le Carre, John (2002) The Constant Gardiner London: Sceptre

This book is a murder mystery that ends up being related to corrupt drug companies testing their drugs on unsuspecting people in Africa. In the course of these tests, many people die. An award-winning movie has been made of this book, which Roger Ebert has called the movie of the year for 2005 (I have not seen it).

Other Cited Resources:

British Broadcasting Corporation Miracle Village

This photo journal is about the village of Fougadougou the problems with Onchoceriasis and how the village has changed with the arrival of a preventative drug.

Davis, Michael Biological Diversity and Indigenous Knowledge Research Paper 17 1997-98
This is about how patents on natural substances impact badly on indigenous peoples.

United Nations (1948) “Universal Declaration on Human Rights”

New Internationalist Issue on Big Pharma, Issue 32 in November 2003

TAKE ACTION!

  • Yuck, No Thanks in Big Pharma, New Internationalist, has some really ideas about taking action globally.
  • New Zealand is a very small slice of the Big Pharma market, and compared to other countries, we have easy access to the drugs we need. The government subsidises many high cost drugs and people on low incomes can get their prescriptions for reduced prices. However, there are some drugs that are still not sold in New Zealand due to the regulation industry, Pharmac, not allowing them to be sold or subsidised. Lobbying of Pharmac might give some people access to the drugs that can save their lives.
  • Advertising for drugs is currently legal in New Zealand. Now I have nothing against Jude Dobson, but I think that it is a real shame that Drug companies can advertise their products under the pretense of educating people. Maybe you can write a letter to the Health minister calling for the abolishment of advertising by drug companies.
  • Find some isolated areas where injustice is happening in relation to this area. Then talk to the media, find the drug that will help the people and lobby the company(ies) that supply it. If anything happens, it will not change the roots of the injustice, but it will change the lives of some people.

The Future of Food - Review

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

By Lena Stahlschmidtfutureoffood_photo

The information that the film presents is so interesting and terrifying that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Although the format is what some may call a little dry’ the movie had my full attention the entire time. This is the type of film that you’d expect to see in class; educational, informative and no Hollywood action scenes’.

The movie presents food in the 21st century: the way we grow it, the way we mess with it and the current corruption, deceit, and dangers that exist. It also gives an even dimmer outlook of our planet’s future related to food. The movie looks at the many aspects of genetic engineering ranging from the cellular make-up to its global impact. The main focus is on the lack of studies, precautions, and knowledge about the effects of GE and the role that the American government and agriculture companies played in the development of GE food.

It is a documentation of corruption, deceit, money, and power that has lead to our generation being the guinea pig in the fight for the global control over food. The issues raised in this movie are crucial to the sustainability of our planet and existence.

Stars: 4 ****

Find out more.
Learn more about where New Zealand stands in genetic engineering Here is what another Just Focus members had to say.

Take Action!!!

Food Altert.

The Campaign

Greens

Letter to the President - Review

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

A hiphop perspective

By Lena Stahlschmidt

letter_photo

This film takes a look into the world of politics through a hip-hop lens. It follows the American hip-hop movement from the 80’s to present. Through the voices of the hip-hop community issues such as the war on drugs, Regan presidency, crack epidemic, racial profiling, patriot act, censorship, police brutality, poverty, the industrial prison complex and many other political issues were discussed in relation to their impact on hip-hop.

The underlying inter-connecting issue throughout the film is racism and stereotypes. As it follows American politics it looks at the way hip-hop has been used for those marginalized and oppressed by the racist politic system to have their voices and stories heard and make a difference. It also looks into the current control that corporations and companies have over hip-hop music and how that has contributed to (mainstream) hip-hop loosing its political voice. It explores how companies have used hip-hop culture, which originated as a resistance to inequalities, to advertise as a way to make money that in turn maintains inequalities.

The film presented many issues that I have previously read, studied and heard about however, looking at it through a hip-hop perspective gave me new insight and a broader perspective on many of the issues.

Movies with a message

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Eva Lawrence, Just Focus Coordinator
people in cinema
People say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, a movie must be worth a million then.

Films provide a way for us to get a view into someone else’s world — be it real or imagined. They can be creative, entertaining, tragic, action packed and informative.

Over the last few years there seem to have been a heap of brilliant documentaries as well as based on true life and fictional films that bring up some aspects of important issues like human rights corporations, war, fast food and all that jazz.

While we’re feeding our faces with popcorn, we can feed our minds with new ideas.
bowl of popcorn
TOP 5s
So I know what films I like, but I wanted to get an idea of what movies other young people love. So I put on my best investigative outfit and scoured the net and started a couple of threads on forums and got you possibly the best 5 docos and 5 films with a bit of social conscience.

Documentaries
Sometimes when I think of documentaries I think of those boring channel one wildlife shows my parents used to make me watch cos they’re educational’ — cringe - like I need to be educated on the mating rituals of tortoises! But there are some brilliant, heartbreaking and inspirin’ ones out there, with no tortoises in sight:

Top 5 docos

Darwin’s Nightmare— Set around Lake Victoria in central Africa, it shows the industry of fish for guns’ that exists. This doco is a clear and harsh illustration of globalisation. My mate ed has been raving about this for months! *

Bowling for Columbine - one of Michael Moores classics about the kids who shot up their school and how this violence is related to the culture of war in the USA

The Corporation “is excellent. Possibly slightly biased. All about the development of corporations, especially in America, and how they are designed to legally be a person” (Pippy) *

The Yes Men— This hilarious and scary insight into the World Trade Organisation and its followers shows what a bunch of activists can do with a lycra suit and a computer on a phallus. *

Supersize Me — look what happens when your average fit healthy American dude eats only McDonalds for a month. Watch his pounds pack on, his libido drop off and his doctors get more and more freaked out. It’s funny, it’s gross, it’s scary. *

Films
Films about real issues, based on true stories or fictional, are often entertaining and also have a little bit more beef than your average romantic comedy

The Constant Gardener - This fictional film came to the screens last year. It’s about drug companies testing medicine on slum dwellers in Kenya. It’s a murder mystery that makes you think. “Constant Gardener is one of my favourite movies but I cried so much!” (suspense)

Lord of War— This movie starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto and Ethan Hawke is a thriller about arms dealing, and the personal and political results of cashing in on violence. *

Hotel Rwanda - Ten years ago some of the worst crimes in the history of humanity took place in the country of Rwanda in Africa. This film is the true story of a hotel manager who sheltered more than a thousand Tutsi refugees during the attempted genocide by the Hutu militia. “If that movie wasn’t made I probably wouldn’t have ever even heard of what happened in Rwanda.” (Nicole) *

City of God — This film is pretty hardcore but damn good. It’s about kids in a housing project in Rio de Janeiro who struggle to survive and thrive while involved in crime and gang warfare. It shows how one guy works his way out of the slums through his photography. The actors were mostly street kids and many of them were dead within a year of the film. “To those who like the Constant Gardener - they should see City of God - same director - better film.” (Luke)

Motorcycle Diaries — This recent film is based on the motorcycle trip of the Cuban revolution’s poster boy Ernesto Che’ Guevara’s travels around South America with his mate. Experiencing poverty and volunteering in a leper colony changes his view of the world and moves him to make a difference. Plus, added bonus, it stars super-hot Mexican actor Gael Garcà­a Bernal!
empty cinema
Film Festival
Film Festivals have heaps of great films. The Human Rights Festival took place in May 2006 in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. A couple of the picks were:

Drowned Out — When a dam in India threatens to destroy people’s homes, the locals decide to stay and drown in protest. Author Arundhati Roy asks us some hard questions on the rights and wrongs of human sacrifice for the sake of industrialisation.

Ngatahi: Know the Links - This rapumentary from Upper Hutt Posse legend Dean Hapeta shows the links between Hip Hop and indigenous and other minority cultures around the world.

TAKE ACTION!

  • Get out one of the films above from the local video store or from the Global Education Centre library (the films marked * are available at the Global Education Centre. Email eva@globaled.org.nz for info on how to borrow them - free anywhere in the country).
  • Make your own film. Got a burning desire to spread the word on something? Grab a camera and go to it!
  • Know a film that made you ponder? Share it with the rest of us at Just Focus! - Get in touch with kim@globaled.org.nz and write a review for your fave film - or add it to the forum.

LEARN MORE

  • Check out what other great films are out there: http://www.geocities.com/polfilms/

This article was originally published in Jet Magazine.