Friday, February 13, 2009

Tomorrow will be Valentine's Day, not exactly Molly's favourite holiday of the year, but any old port in a storm as they say. Yet some people will not be getting expressions of affection tomorrow ie the workers at Jerzees De Honduras. Molly has mentioned this case before at this blog. What is interesting is that there is a connection between the traditional Valentine's Day chocolates and the heartless actions of Russell Athletic towards their workers in Honduras. Read the following from the United Students Against Sweatshops, and see what you can do to help these workers.
This Valentine's Day Ask See's Candies: "Is Your Owner Sweet on Sweatshops?":
Valentine's Day is a day to let others know you care for them -- a day for sending cards, flowers and chocolates. So why is the owner of one of America's leading candy companies acting like he's sweet on sweatshops? "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Corporation is the parent company of both See's Candies and Russell Athletic, a major manufacturer of collegiate logo apparel. See's respects the right of the workers in its candy factories in the U.S. to join a union. But Russell has shut down an entire garment factory in Honduras -- placing the livelihood of nearly 2,000 families at risk -- just because workers dared to claim this same basic right. TAKE ACTION today to ask See's Candies why Berkshire Hathaway seems to think garment workers in Honduras don't deserve be treated with the same dignity and respect as its other employees. Russell Athletic is linked to some of the most egregious violations of workers rights in Central America in recent years. Last year, Russell fired huge numbers of workers in its plants in Choloma, Honduras -- nearly 150 workers in all -- in retaliation for their joining a union. In response to pressure from USAS and other worker rights organizations, the company agreed to give those workers their jobs back, offer them back pay, and to recognize a union at its Jerzees de Honduras plant. In October, Russell, claiming a lack of orders, announced that it would close the plant -- which it did at the end of last month. Two outside investigations have found that anti-union retaliation played a significant role in Russell's decision. Now nearly 2000 workers are out of work, and union leaders face death threats related to the closure. Outrage over Russell's violation of workers' rights in Honduras is growing. Major universities across the country -- Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Miami, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- have taken steps to end their licensing relationships with the company. Berkshire Hathaway has failed to respond to the Honduran workers' appeal that it intervene in the case. Ask See's to tell Berkshire Hathaway that justice requires reversal of Russell's decision to close Jerzees de Honduras.
Please go to THIS LINK to send the following letter to management at See's Candies.
Send a letter to the following decision maker(s):
Mr. Brad Kinstler
Below is the sample letter:
Subject: Is See's Candies Sweet on Sweatshops?
Dear [decision maker name automatically inserted here],
Brad Kinstler, CEO
See's Candies, Inc.
210 El Camino Real
South San Francisco, CA 94080
Dear Mr. Kinstler,
I am sending you this message to express my concern about violations of international labor rights at See's fellow Berkshire Hathaway company, Russell Corporation, at its garment factories in Honduras. Last year, Russell illegally fired 145 workers at two of these plants in blatant retaliation for their attempt to form a union. Now, Russell has closed that plant even though two outside investigations found that the closure decision, like the previous firings, was in retaliation for workers having formed a union.

We know that this is not how See's treats its unionized workers here in the U.S., and that you would not willingly allow your company to be associated with such violations of workers' rights. Major universities and their students agree: Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Miami, Minnesota and Wisconsin have all acted to discontinue licensing relationships with Russell over the company's actions in Honduras. Please let Berkshire Hathaway know that See's disapproves of Russell's conduct and ask Berkshire to intervene to end these violations of workers rights.

Not to rain on anybody's parade, but there is more bad news about Valentine's Day. Here, from a posting last year on the Global Exchange site is the lowdown on that old valentine's favourite-chocolates.
Valentine's Day chocolates - product of slave labour?
February 14, 2008
Those innocuous and delicious-looking chocolates given to loved ones all over the world on Valentine's Day are, more often than not, the result of incredible human suffering.

They are lethal luxuries. Those innocuous and delicious-looking chocolates given to loved ones all over the world on Valentine's Day are, more often than not, the result of incredible human suffering. Their main ingredient, cocoa, is often produced by child slaves in Africa.

"It is absolutely certain that the box of chocolates you got for Valentine's was produced by slave labour if it does not have a fair trade label," Steve Chalke of Stop the Traffik, an anti-trafficking NGO, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on the sidelines of a United Nations forum on human trafficking in Vienna.

When people think of human trafficking, they primarily think about the sex trade. But they forget that trafficking is a factor permeating all trades - be it sex, agriculture, domestic services, manufacture of fabrics - or chocolate.

"Chocolate is a prime example - it is cheap, and it is something many people buy - it makes the otherwise overwhelming statistics more personal," Chalke said.

According to UN estimates, at least 2.5 million people are exploited by forced labour at any point in time, a majority of them children.

In Ivory Coast, which produces 43 percent of the world's cocoa, about 12,000 boys from countries like Mali or Togo work as slaves on cocoa farms, the UN said. Activists put the number as high as 200,000.

"Even if it were ten, it would be ten too many," Chalke said of the modern-day slaves who are often as young as nine years of age.

The parents of those children are duped by the traffickers into believing their boys would receive an honest job, regular pay and an education, none of which ever happens.

Child slaves on the farm face appalling working conditions with 12 to 14 hours of severe manual labour, cutting down cocoa pods using big knives or machetes, thereby risking severe injuries which can often maim them permanently, Global Exchange, a fair trade organisation said. Some are also killed and many are beaten or abused.

"With every bar of chocolate you eat there is blood on your teeth," Chalke warned.

Many problems were linked to the insufficient revenues cocoa farmers receive, even in days of ever-rising prices for raw cocoa on the global markets, making it difficult for the family-owned farms to meet their needs.

But what is the answer? Dump those nougat hearts and forswear chocolate forever?

"No", activists say. "Buy fair."

By buying fairly traded chocolate, consumers can exert pressure on the chocolate industry, as well as ensure better pay for the farmers.

The heat is on for the chocolate industry, that back in the year 2000 promised to "eradicate" the problem of forced labour, to clean up its act. "They have done nothing. They say it is too difficult to monitor," Chalke said. "But if it were their children, they would have done it overnight."

Governments are also slowly waking up to the problem, with the United States a leading force on the issue.

Companies must clean up their supply chains, Mark Lagon, head of the US State Department's office on human trafficking said, with consumer pressure leading the way.

"If consumers can change the behaviour of the fishing industry towards dolphin-friendly tuna fishing, it is more than equally legitimate if it was child labour," Lagon said.

Tax incentives for fairly traded chocolates, far from an exotic niche product with large chains today producing their own fair trade brands, could be another way forward, activists suggested.
Slave-free chocolate can make the only pang of guilt associated with your next choc the question of what it will do to your waistline.
Well, this is turning into something of a Valentine's Day special here at Molly's Blog. For those of you with an interest in the history of how this holiday came to be see our archives for February 2008. meanwhile here from the Canadian Labour Congress website is a story about what Canadian labour is doing this Valentine's Day to remind Canadian politicians that women's issues deserve more than platitudes.
Will send "lip service" Valentine chocolates to all MPs:
OTTAWA - Barbara Byers, Executive Vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress, says that the Conservative government is paying lip service to improving the lives of women even as it refuses to support pay equity, child care and economic measures that support women's equality.

"Valentine's Day is coming up but the women of Canada aren't seeing much love from their federal Parliament these days," says Barbara Byers. "We're tired of having nothing but lip service paid to our issues."

So the Canadian Labour Congress is sending each Member of Parliament a gift of chocolate lips with an accompanying note - "women are tired of lip service".

Byers says that MPs should be warned that women across the country are organizing to challenge the federal government's failure to support issues of women's equality.

The Canadian Labour Congress, the national voice of the labour movement, represents 3.2 million Canadian workers. The CLC brings together Canada's national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils. Web site:
Dennis Gruending, Communications, 613-526-7431 and 613-878-6040
Jeff Atkinson, Communications, 613-526-7425

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