The Price of Affordable Fashion

H&M is rolling out a new designer collaboration, this time with Erdem.  Like previous ones, there will likely be a line out the door for affordable high fashion.

High fashion is sometimes more about name than quality.

But, affordable fashion has its own share of problems.  In this post, I will lay out some of the problems.  In the next post, I will offer some alternative choices for fashion.

I will focus on H&M here, but many mall stores could be accused of the same abuses.

H&M advertises itself as ethical, and they have received positive press.  For example, after the tragic and preventable factory fire in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of textile workers, H&M signed a pledge to follow fire safety codes.

Yet, a follow up study by The Clean Clothes Campaign found the company was failing to protect workers.  Marc Bain from writes:

What’s more worrisome, the report only looked at H&M’s “Platinum” and “Gold” suppliers—the factories that supposedly boast the highest standards in labor and environmental protections. They account for 56 of the 229 factories H&M uses in Bangladesh.
About 61% didn’t have fire exits that met the accord’s standards, which demand that fire exits have enclosed stairwells and fire-rated doors. Without those measures, exits can quickly fill with smoke in a fire, effectively trapping workers on a factory’s upper floors.

Another issue is H&M promotes itself as paying a fair wage.  But, its fair wage standards do not apply to subcontractors.  In India, young girls often are victim to sumangali schemes, which promise money for a dowry, taking children away from their homes and schools if they work.

A report by Mother Jones:

H&M’s fair-wage promise does not extend to all of its subcontractors, which include the factories that spin the cotton into thread (also known as spinning mills). In India, most sumangali schemes take place in spinning mills. That the plan doesn’t include subcontractors could be a big problem: If some factories in the supply chain are not required to pay a fair wage, garment factories can simply outsource more of their labor to those cheaper operations. When I asked H&M how the company plans to address the challenge of factories outsourcing labor to subcontractors with potentially exploitive conditions, spokesman Håcan Andersson said, “We are not able to assist you further in this matter.”

A report by Reuters found that undocumented Syria refugees were working without any human rights protections in Turkish factories, making clothes for H&M and other mass market chains.

Human Rights Watch also issued a report on H&M subcontractors in Cambodia:

Workers said they were fearful of forming a union and that eligible workers did not receive maternity leave or pay. From employee accounts, some workers were children younger than 15, the legally permissible age in Cambodia. One woman estimated that 20 of the 60 workers in her group were children. Children worked as hard as the adults, they said, including on Sundays, nights for overtime work, and public holidays when there were rush orders.


USA pulls out of climate agreement

Selfish and ignorant.  Those were my first thoughts when I found out the USA has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

The agreement was not perfect, but what on a such a massive scale could ever be deemed perfect?  It was inspiring to see the world come together with goals to help our planet.  195 countries, to be exact.

We all share this planet, after all.  We all breathe this air, and we all drink this water.  We all seek shelter from storms.

Supporters of the President will say the agreement was economically unfair to the USA and now the USA can be free to pursue it’s own goals.

But now, we join Syria and Nicaragua as the countries who are the outsiders on this issue.

We have willingly turned our back on diplomacy.

If worst comes to worst, we may have turned our back on the basic health and security of our children and grandchildren.

If worst comes to worst, this will be the defining moment when we have decided to condemn the entire world to higher temperatures, bigger droughts, rising seas, severe storms, migration, conflict, disease and starvation.

The USA is currently the #2 polluter in the world.  If our industries become unregulated, our levels of pollution likely rise in the name of short term profit while creating great long term harm.

Even if the US impact is small, it can push the most vulnerable countries underwater – such as the Maldives (population 325,000), Seychelles (87,000), Kiribati (102,000), and the Solomon Islands (585,000).

We must hope that despite not being part of the agreement, our industries will continue to invest in new technologies and try to find cleaner and safer ways to create energy.

We must speak out and support those who do what is good and right for the environment and criticize and hold accountable those that do not.

We must support science.

We must support one another.  This is our planet.  We share it with billions of humans, animals, and plants.

So here we are.  What we do matters.  How we vote matters.

Walk with grace, leave small footprints, but keep your eyes open and use your voice.


(Photo taken at local March for Science)








The problem with VOICE

If you watched (or read about) the State of the Union, you probably recall President Trump’s policy called VOICE, which was the administration’s plan to protect law abiding citizens by exposing crimes committed by immigrants (VOICE = victims of immigration crime engagement).

Unfortunately, like other sloppy rollouts of new policies this administration has completed, the database had a disastrous debut.  The database mistakenly included the names and detailed personal information of children and babies, and also included many adults who are not criminals.

From the LA Times:

The matches reveal the detention facility the immigrant is housed in, custody status, age, country of birth, date of birth, race, gender and aliases. There doesn’t appear to be any way to distinguish between someone who may have perpetrated a crime beyond being in the country illegally.

Attorneys representing immigrants expressed anger and worry over the release of names that were supposed to be protected.

Bryan Johnson, the Long Island, N.Y., lawyer who first noticed the error, called the release “reckless incompetence on the part of the Trump administration.”

“In their haste to pretend like they care about victims of immigrant crimes, the Trump administration released personally identifiable information regarding vulnerable children at risk of human trafficking and other crimes,” said Johnson, who defends children brought into the United States from abroad, many escaping violence.

Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney in New York, said he was shocked that a quick search of the database brought up one of his clients — a 26-year-old asylum applicant from Lebanon who has been detained by immigration officials for two years.

The man had overstayed his visa and sought asylum because he is a pro-democracy leader in a youth movement back home and being persecuted by Hezbollah, Kolken said.

“If a terrorist organization is looking for him they may simply enter his name into a database and know exactly where he is,” Kolken said. “It puts his entire family back home in jeopardy.”

Supporters of VOICE will likely say the errors will be corrected, and that only a small percentage of immigrants were affected by the mistake.  But, remember: these are people’s lives and putting some of the most vulnerable in society at risk is no small error that can be easily corrected.


Photo: refugee and immigrant support rally in my hometown






Famine in Somalia?

There is a severe drought in Somalia, threatening not only crop output and livestock, but human life too.  Over one hundred died last week due to hunger, and almost half of the country is facing food shortages.  Well over five million people are at risk of hunger and starvation.


Somalia is no stranger to famine.  According to CNN, between 2010-2012, 258,000 people died there due to hunger.

Al Jazeera explains how the world classifies famine:

“famine exists when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population”

Even if Somalia avoids famine this time, periods of hunger mean long term problems for citizens’ health.

Why is Somalia facing famine?  The world has enough food – look at most grocery stores in the west and you have aisles full of endless choices.  But, hunger happens in wealthy countries like the US too.  Famine, therefore, is not to be blamed solely on drought.  Rather, it is also an effect of misguided priorities and political strife.

From the LA Times:

“The United Nations and humanitarian agencies have launched an $864 million appeal to help Somalis, but the drought’s reach to many African countries has caused the World Food Program to cut aid rations. By December, the appeal was 47% funded.

In 2011, Shabab, designated a terrorist group by the U.S., controlled much of Somalia, complicating aid efforts. In some cases the group refused to let people leave their villages, especially men of fighting age, who were often forcibly drafted.

Another complication was confusion on whether aid organizations trying to get food into territory controlled by the extremist group could be sanctioned by the U.S. for cooperating with designated terrorists.”

Sadly, political strife has been present in Somalia for decades.  The US military has been involved in bombing campaigns there since the early 1990s.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if countries invested as much in diplomacy, education, healthcare, and environmental conservation as they do in sophisticated weapons systems?

photo: public domain, Voice of America, 2005 famine in Niger











African Political Unrest

Sadly, many African nations have had years of political unrest.  This spells trouble for not only citizens, but also elephants.  It leads to wildlife funds disappearing to enrich corrupt politicians, law enforcement taking bribes instead of prosecuting ivory smugglers, and warlords gaining wealth (and therefore more power) from ivory poaching.


It is no surprise that the poorest countries are the ones who have had the most political unrest.  For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo has never had a smooth transition of power since its independence.

The BBC recently had a report about the dangers of the US cutting funding to the UN.

“Currently the US supplies 28.57% of the total budget for UN deployments.
There are very influential figures in the Trump administration with a visceral ideological dislike of the UN.  At the very least, the new UN Secretary General, Anthony Gutteres, faces an uphill fight to persuade the US to keep paying its current share of the peacekeeping budget.”

The UN has had its share of recent failures and controversy.  Some of their own troops have been accused of raping civilians.  Their missions in Somalia have largely failed to stop the devastation and starvation.

However, the UN plays an important role since it is an international body.  A deputy chief, Diane Corner, reminds everyone that the when the UN is present, the warlords at least know the world is watching.  The BBC writes:

“Ms Corner is a realist who understands the limits of a UN mission which must deal with complex regional politics, limited resources, uneven quality of troops, and a new occupant of the White House who believes in the mantra of ‘America First’.
The first thing she makes clear is that the UN had not come to negotiate with the warlords – rather to remind them that the red lines would be defended.”

For example, this past week the  UN attacked militia groups in the Central African Republic who were planning to overtake the city of Bambari, where civilians live in destitute poverty.  So far, the UN has successfully managed to keep the red line.

But, as the BBC says:

“There are thousands of frightened displaced people in and around Bambari who are depending on the international community to keep its word.”

I am worried that if President Trump removes funds and support from multinational organizations such as the UN and NATO, there will be even more conflicts and the refugee crisis will expand rapidly throughout the world.  And, when humans suffer, nature and the animal kingdom inevitably suffer too.

Photo: African forest elephant, Wikipedia, Peter H. Wrege





Libyan Refugees

img_1596The third African country singled out by the Trump administration is Libya.  Rebel fighters killed longtime dictator Gaddafi, but then there was a power vacuum.  The country plunged into lawlessness, and ISIS developed a stronghold there.

According to Amnesty International, people have been “abducted, tortured, unlawfully killed and harassed” by ISIS in Libya.

One of President Trump’s top priorities is to eradicate ISIS, so it seems particularly odd that those trying to flee ISIS are being stalled from applying for refugee status in the USA.

Fortunately, Christians refugees targeted by ISIS may eventually be allowed entry into the US, but for the Muslim refugees who fear and loathe ISIS, hope is fading quickly.

It is important to note that a great majority of Muslims despise ISIS.  In the most recent November 2015 Pew Research study, the country with highest ISIS support level was Nigeria, where 20% of Muslims said they supported the group.  All other Middle Eastern/African countries in the study had between 1% to 9% of Muslims supporting ISIS.

To repeat what I’ve said in other posts, refugees go through a twenty-four month process – including lengthy applications, background checks, interviews, medical checks, and fingerprinting – before knowing if they will be accepted as refugees in the USA.  No refugees have been involved in terrorist attacks.

It is my firm belief that the administration’s policy is unjust, further hurting those who have already faced more hurt in their lifetime than we can possibly imagine.

Edited to add: The travel ban has been in the courts, and temporarily is suspended.  However, the Department of Justice is appealing the ruling.

Sudanese Refugees

img_1593In September 2016, it was reported by BBC that the number of refugees fleeing South Sudan was now over one million.  According to the UNHCR:

“Most of those fleeing South Sudan are women and children. They include survivors of violent attacks, sexual assault, children that have been separated from their parents or travelled alone, the disabled, the elderly and people in need of urgent medical care.”

The UNHCR estimates that five percent of the children are orphaned with no one accompanying them.

Neighboring countries such as Uganda and the DRC  have struggled to house the refugees.

“UNHCR field staff report that new arrivals are camped in schools and churches, while the less fortunate sleep in the open. Refugees lack food and basic household items.”

The UN estimates over $700 million would be needed to adequately care for the Sudanese refugees in Africa.

If the USA is wanting stricter rules on allowing refugees into the country, perhaps it should send funds to help the UN ease the suffering.  Otherwise, the wealthy US is turning away some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

As I mentioned before, the US vetting process for refugees was already strict.  The Washington Post interviewed an immigration official, asking details of the vetting process.  Here is just one portion of it:

“The refugee applicants’ information and fingerprints (also taken by Homeland Security officers) are run through the databases of nine law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies and matched against criminal databases and biographical information such as past visa applications.”

(photo I took from last weekend’s rally to support refugees)