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Protests target trade pact talks

A Labor Day rally will kick off a week of action targetting negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement that critics fear will favor sweatshop manufacturers, agribusiness, and pharmaceutical companies at the expense of workers, farmers and consumers.

It’s yet another area where President Obama’s progressive supporters find themselves at odds with his administration’s policies, and it comes days before a major address on jobs in which the president may push for action on free trade deals.

Labor, environmental, community and health groups will rally Monday, September 5, at 11 a.m. in Grant Park at Columbus and Congress and march to the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan, where talks start Tuesday.

The rally will “demand a fair deal — one that stops corporations from reaping big bucks by sending good manufacturing and service jobs overseas [and] depressing wages and benefits in Chicago and around the country,” according to Stand Up Chicago, a local labor-community coalition.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who recently announced that Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is becoming entirely fair-trade-sourced, will speak – and provide free ice cream.

Trade officials from eight countries – and hundreds of corporate executives involved as “official trade advisers” – will participate in ten days of talks at the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan, starting September 6.

As talks start Tuesday, Ben and Jerry will join fair trade advocates (11 a.m. outside the Hilton) delivering 10,000 postcards to negotiators calling for protection of labor, environmental, and human rights standards. (See below for more activities.) Read the rest of this entry »

Council considers ‘fair trade’

The City Council Finance Committee approved a resolution Monday encouraging the purchase of fair trade-certified products by city agencies and contractors.

The resolution is backed by Chicago Fair Trade, a local fair trade coalition, and Charles Manuel, South African trade consul, was among those testifying for it yesterday.   The entire council could vote on the measure tomorrow.

Passage would put Chicago in the lead of North American cities in taking steps to join cities like London, Rome, and Barcelona, which have been designated as fair trade towns.

Holiday shopping tips

Gordon at Nonprofit Communicator offers a list of gift ideas from local nonprofits, including Artisans 21, Greenheart Shop, Maya Works, and Heartland Alliance’s Hope for a Hurting World gift catalog.

Greenheart, 1911 W. Division, holds its annual holiday celebration and benefit party for Chicago Fair Trade, with fair trade items from around the world and products from local artisans and social enterprises (like Beeline Honey, a project of  the North Lawndale Employment Network).  It’s Wednesday, December 9, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

From CFT’s calendar:  Fair trade goods will be available at holiday markets at Berry United Methodist Church, , 4754 N. Leavitt, on Saturday, December 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, on Saturday and Sunday, December 5 and 6, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Patronizing locally-owned businesses is a way of keeping money – and character – in our neighborhoods, according to Local First Chicago, which has a holiday shopping guide (pdf).

Recognizing that they’re competing with shopping malls, which offer big deals, one-stop shopping, and free parking, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce is reimbursing parking for anyone who spends $20 in Andersonville – just mail in a copy of your store receipt and your parking receipt.  Your Ride’s On Us runs through New Years Day.  That’s one of a number of holiday promotions; check out Late-er Night Andersonville on December 18, for that not-quite-last-minute shopping.

Finally, via Working ITT, the International Labor Rights Forum lists its annual inductees to the Sweatshop Hall of Shame, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Hanes, Ikea, Kohl’s, LL Bean, Pier 1 Imports, and (of course) Walmart – companies which “employ laborers who toil for long hours under dangerous working conditions for poverty wages” – and which use threats and sometimes violence to suppress workers’ attempts to organize.  Some alternatives are listed on Sweat Free Communities’ consumer guide to non-sweatshop gifts.

Anti-sweatshop victory

United Students Against Sweatshops is claiming a major victory last week with Russell Athletics reopening its Honduran operations, shut down in January after workers there unionized.

USAS activists pressured 96 colleges and universities – including DePaul, Loyola and Northwestern — to cancel contracts with Russell, a major supplier of t-shirts and sweatshirts with school logos.

Last week the company agreed to hire back 1,200 workers, pay lost wages, and recognize their union.

“This is a breakthrough of enormous significance for the right to organize – and worker rights in general – in one of the harshest labor rights environments in the world,” said USAS coordinator Rod Palmquist.

It may be the first time a worker-activist campaign won the reopening of a factory which was shut down in order to eliminate a union, he said in a statement.  It’s “the first company-wide neutrality agreement in the history of the Central America apparel export industry –and it has been entered into by the largest private employer in Honduras, the largest exporter of t-shirts to the US market in the world.”

Ideas for Obama

President-elect Barack Obama faces tremendous challenges, and local advocates and organizers — many of whom have worked with Obama over the years — offer a range of ideas on how to make the bailout work, address the foreclosure crisis, target economic stimulus to jobs and better transportation, and move forward on immigration, education, media reform and campaign financing.

In addition, some express concern over the prospect of administration positions for local establishment figures Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett and Arne Duncan.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fair Trade comes to Daley Plaza

Local businesses selling fair trade goods will display their wares, representatives of fair trade cooperatives in Mexico and Africa will tell their stories, and a local coalition will launch a campaign to make Chicago a Fair Trade City at a Daley Plaza event on Wednesday, May 14.

Chicago Environment Commissioner Susan Malec-McKenna will speak at a noon program along with former Senator Carol Moseley Braun, president of Ambassador Organics, and leaders of coffee cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico and Uganda.

Chicago Fair Trade, a coalition of over 50 congregations, businesses, schools and nonprofits, is circulating an ordinance to establish Chicago as a Fair Trade City. Under the proposal, the Department of Environment would work with congregations and community groups to establish fair trade outlets throughout the city.

Read the rest of this entry »

Colombian flower worker

A Colombian flower worker is speaking in Chicago today and tomorrow about firings and threats that have met attempts to organize an independent union on a Dole flower plantation.

Colombia supplies 60 percent of the flowers sold in the U.S.

Dora Acero, a worker at Dole’s La Fragrancia plantation, speaks today at UIC (803 S. Morgan) at 3:30 p.m. and the U. of C. (1116 E. 59th) at 7 p.m.  Tomorrow she’ll be at DePaul University (2250 N. Sheffield) at 6 p.m.

Acero is sponsored by the Chicago-based U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project.

According to U.S. LEAP, killings of union organizers in Colombia are increasing, with 17 trade unionists reported murdered in the first three months of this year.

Congressional leaders have refused to give the Colombian Free Trade Agreement fast-track consideration, but Congress could act on the pact later this year.

Fair trade coffee builds bonds

In 2004 world coffee prices slumped, and a coffee farmer in Mbale in eastern Uganda went door-to-door talking to his neighbors about forming a cooperative to boost their earnings.

The farmer, J.J. Keki, was a member of the Abayudaya, an indigenous Ugandan Jewish community which had survived persecution under Idi Amin, and the neighbors he organized included Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The co-op would help them economically and spread peace in the world, Keki said.

Today the Mirembe Kawomera Coffee Cooperative — the name means “delicious peace” — includes 700 farmers and remains firmly cross-confessional, with a Jewish president (Keki), a Muslim vice president and a Christian treasurer.

It’s the first certified fair trade coffee producer in Uganda, which means it uses ecologically sustainable agricultural practices and guarantee a living wage — cooperative members get about four times the price paid to farmers under the dominant trading system, according to the cooperative’s website. It’s an important model in a country where 90 percent of export revenues come from coffee production.

Members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston met and worshipped with an Abayudaya synagogue during a service trip to Uganda in 2005, and when they learned about the coffee cooperative after their return, they started selling its coffee, which is now among fair trade products featured in a new gift shop. Now the congregation is joining with Chicago Fair Trade to host members of the cooperative on a visit to Chicago.

Read the rest of this entry »

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