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Income inequality wake-up, more dangerous chemicals in clothes and solidarity with Cambodian workers
Oxfam on global wealth inequality
Nearly half of the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population, according to a new Oxfam report, Working for the Few: Political capture and economic inequality.
The study details staggering facts about the growing concentration of wealth among the world’s rich. The poorest half of the world – amounting to 3.5 billion people – own $1.7tn worth of assets, akin to the wealth of the world’s richest 85 people.
In 24 of 26 countries that Oxfam has analysed, the wealthy have consistently grown richer over the past 30 years. The trend is particularly striking in the US, China and Portugal, where the top 1% have more than doubled their wealth since the 1980s.
And the rest of the population has noticed. Oxfam’s opinion polls across the US, UK, Spain, Brazil, India and South Africa show that the majority of those polled are keenly aware of the disparity, and believe that their country’s laws favour the wealthy.
“In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children,” says Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s executive director. “Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations.”
It’s no coincidence that the report was published on the heels of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. Among its requests, Oxfam called on Davos attendees to combat growing inequality by supporting progressive taxation on wealth and income, abstaining from the use of tax havens to skirt taxation or using their wealth in exchange for political favours, and challenging governments to use their tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection to all citizens.
Greenpeace targets chemicals in clothing
As part of its ongoing Detox Campaign, Greenpeace has published a new report, titled Little Monsters, which reveals a broad range of hazardous chemicals in major brands’ clothing and footwear for children.
Greenpeace tested 82 products across 12 high street, sportswear and luxury brands, including American Apparel, Gap, Primark, Adidas, Disney and Nike. The products were analysed by independent accredited laboratories for hazardous chemicals such as nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). All the items tested were found to have hazardous chemicals.
“This study provides a snapshot of what appears to be a more generic problem that is not restricted to any particular country, product type or brand, and one that deserves further investigation including from a regulatory and brand policy perspective,” says Greenpeace’s technical report.
In response, Burberry joined with 18 other big brands including Zara, Valentino, H&M, Puma and Uniqlo by committing to zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals from their products’ lifecycle by 2020.
Burberry says, however, that all its products are safe and fully adhere to existing international environmental and safety standards. “We have an active programme dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of our supply chain, working in collaboration with our suppliers and NGOs. Greenpeace is aware of our work, which includes the commitment to eliminate from our supply chain the release of chemicals that have an environmental impact.”
Activists support Cambodian workers
A host of labour activist groups and trade unions including the Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Worker Rights Consortium, Maquila Solidarity Network, United Students Against Sweatshops, International Union League for Brand Responsibility, Workers United, SEIU, Future in Our Hands and CNV International are calling on global brands to use their purchasing power to petition the Cambodian government to end violence against garment and footwear workers, as they continue fighting for better wages.
Cambodian unions launched a national strike in December 2013, where workers demanded an increase in their pay from $75 to $160 a month. National police and military responded with violence, killing four, injuring 39, and imprisoning 23 protesters. Since then, only two have been released on bail.
The groups call on global brands to lobby the Cambodian government to end violence against workers, release all those detained without charge, and respect the right to strike and assemble. Additionally, they ask brands to pay fair prices to Cambodian factories and support workers’ call for a wage increase.
“Until brands recognise that these practices contribute to the poverty wages received by workers in Cambodia, and in turn the demonstrations we are witnessing, then no brand sourcing from Cambodia can claim to be acting fairly or decently,” says Jeroen Merk of the Clean Clothes Campaign.
The Cambodian garment industry makes up about 95% of the country’s exports, and is worth an estimated $4.6bn a year.Activism Clean Clothes Campaign Greenpeace labour NGOwatch Oxfam Wealth inequality