When the health of our environment is compromised, the health of people is too. Often times the same bad actors that exploit our environment also refuse to give workers safe working conditions, living wages, or the right to organize. It is also working class people that occupy the most dangerous jobs and are most impacted by climate catastrophe and environmental disasters produced by exploitive industries. When labor and the environmental movements work together, however, we do more than just provide safer industry jobs. We create new opportunities that secure a future that is both just and climate-stable. Some of these victories are small, some of them are big -- but all of them help move us toward a new economy. After all, there are no jobs on a dead planet.
1. Blair Mountain Battle, Then and Now (1921)
The bloody Blair Mountain Battle is a classic story of companies exploiting workers and natural resources. Despite the coal mining company’s control over their entire lives, workers fought back for their right to safe working conditions, living wages, and union recognition. Today, West Virginia residents are fighting coal companies to end mountaintop removal and protect the historical site of the 1921 battle.
2. Donora, Pennsylvania’s Smog Problem (1940)
After factory smog became so thick that it poisoned and killed local residents, workers stood up to corporations that refused to take responsibility. Workers fought for both their own health and the health of their shared environment by taking on corporate bosses.
It was long the practice for workers to be exposed to harmful conditions, while at the same time responsible for protecting themselves. The creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was a powerful collaboration between labor unions and environmental activists, attacking chemical industries that were poisoning both people and environments.
Deaths on the job, miserable working conditions, and one of the dirtiest ports in the United States were only some of the barriers facing activists fighting to enforce regulations in Los Angeles. Together labor, environmental groups, and public health professionals made change.
Workers in the gas and oil industry are more than six times as likely to die on the job as the average American. The concerns of the families working in the gas and oil industry are the same as those who are living outside “the fenceline:” We can’t keep our families safe when dirty industries thrive
“You cannot seriously address the destruction of wilderness without addressing the society that is destroying it."
— Judi Bari, Earth First!er, Wobbly, organizer and agitator
“Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an environmentalist!”
— Bumper sticker distributed by local union at Three Mile Island in response to anti-nuclear movement
In 1921, for five days in late August and early September, some 10,000 armed coal miners confronted 3,000 police and coal company strike breakers in a little-known historic incident known as “The Battle of Blair Mountain.” The Battle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a massive union drive in the coalfields of West Virginia. The miners worked in appalling conditions for little pay. The collapse in coal prices following World War I, and the greed of the coal operators and Wall Street bankers, led to a new level of union-busting. The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest armed insurrection in U.S. history since the Civil War. Strike breaking included the intervention of federal troops on behalf of the coal operators and the use of aerial bombing on the union forces in the United States. The conflict resulted in the deaths of nearly 150 people.
Eventually, militant labor movements such as the Appalachian mineworkers, and radical moments like the Battle of Blair Mountain, led to the legalization of collective bargaining and improvement of working conditions around the country.
In the past 50 years, the same coal operators have waged a war on Appalachia’s mountains and mountain communities with strip-mining techniques that includes mountaintop removal and the disposal of coal waste in the rivers and streams of Appalachia. The same companies have used the modernization of strip-mining techniques to reduce the size their workforces making their executives more money and breaking union strength (less numbers, less power).
On the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Blair Mountain in 2011, environmentalists, labor, Appalachians, retired union miners and many other re-enacted the march on Blair Mountain. At the event, march organizer Brandon Nida stated: "The unions protect [workers] in the workplace and environmentalists protect them at home. They're the same."
Over the years, labor and environmentalists have not always gotten along harmoniously. Unions often advocating for their members find themselves in conflict with environmental groups advocating for specific policies and regulations. Environmentalists, lacking a class analysis, have too often placed workers interests in the same camp as company interests.
Often the conflict is framed around economic growth. Unions support economic growth and see it tied to full employment and strong unions, while environmentalists support a world with less economic growth and impact on wild places, communities and the climate.
The western timber wars of the 1980s and 1990s were particularly tense times. When environmentalists pressured the government to protect wildlife and wilderness in the Pacific Northwest, logging companies Louisiana Pacific, Georgia Pacific, and MAXXAM in northern California, and Boise Cascade and Weyerhauser in Oregon and Washington responded with a variety of tactics to divide timber workers from the “environmental threat” and provoke violence.
Early on, logging corporations used paid company time to “educate” loggers on how to resist government polices regulating forest destruction. One company asked workers, their families, and local businesses to fly yellow ribbons to show solidarity with management against the environmentalist "threat." It became dangerous not to fly ribbons in timber-dependent small towns.
When Earth First! escalated forest defense with direct action campaigns to protect Old Growth forest. Judy Bari, a lifelong member of the Wobblies, became a lead organizer for Earth First! in Redwood Summer in 1990. Bari worked to connect labor to environmental issues. She called for sustainable logging to protect both logger employment and the forests. She pushed Earth First! on finding common ground with loggers and form a united front against companies bent on exploiting workers and destroying the planet.
In May, 1990, Bari and her partner were bombed when starting their car in a parking lot in Oakland while organizing Redwood Summer. Both survived, but campaign momentum was stunted.
In the mid-1990s, when Earth First! descended upon Idaho to fight the Cove-Mallard timber sale, timber industry front groups created a culture of hostility against forest defenders. The Idaho state legislature passed anti-Earth First! laws to stop forest defense with felony charges. Loggers also responded with violent attacks against Earth First!ers.
Not all labor-environmentalist interactions have been bad. In fact, many times environmentalists and labor had banded together to defend the rights of workers and protect the planet from Corporate America. In 1970, the first Earth Day began with critical support from the United Autoworkers (UAW). UAW donated the initial $2,000, provided printed materials, had UAW chapters organize events and eventually endorsed the Clean Air Act, in contrast to other big unions.
On the first Earth Day, UAW President Walter Reuther said:
The labor movement is about that problem we face tomorrow morning. Damn right! But to make that the sole purpose of the labor movement is to miss the main target. I mean, what good is a dollar an hour more in wages if your neighborhood is burning down? What good is another week’s vacation if the lake you used to go to is polluted and you can’t swim in it and the kids can’t play in it? What good is another hundred dollars in pension if the world goes up in atomic smoke?
In Seattle at the World Trade Organization protests in 1999, also known as the “Battle in Seattle,” a new era of labor-environmental cooperation was heralded as "Teamsters and Turtles" marched together against corporate globalization. At the Free Trade Area of the Americas protests in Miami in 2003, John Sweeney toured the convergence space organized by anarchists and environmentalists and proclaimed support and solidarity. The next day when, Miami police violently attached the march, labor, environmentalists, human rights advocates, students and many others were together facing down the corporate police state.
Earlier this year, when more than 7,000 steelworkers across the country walked off the job at 15 oil refineries run by Shell, Chevron, Exxon and other oil companies, another wave of labor-green cooperation swept both movements. During the six week strike action, environmental and climate activists joined steelworkers on the picket lines and groups like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Communities for a Better Environment and the Sierra Club voiced support for the striking workers.
In an era of conservative and corporate led attacks on labor and environmental regulations, collective bargaining and frontline communities, bolstering ties between unions and greens is not only powerful, it’s necessary.
As founder and director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, Joe Uehlein, said:
When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air pollution and water pollution and the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs.
Scott Parkin is a climate organizer with Rainforest Action Network and Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twtter at @sparki1969.
Two food giants merge into one Conflict Palm Oil culprit
San Francisco, CA - Yesterday’s merger of Kraft Foods Group, Inc. and H.J Heinz Company combine two companies, both highlighted as laggards among Rainforest Action Network’s (RAN) Snack Food 20 group, noted for their failure to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from their supply chains and brand products.
Promoted by financier Warren Buffett as good news for shareholder value, the merger creates the world’s 5th largest food and beverage company, with a projected annual revenue of $28 billion and a massive environmental footprint. Both food companies have been profiled by RAN as being at high risk of sourcing Conflict Palm Oil, but have yet to adopt and implement the policies and practices needed to cut deforestation, climate pollution and human rights abuses from their palm oil supply chains.
Rainforest Action Network’s Agribusiness Campaign Director, Gemma Tillack, said, "This $40 billion merger focuses on growing profits, but these are too often at the expense of chopped down rainforests and human and labor rights violations, which are driven by the snack food industry’s use of Conflict Palm Oil. A food company of this scale has a massive global footprint, and needs to be accountable for the social and environmental impacts in its supply chains.
“Rainforest Action Network calls on the new Kraft Heinz Company to adopt and implement a robust responsible palm oil procurement policy and clean up its supply chains as its first order of business.”
For more info: The full report titled ‘Conflict Palm Oil: How US Snack Food Brands are Contributing to Orangutan Extinction, Climate Change and Human Rights Violations’ can be downloaded here: http://ran.org/conflict-palm-oil
Unprecedented coalition of human rights and environmental groups release recommendations for companies to eradicate labor abuses in supply chain
Washington, D.C. – The growing global demand for palm oil has contributed to systemic human rights abuses of workers, including children, and requires stronger labor protections throughout the industry’s supply chain. Today, an unprecedented and diverse alliance of international human rights and environmental organizations released Free and Fair Labor in Palm Oil Production: Principles and Implementation Guidance. This guide is the first of its kind and details comprehensive recommendations to implement fair labor practices in the palm oil sector.
"Malaysia’s palm oil industry is heavily dependent upon the labor of migrant workers, but many of these workers fall prey to serious exploitation at the hands of their employers or recruitment agencies,” said Glorene Das, Executive Director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian NGO that campaigns for the rights of migrant workers, laborers and women. “The Malaysian palm oil growers and government must work to bring the industry working standards in line with Free and Fair Labor Principles for all workers, including the most vulnerable. They can begin with reforming common industry practices like unethical recruitment, withholding of identity documents, and low wages that put workers at undue risk of forced labor and, at the same time ensure that child labor is excluded from the industry."
In less than two decades palm oil production has quintupled, making it the most widely traded and used edible vegetable oil; it is now found in one of every two products sold in Western grocery stores. Roughly 85 percent of palm oil is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia, employing 3.5 million workers in the region. To keep up with the rising demand and competitive global commodity prices, the industry has relied on keeping labor costs low. Extreme labor abuses, including use of forced and child labor, have proven to be all too common.
"For many years I have witnessed the exploitation and unfair treatment of palm oil laborers in Indonesia,” said Herwin Nasution, longtime plantation labor organizer and executive director of Indonesian labor organization Oppuk. “The Fair Labor Principles outline what palm oil companies must do to uphold the rights of plantation laborers who have been abused too often by the state and their employers. We call on our government to prevent, investigate, punish, and redress these abuses through effective policies, legislation, regulations, and adjudication, and we call on all palm oil producers, their buyers, and investors to adopt and implement the Fair Labor Principles."
Many companies have already committed to sourcing responsible palm oil by 2015 out of concern for controversies taking place in their supply chains. As their deadline quickly approaches, the outlined recommendations offer a detailed set of guidelines to help companies, consumer brands, investors and stakeholders reach those commitments by eliminating forced labor and exploitation in their supply chains and improving the rights and wages of workers. Practices associated with forced labor in the industry have included debt bondage, confiscation of passports, physical confinement, withholding of wages, false terms of employment, and threats of physical and sexual violence.
“Globally respected companies increasingly recognize that the use of forced and child labor to produce key ingredients like palm oil is an unacceptable business practice that risks damaging their brand and shareholder value,” commented Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management, which manages responsible and diversified fossil fuel-free mutual funds.
The principles and guidelines were based on the International Labor Organization’s core conventions and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Among the recommendations:
- Eliminate all forms of forced or compulsory labor;
- Abolish the worst forms of child labor;
- Respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
- Provide adequate protective equipment free of cost;
- Provide adequate housing, water, medical, educational and welfare amenities;
- Ban all highly hazardous pesticides including persistent, carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting pesticides;
- Commit to reasonable working hours and progress toward payment of a living wage;
- Practice ethical recruitment with no fees for workers or seizure of identity documents;
- Establish a legitimate, accessible, and transparent grievance mechanism, consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and
- Commit to meaningful transparency and disclosure of all plantation processes.
The guide was developed by a forum of experts comprised of NGOs, workers organizations, representatives of unions, investors and philanthropic organizations from the United States, Europe, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Partner organizations include: Federasi Serikat Perkerja Minamas, Finnwatch, Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia, Forest Peoples Programme, General Agriculture and Allied Workers Union of Liberia, Humanity United, HUTAN, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, International Labor Rights Forum, Land Empowerment Animals People, Link-AR Borneo, MONDIAAL-FNV, Malaysian Palm Oil NGO Coalition, OPPUK, Oxfam, Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, Rainforest Action Network, Sabah Environmental Protection Association, Sawit Watch, SERBUNDO, Serikat Buruh Medan Independen, Serikat Buruh Mandiri Indonesia, Tenaganita, Trade Union Care Center, Verité, and Walk Free, as well as advisory support from CERES.
While activists have achieved great successes recently in raising the profile of palm oil as a controversial commodity responsible for tremendous environmental destruction, the too-often overlooked reality is that the palm oil industry is also rife with serious labor and human rights abuses, including widespread forced and child labor as well as the unacceptable exploitation of millions of workers across Indonesia and Malaysia.
To address the urgent need for systemic change, Rainforest Action Network has spent the last two years working closely with an unprecedented coalition of Indonesian and Malaysian labor advocacy groups and international NGOs to develop a set of fair labor standards for palm oil production.
A result of these efforts is the publication of a guide, Free and Fair Labor in Palm Oil Production: Principles and Implementation Guidance, being released publicly for the first time now. It is the first statement of principles produced by a diverse civil society network that specifically focuses on labor conditions in the palm oil sector. This detailed set of standards will now be delivered as a set of recommendations to help guide companies, plantation certification bodies and government regulators towards eliminating systemic abuses currently common throughout the palm oil industry.
Throughout the long process of workshops and meetings that built consensus for these standards, participants shared heart-wrenching stories of severe health impacts from being forced to apply highly toxic chemical pesticides like paraquat, without proper protective equipment or training, especially among women. Workers spoke of widespread practices that include misleading and unethical labor recruitment, long grueling hours, unreasonable quotas, low wages, sub-standard housing conditions and a lack of access to basic necessities like clean drinking water, healthcare and education for children.
As more and more major players in the palm oil industry grapple with implementation of their recent No Exploitation, No Deforestation, No Peatlands commitments, it is crucial that labor voices are included as critical stakeholders in the process. Companies that produce, trade and source palm oil have a responsibility to do the work necessary to eliminate the pervasive labor abuses in their supply chains.
The principles and guidelines were based on the International Labor Organization’s core conventions and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Among the recommendations:
Eliminate of all forms of forced or compulsory labor;
Abolish the worst forms of child labor;
Respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
Provide all workers adequate protective equipment free of cost;
Provide adequate housing, water, medical, educational and welfare amenities and protective equipment free of cost for all workers;
Ban toxic, bio-accumulative pesticides;
Commit to reasonable working hours and progress toward payment of a living wage;
Practice ethical recruitment with no fees for workers or seizure of identity documents;
Establish a legitimate, accessible, and transparent grievance mechanism, consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and
Commit to meaningful transparency and disclosure of all plantation processes.
The guide was developed by a forum of experts and key stakeholders hosted by Humanity United and comprised of representatives of unions, workers organizations, NGOs, investors and philanthropic organizations from the U.S, Europe, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Partner organizations include: Federasi Serikat Perkerja Minamas, Finnwatch, Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia, Forest Peoples Programme, General Agriculture and Allied Workers Union of Liberia, Humanity United, HUTAN, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, International Labor Rights Forum, Land Empowerment Animals People, Link-AR Borneo, MONDIAAL-FNV, Malaysian Palm Oil NGO Coalition, OPPUK, Oxfam, Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, Rainforest Action Network, Sabah Environmental Protection Association, Sawit Watch, SERBUNDO, Serikat Buruh Medan Independen, Serikat Buruh Mandiri Indonesia, Tenaganita, Trade Union Care Center, Verité, and Walk Free, as well as advisory support from CERES.
Please stick with us as we will need your support as the real work begins of implementing these standards into business as usual for the global palm oil industry!
We launched a campaign to turn up the heat on Pepsico and its use of Conflict Palm Oil. The goal has been to takeover its darkly ironic #LiveForNow advertising campaign that encourages consumption while ignoring human rights abuses, land grabs, and deforestation. Supporters like you have been doing just that by tweeting pictures from events and anywhere they spot the logo of Pepsico’s flagship brand Pepsi, calling out the truth.
Our “#LiveForNow Shouldn’t Mean Destroying Tomorrow” site is built for people like you to use to crank up the pressure on PepsiCo. Pictures coming in from people across the US and the globe will make it clear to PepsiCo that our movement is building and we won’t stop until it ends its use of Conflict Palm Oil.
Remember, take a selfie with a Pepsi sign and tweet it out with the hashtag #LiveForNow and we’ll feature you on the site too!
We know your pressure is working. PepsiCo is one of the 5 laggards companies we called out in April who have refused to take effective steps to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil, but other companies are moving. This week, palm oil laggard Conagra Foods announced a new commitment to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil. Together we can push PepsiCo to do the right thing and fix the weaknesses in its Palm Oil Commitment. So keep up the pressure! Start now by sharing our spoof site with your friends and family on Twitter and Facebook.
This week a double tragedy has struck the coal mining industry.
On Monday night in West Virginia, a coal outburst at a Patriot-operated mine killed two miners. And on Tuesday an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Western Turkey killed at least 245, with hundreds more still missing.
Our hearts and minds are with the miners and their families.
These disasters underscore the horrific cost of “cheap” and dirty energy. Miners’ deaths such as these are preventable. We call on coal companies to immediately improve labor conditions, and on the governments of Turkey and the United States to strengthen their regulatory oversight of the coal industry.
At the same time, here at Rainforest Action Network, we are reflecting on the less noticed human cost of coal. Every year, more than one million people die of the air pollution that comes from burning coal. 150,000 more die from the extreme weather events aggravated by climate change–and coal is the single biggest driver of global warming.
All of this points to an obvious conclusion. We must not continue to make these sacrifices in order to produce energy from such a dirty and unsustainable source. Coal is a dangerous and outdated fuel, and in the 21st century we should not be using it to power our homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. It is past time for us to shift our energy production to clean, safe renewable power.
Today in Salt Lake City, RAN has joined with climate activists, air quality advocates and local labor organizations to tell coal giant Ambre Energy that the coal rush is over.Coal kingpin Ambre Energy is making a major push to build America's first West Coast coal port in the Pacific Northwest. That’s right: Ambre has chosen the breathtaking Columbia River as its main artery for the Longview coal port, which would ship millions of tons of coal each year to Asia. And that’s why the company's Salt Lake City headquarters was chosen as the site of the protest today. More than 50 people from labor organizers to environmental activists have come out today to draw a line in the sand. They are saying, “We don’t want this dirty coal burned here in the U.S., and we don’t want it burned anywhere else, either.” They held three big banners right in front of Ambre’s headquarters: "Stop Coal Exports," "Ambre Energy: Exporting Pollution," and "Clean Energy Clean Air." Here’s how RAN’s own Scott Parkin, who helped organize today’s protest, put it:
Plain and simple, coal export terminals continue the mining and burning of coal at a time when phasing out coal is essential to our health. With Ambre Energy’s coal export terminals, the U.S. is exporting our problems, our pollution, instead of solving them with clean energy advancements.As the U.S. begins to shift away from carbon-emitting, coal-fired power plants, coal producers are gearing up to ship more coal overseas. Advocates for clean energy, the environment, and public health and safety have coalesced to oppose Ambre, which is leading the push for West Coast export terminals. If Ambre’s Longview terminal goes through it will open the way for dozens more like it, continuing the mining and burning of dirty coal for decades. Several different organizations participated in today’s rally, including the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Jim Cooksey, a representative of the union, had this to say about the protest:
We are concerned about the exporting of coal to overseas markets in that there are no environmental standards once the coal leaves our borders. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers understands the issue of climate change and is looking to secure alliances with other labor and environmental organizations to find solutions that protect workers and the environment.Today’s protest at Ambre’s headquarters comes on the heels of a 50-person rally yesterday in Longview, WA where residents who will be directly impacted by the export terminal gathered. They are demanding that the permit for the Longview terminal be revoked immediately. Controversy over the Longview terminal has been building. Just last week it was revealed that Ambre Energy planned to construct the Longview export terminal with the capacity to annually ship up to 60 million short tons of western U.S. coal, even as it told state and local government officials that it would build a facility one-twelfth that size. U.S. coal exports to China and India are expected to increase to 86.5 million tons, up from 79.5 million tons in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Peabody, the No. 1 coal producer in the U.S., has said it will release plans for its own West Coast port by the end of this quarter. If people are successful in stalling Ambre’s Longview terminal it would have a ripple effect across the sector, challenging the plan to develop coal export capacity along the coast. You can help too. Lend your voice to the fight against coal exports today: Tell politicians in Washington State to protect the health of their people and waterways and block the Longview coal port.
UPDATE: Slideshow from the rally [set_id=72157626042519711] Video from the rally [youtube AWYmT5nEA0M 415 350]