< HOME  Friday, November 19, 2010

Boycott List For God-Conscious Consumers

By Huda Jawad

For years, proponents of a free and frighteningly unregulated global market have argued that all profit is good profit. But not quite. The world has witnessed a consistent exploitation of third world markets and labor at the hands of global multinationals, with ethics remaining an increasingly fickle concept. Horrible violations are carried out by large corporations both in historic records and on a daily basis. Then again, can we quantify ethics or the lack thereof? Two weeks ago, Islamic Insights brought forth an argument in favor of justice and God-Conscious Consumers . This week we present a list of companies whose conduct and history would give Upton Sinclair nightmares.

Due to their labor standards, environmentally destructive policies and human rights records, we must refrain as much as possible from supporting these brands and companies with our dollars.

• Nestle

Once people realize the dark secret of the chocolate industry, there's a substantial chance that it won't taste as sweet, considering most of the chocolate around the world is made using cocoa beans harvested through illegal child and slave labor. In simple terms, Nestle purchases cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast which, while being the producer of 40% of the world's cocoa supply, also boasts a staggering number of child laborers – over 100,000. Nestle has acknowledged that it uses cocoa beans produced and collected by children as young as 9 in its products and it is the third largest purchaser of these cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast, yet its direct support and encouragement of the illegal farms filled with slave and child labor continues. Check out the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate for more details.

It doesn't end there with Nestle. The company has an equally disturbing and negative record with its coffee production. In recent years, coffee-dominated agricultural systems have caused major deforestation within the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Indonesia. This illegal coffee is mixed with legally grown coffee beans and sold to numerous companies both in the US and Europe, including Kraft Foods and Nestle. While producing coffee (or any other food item) in the national park is illegal, coffee remains to be the commodity dominating the destruction of a critical national park in Indonesia, in addition to supporting environmental degradation. From 1990 to 1995, 37% of the countries suffering from deforestation were major coffee producers. The thinning of forests for the production of coffee leads to considerable biodiversity loss. Soil degradation is another concern as the land endures practices that lead to soil erosion, rendering it useless.

Nestle is also notorious for its use of water processing which led to complete villages in Mexico being thrust into poverty, and its track record with baby formula has led it to being one of the most boycotted companies in the world. It is also on the boycott list for many Muslims for its support and dealings with Israel.

• Wal-Mart

It is much easier to ask what Wal-Mart hasn't violated than it is to list out each and every offense. The list offenses range from union busting, to worker rights violations, to labor discrimination. Check out the documentary, Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Prices .

Wal-Mart's domestic infractions, such as gender discrimination in promotions, low wages, union busting and a failure to provide health insurance to over half of its workers is an open secret. However, less known and exposed is Wal-Mart's secret to maintaining dirt-cheap prices. The reason you can buy a pair of shoes for $4.99 at Wal-Mart is because of what child laborers and mistreated workers across the ocean must endure in humiliating and inhumane working conditions.

Daily in the 70 factories spread across 48 countries that produce goods for the company, the Wal-Mart cycle plays out like this: The company continues to demand ridiculously cheap prices from its suppliers, who in turn subject their workers to increasingly outrageous and abusive workplace environments. Workers for Wal-Mart suppliers in China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Swaziland have been forced to endure humiliatingly low wages, forced to work overtime without compensation and denied legally required health care, in addition to locked bathrooms, forced pregnancy tests for female employees and termination should workers stand up against these unjust work conditions. Wal-Mart also has no qualms about paying children in Bangladesh 9 cents an hour for back-breaking work for 18 hours a day. It also plays its factories against one another in order to ensure they are getting products at the lowest prices possible. With Wal-Mart, it's not a race to the top; it's a race to the bottom.

• Coca Cola

Coca Cola should already be on your boycott list for its unwavering support to the Israeli regime. In fact, in 2008 Coca Cola held an elaborate reception at its world head quarters for Israeli General Ben-Eliezer, an wanted war criminal and responsible for the execution of 300 Egyptian prisoners of war during the Six Day War.

That's only the tip of it with this company. Coca Cola's violations are as diverse as its products and flavors, including violent killings, kidnap and torture, water privatization and health violation, to name a few. From 1989 to 2002, at least eight union leaders from Coca Cola bottling plants in Colombia were killed soon after protesting the company's labor policies. Hundreds of Coca Cola employees in Colombia have also been kidnapped, tortured and intimidated by paramilitaries for attempting to a join a union.

In India, Coca Cola depleted the water supply of countless cities and villages. For example, in Plachimada, Kerala Coca Cola extracted close to 1.5 million liters of water and then bottled and sold it under the name of Dasani. The groundwater was destroyed and massive water shortages continue to be suffered by the region. Coca Cola and Pepsi Co. were also both staunch supporters and lobbied for the war in Iraq.

• Altria Group Inc: Nabisco, Kraft, and Phillip Morris

It is estimated that Altria products are in 99% of American homes and taking a look at their brands and product names will give us a clear reason as to why. Check out this list of Phillip Morris owned brands.

The acquisition of Nabisco by Phillip Morris was due to an effort to cover up its horrid tobacco abuses and policies and in order to retain its number 2 position in the food industry. The name Altria Group is simply an umbrella and cover used by Phillip Morris who is fearful of a mass consumer boycott of Kraft Foods which it owns as a statement against the tobacco's giants misleading, deceptive, and abusive tobacco campaigns.

Phillip Morris, now officially called Altria is the world's largest tobacco corporation. It is also the world's leader in pushing smoking towards young people around the world. While publically claiming it does not want children and teens smoking, the company has spent millions on researching marketing trends for this demographic. For years it has misled the public about the dangers of smoking and its so called "healthier" alternatives are an insulting attempt to kill society, just slower. For years Phillip Morris has been able to get away with selling deadly products and cigarettes because it controls the debate on public health. It is able to lobby away laws and regulations that would severely limit the impact and scope of smoking, particularly among teens. In the 2000 election cycle, Phillip Morris was the second largest contributor of "soft" money to candidates who ensured no legislation would come forward to regulated the tobacco industry nor expose the dangerous side effects of smoking.

By merging with Kraft and Nabisco, Phillip Morris used money made from the sale of their prized and addictive, not to mention deadly product to gain influence and power in both the business world and the debate on public health. A boycott of these brands and companies will put pressure on Phillip Morris to change their sales and marketing strategies and force the company to admit the true danger of their tobacco products. Currently, 50% of all cigarettes sold to underage purchasers are Phillip Morris brands.

• We Vote With Our Wallets

The above list is certainly not inclusive of all the companies that we should be careful of supporting with our money. Many successful boycotts have been at the grass-roots level such as the General Electric boycott of the 1980s, the DKNY boycott which ended in 2008, and the most recent boycott against Royal Caribbean.

Huda Jawad is a writer for Islamic Insights (www.Islamicinsights.com), a weekly publication in North America.


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