The Apparel Sector Is Getting It: Better Cotton Now Accounts for One-Fifth of Global Production

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The cotton industry – long criticized for its adverse environmental, social and labor impacts – is rapidly undergoing a transformation led by the nonprofit Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). In its just released 2018 annual report, BCI’s figures show that the amount of ethically and sustainably produced “Better Cotton” is growing fast. It accounted for 19 percent of global cotton production during the 2017-18 growing season, with an astounding 2 million farmers now licensed to produce Better Cotton by BCI; and 99 percent of these farmers are smallholders farming on less than 20 hectares of land.

“BCI’s Retailer and Brand Members passed an important milestone at the end of 2018, sourcing more than one million metric tonnes of ‘Better Cotton’,” said Alan McClay, BCI’s chief executive officer, to TriplePundit. “This demonstrates that multiple stakeholders, working together, can shift a global system so that sustainability becomes the mainstream.”

One million metric tonnes is an astounding 75 percent increase from 2016-17, and it did not happen by accident. The training and certifying of farmers is a process that requires extensive field work, and BCI has operations with implementing partners in 21 countries, including key cotton producers India, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States.

Increasing the supply of sustainable cotton is important as there are several problems with conventionally grown cotton. First, there’s water – cotton has a reputation for being “difficult,” water-wise. Numerous non-profits and global media outlets such as the Guardian have laid blame on cotton for dwindling water resources in places like India, or for the environmental devastation of the Aral Sea in Central Asia. Then there’s the fact that cotton uses large amounts of pesticides, which results in serious water pollution issues in regions like the southern United States.

At the same time, there are not necessarily any viable replacements for cotton. The main alternatives – synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon, plant-based rayon, or leather – are rife with their own sustainability challenges as well. Considering the growing concern about polyester-based microfibers in the ocean, some of these concerns are, arguably, creating problems that in the long term could be create potentially worse. Moreover, none of these alternatives can, currently, replace the scale of cotton, which still accounts for 40 percent of all raw materials used in textile production globally. Furthermore, cotton is durable, recyclable and provides livelihoods to millions. Quite simply, cotton is an essential part of the global economy, and that is not changing anytime soon.

BCI’s solution is to make cotton better, both for the environment, and for those who depend on it for their livelihoods. BCI defines “Better Cotton” as cotton grown following seven principles. These include environmental factors – crop protection, water stewardship, soil health, land, and biodiversity, but also, importantly, social factors too, including decent working conditions and fair compensation. The ultimate goal, according to BCI, is to allow farmers to produce cotton that measurably better for the environment and farming communities.

Two million farmers comprise a huge number, but this is just the start. BCI says it has a goal to certify five million farmers by 2020, when it also aims to have 30 percent of all global cotton being grown following its standards. By then, it may be able to achieve what many have believed was impossible – systematic, supply-chain wide change.

“We are approaching a tipping point. As more [members] source ‘Better Cotton’, we will be able to reach and support more cotton farmers, building momentum on our ambition to transform the sector, reduce its environmental impact and strengthen farmers’ ability to improve their livelihoods,” said McClay.

Increasing demand is key, as Better Cotton needs buyers to remain viable. So far, the demand if there, as brands including Hennes & Mauritz, IKEA, Gap, Adidas and Nike all sourced record levels of Better Cotton last year. Together, more demand and greater supply can, hopefully create a virtuous cycle – and provide a model for how to achieve rapid, scalable and meaningful progress on a complex global supply chain. 

Image credit: DJI-Agras/Pixabay

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The Three-Ring Circus Marking Today's Recycling Industry

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Since the recycling crisis began in 2018, there has been a steady drumbeat of media coverage on the topic of recycling. What most people do not understand is the “recycling crisis” is made up of several issues: evolving economics around recycling, a lack of consumer understanding on what is and isn’t recyclable and confusion over the issue of plastics.

The multiple storylines being played out in the news media on recycling have led to mixed messages and inaccuracies, with different issues taking the spotlight at different times. Here is a look at the separate issues that are playing out in the three-ring circus of today’s recycling industry:

Ring #1 – The Business and Economic Model is Broken

Consumers simply do not understand the true costs associated with recycling. For decades, the actual costs have been subsidized by the value of the recyclable commodity sold at market. That means companies collecting recyclables have been charging the resident a price that does NOT fully cover the cost of service because that difference could be made up in the marketplace.

Furthermore, over the past 18 months, China exited the global commodity market, leaving at least 40 percent of the world’s volume of recyclables seeking a home. This has led to a massive over-supply in alternate global markets and a dramatic drop in the value of recyclables – meaning that companies providing this service are no longer able to make up the difference between the low price of service and the value of the commodity. Given that this reality is unlikely to change anytime soon, action needs to be taken.  This requires an immediate reset of contracts and economics to ensure that recycling programs continue in America.

Ring #2 – Contamination is a Big Issue

Because of trends in packaging over the past 10+ years and a general lack of public education, America does not know what to recycle, or how to recycle properly.  In some cities, this results in 30 percent or more contamination. Contamination is the inclusion of non-recyclable material in the recycling stream, which drives additional costs to separate the garbage out of the recycling stream and dispose of it properly.

Through public education campaigns like Recycling Simplified, we can all become better at recycling the items that are truly beneficial to the planet. This site is available to all consumers - not just Republic customers - and has tips for what and how to recycle. However, achieving zero contamination levels will NOT fix the Business and Economic crisis in Ring #1 above.

Ring #3 – Plastic, Plastic, Plastic

Every day brings another article about plastics and the impacts on the planet from improper processing or disposal of the material.  As a result of the economic headwinds in Ring #1 above, many forms of plastic (namely #3-7) are becoming unmarketable, rendering them part of the contamination issue in Ring #2. The combination of a lack of consumer understanding of how to recycle with the changes in what can be captured and sold on the global market is intensifying the narrative of plastic pollution in our rivers and oceans. Plastic in the environment is not a recycling issue, it’s a litter issue. In the larger recycling tent, plastics really are a sideshow. We must address the challenges in Ring #1 and Ring #2.

Do not be confused by the juggling storylines. Each on its own is important, but the single most important topic in the recycling industry is the need to ensure the programs and underlying contracts are set up to be durable and viable. Without them, we’re trapeze artists operating without a net. A community aspiring to pivot toward “zero waste” cannot have the collection and processing of their recycling programs subsidized by the unpredictable future value of materials.

Recycling needs to stand on its own.  The reality is this: If contracts were set up properly today, there would be no crisis. Instead we would have a viable and thriving market that would allow for the successful collection and recycling of materials in our country.  We’d all simply be focused on optimizing the programs, through public education (to reduce contamination), and evaluation of what should be in the materials list (re-evaluating items such as some forms of plastics and glass).

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Abortion Is Now a Part of the Corporate Activism Conversation

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On May 21, a group of seven women-led and -oriented companies placed an open letter in The New York Times, in which they spoke out against new and proposed state legislation bans on abortion. Barely three weeks later, the corporate anti-ban movement has snowballed into a second public letter in the Times. This one, titled “Don’t Ban Equality,” was supported by more than 180 companies. The group is dominated by brands associated with female consumers, but many other companies, large and small, have also signed on.

Why the New York Times abortion statement is just the beginning

Not too long ago, the topic of abortion rights was something that U.S. business leaders almost uniformly avoided. Now, the topic has launched what has become yet another example of next-level corporate activism. From gun control to immigration rights, companies are stepping into the media spotlight on matters of broad social concern.

Recent events marking the gun safety movement illustrates that point. For decades, the National Rifle Organization (NRA) and its political allies have dominated the national conversation on gun control.  Only a very few high-profile business leaders dared to speak publicly in favor of what they insisted are common-sense gun safety regulations.

Now the situation has reversed. The NRA is foundering and the gun control movement is gaining momentum at the ballot box, with the public support of a fair share of leading U.S. businesses.

Gender equality, gender diversity and abortion rights

The abortion rights movement has crossed over into the business community in a similar way.

The decision to go public on a controversial issue is never an easy one, especially when the public debate splits along party lines and across society.

That makes the new public letter is all the more noteworthy. The letter was organized by three groups strongly associated with liberal and progressive activism and political support for the Democratic Party: Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).

Nevertheless, the letter was made almost inevitable by this shift within the corporate social responsibility movement. The three groups make this change clear throughout the letter and supporting materials, including a press release and website.

The key passage in the public letter is this:

Equality in the workplace is one of the most important business issues of our time."

"When everyone is empowered to succeed, our companies, our communities and our economy are better for it.”

The letter emphasizes that restrictions on abortion and other health care for women “threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers. Simply put, it goes against our values and is bad for business.”

The website and press release also both state that “business leaders are stepping up to say that these bans go against their company values and negatively affect efforts to promote equality in the workplace, putting businesses, communities and the economy at risk.”

Corporate activism and the bottom line

Crucially, the public letter draws a sharp, tight line between abortion rights and the bottom line. It concludes:

“Simply put, [restricting reproductive care] goes against our values and is bad for business. It impairs our ability to build diverse and inclusive workforce pipelines, recruit top talent across the states, and protect the well-being of all the people who keep our businesses thriving day in and out.”

If you caught that line about top talent, that is perhaps the most significant aspect of this latest public letter.

The global business community is in a race to attract the best possible talent and the next generation of innovators.

Companies that diversify — on sexual identity as well as gender and race — are realizing new benefits through inclusive policies, proactive outreach and employee training.

Those companies that fail to diversify their workforces are facing a troubled future, partly by failing to identify problematic areas in their operations, and more directly by failing to expand their recruiting efforts.

In the U.S., the talent issue has come into stark relief as the workforce diversifies with more women and non-whites in top fields, along with more people who identify outside of the conventional borders of gender.

The private sector-government connection

The latest wave of abortion restrictions also has an impact on U.S. companies that conduct business with government agencies like the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. Together, these agencies employ thousands of highly-skilled workers in facilities that sprawl across the U.S. - including career-oriented women in the workforce who are in their childbirth years all through peak periods for academic progress, on-the-job training and promotion.

So far few of the very largest corporations have joined in the #DontBanEquality effort, but the trickle could soon turn into a flood.

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From Planning to Practice: How To Make Inclusion a Part of Your Corporate Culture

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This article series is sponsored by DXC Technology and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Over the past two months, we've been taking a closer look at neurodiversity in the workplace. It's a fairly unexplored topic within the broader diversity and inclusion conversation, and many may not even recognize the term. Put simply: Neurodiversity refers to respecting neurological differences—such as autism, dyslexia, clinical anxiety and depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder—the same way we do other differences. 

So far, we've heard from experts about how embracing neurodiversity—and, specifically, employing people on the autism spectrum—can help companies drive top talent forward. And we've covered how to create pilot programs for hiring people on the spectrum. But in many ways, that's the easy part.

The hard work begins after people are recruited, hired and on-boarded. How can companies make their workplaces and corporate cultures welcoming for neurodiverse people? How can they leverage the strengths of these employees and help them feel supported? And how can they foster positive relationships among their teams of all backgrounds?  

Answering these questions may bring about a hard reckoning for business leaders and force them to take a closer look at how inclusive and supportive their company cultures really are—for everyone, not only for neurodiverse people.

"When you look at efforts to build more inclusive employment practices—for example, around autistic people and their employment—it forces you to revisit what your organization is already doing," said Charmine Hartel, professor of occupational health and industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Queensland Business School. "Because you’re not just looking to be inclusive of [neurodiverse people]—you’re looking to build workplaces that are inclusive and fair for everyone."

We spoke with Hartel and her colleague Anna Krzeminska, an associate professor in the Centre for Workforce Futures at Macquarie University in Australia, to find out how companies can ask the tough questions—and absorb the tough answers—as they seek to build cultures around inclusion. 

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Neurodiversity as a catalyst for cultural change 

A growing number of top companies, including SAP and JPMorgan Chase, have launched specialized programs to employ people on the autism spectrum. Their case studies offer insight into how these programs work—and the ways they illuminate culture challenges within a company. 

For example, through the Dandelion Program, DXC Technology has been working to increase technology employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum since 2014. After 12 months, program leaders already spotted several challenges: Some managers were fearful of having performance discussions with neurodiverse hires, for example, and teams weren't integrating as they'd hoped. In response, the company connected program participants with mentors, provided new training for managers, and explored new ways for diverse teams to engage with one another. 

This type of knowledge-building and adjustment is common when addressing neurodiversity in the workplace—and it makes the case for how these programs can strengthen corporate culture overall, Hartel told us. Take, for example, the time-honored interview. "Researchers have shown for many years now that the interview is a highly flawed method for hiring people," said Hartel, who also serves as co-director of the Queensland Neurodiversity Hub. "Yet almost every organization wants to do it, because they somehow think they have an innate ability to watch someone and figure out how they're going to perform in the workplace." 

When looking to hire neurodiverse people, it's a clear first step to revisit the interview process. "The traditional interview is very problematic for autistic individuals," Hartel said. But moving away from the interview "is good for everyone," she explained, "because it’s really a horrible method for selecting people."

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To create inclusive cultures, we need to revisit how we work

"Two human needs are universal—we have the need to both belong and also to be recognized as individuals," Hartel said. "That's just fundamental, so we need to create organizations that are inclusive—as in, people feel they belong, but also that their identities and who they are as individuals is valued and appreciated."

By and large, business still has trouble with this. Take, for example, a recent study of black female Harvard MBAs who went on become senior executives. Even after reaching the top of the proverbial ladder, many said they struggled to “be themselves” at work and felt “on display” in their workplaces. 

As shown in research on toxic corporate cultures, this type of unrest simmers beneath the surface—but it often goes unnoticed by those with the power to do something about it. "We need to start understanding that workplaces are responsible for the human wellbeing of their employees," Krzeminska told us. "They can create social context that helps people flourish, or they can create social context that causes a great deal of damage." 

In this sense, neurodiversity programming can illuminate culture problems that a company already has: By taking a second look at how it supports neurodiverse hires, how managers interact with them and how they integrate into teams, it becomes clear what the company could do better to support each of its employees—not only those in the program, Hartel said. "What's brilliant about [neurodiversity employment] is that it gets us to think about the ways we've held on to the traditional models of how to recruit, hire and operate," she told us. 

Think of it this way: As we've profiled in this series, many people on the autism spectrum have sensitivity to bright lights or sound, so companies often make small shifts in their workspaces to accommodate. How did managers know to dim the lights or use headphones? Because they asked new hires on the autism spectrum what they needed. But what if those managers took the time to ask each of their employees what would make them happier and more fulfilled at work? This type of question can certainly rise through employing a new group like those on the autism spectrum, but if companies tackle it head on, it can shift an entire culture, Krzeminska said. 

"We can design work," she told us. "We should be thinking about the talent that we have and creating work that fits to the individual. And that's good for everyone, because most of us have something in our work that we hate doing but we're stuck with because that's what the 'role' is. When you look at worldwide work engagement surveys and you see 18 to 20 percent engagement levels, it says that no one feels they have the perfect job."  

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It's time to get real about corporate culture 

Asking your employees about their experience with the company takes guts, but it's only the beginning. You also have to be sure they feel comfortable enough to be frank with you, Hartel said. "You have to know how to have conversations around people's wellbeing and how to create trust," she told us. "Otherwise, there’s the risk that employees will not tell you how they feel or what they need, out of fear of being perceived as weak or ineffective."

Imagine, for example, that your company just put out a flashy press release announcing your new paid leave policy. That's great, but it doesn't mean much if your nose-to-the-grindstone culture makes employees reticent to take advantage of it. When they encounter the inevitable difficulties of life, they're more likely to push through rather than ask for help, causing them to burn out and disengage. 

When working on a hiring pilot—and actively gathering data and making adjustments—managers are more likely to see this happen in real time. But similar small shifts in the workplace have a universal potential to improve wellbeing at work. "It is not true that organizations spend more money on accommodations for disabled people than on their so-called ‘non-disabled’ employees," Krzeminska said. "Everyone needs some level of adaptation to be able to perform at their best. It’s just about what kind of accommodation that is, and you need to find that out from the individual employee."

What comes out of those conversations will be different for every company, the professors told us, but sitting down at the table is the only clear path. "We can’t give you ‘three easy ways’ to be inclusive, because it’s not that easy," Hartel concluded. "There are foundational principles, but each organization has to ask themselves the difficult questions of what they need to be doing [to support their employees]."

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Meet the Young Minds Solving the Climate Crisis

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Yes, the world is in the midst of a climate crisis, but EDF is showcasing these young leaders who offer us optimism.

As a Cruise Director for an expedition travel company in the Arctic and Antarctic, Meghan Kelly often found herself in conversations with locals about the receding coastline. She heard how decreasing sea ice is diminishing traditional hunting grounds, along with the passages between one community and the next in the Arctic. For the families who have been there for generations, surviving means adapting to a warmer climate.

To many of us, these remote locations may seem far away. But stories like this are happening much closer to home. Climate change is altering, and in some cases destroying, the environments we grew up in.

It’s easy to feel hopeless when hearing these stories. But here’s one reason why I’m optimistic about the future of our planet.

Last week, I met 120 graduate students, from across the U.S. and China who are dedicating their careers to solving the climate crisis. I was blown away by the high-caliber talent I saw. This group, members of the 2019 EDF Climate Corps fellowship, are using their unique personal experiences and educational backgrounds to tackle climate change in new, innovative ways.

Let me introduce you to some these talented emerging leaders, and I hope that you, too, will find hope in knowing that the future of our planet lies in their hands.

Yalun Feng

Trying to visualize the environmental impact that millions of people can have on our planet might seem abstract. But for Yalun Feng, growing up in Wuhan – one of the most populous cities in central China – meant seeing waste and pollution on a daily basis. In September of 2016, Yalun co-founded a social enterprise, Leaves Plates Company, that sells biodegradable plates and flatware made from leaves, a South Asian tradition.

The plates are sold to restaurants, food trucks and university dining services in the U.S. as a solution to reducing plastic use. The products are 100% biodegradable, extremely sturdy and can be manufactured with a carbon footprint that’s much lower than traditional plastic products. Beyond having a reduced impact on the environment, the company creates jobs, providing for people – especially women – in destitute areas with disposable incomes and greater economic independence.

Anneliese Gegenheimer

Anneliese Gegenheimer spent seven years with IBM, first in the company’s Global Business Services, then in IBM’s Watson Financial Service department. She created learning programs to help advance the company’s application of Artificial Intelligence, and implemented processes for optimizing manufacturing supply chains. But for five of those seven years, Anneliese was also acting as founder and director of the Chicago Student Invention Convention – a student invention program that empowers students K-8 to creatively solve problems.

Anneliese formed partnerships, developed teacher trainings and curriculums, recruited volunteers and mentors, and organized a city-wide competition. In those five years, the program served over 8,000 students and has since become integrated into Chicago’s STEM programs. The flexible curriculum gives students the opportunity to turn innovative ideas into innovative products, like ChargeAir – a portable wind turbine that can be placed on an electric car to generate power as the car drives.

Robert Ddamulira

Robert Ddamulira spent the last nine years working for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), based in Uganda. He coordinated with 11 WWF offices across the continent to solve a range of socio-economic, environmental and energy issues facing the population.

Using his background in energy – specifically oil, hydropower, bioenergy and solar – Robert designed and led an 11-country rights-based sustainable energy program. The program helped get countries like Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Madagascar, DRC and Tanzania to work together to enable 1.2 million people to get basic access to modern energy solutions for services like lighting and cooking. He also influenced national, regional and international energy policy around modern, energy access, increasing the use of renewable energy and reducing the environmental impact of large scale energy developments, such as hydropower and oil and gas.

Yalun, Anneliese, Robert, Meghan and the rest of their generation make me hopeful about the future of our planet.

Previously posted on EDF's blog and the 3BL Media newsroom.

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The Recycling Dilemma: If Not China, Who?

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It's been quite the roller coast for the recycling industry. In January 2018, China severely restricted the import of recyclables in an effort to crack down on pollution. In particular, the ban targeted mixed paper and mixed plastics, limiting how much contamination can be present in recyclable materials. For example, imagine trying to recover plastic from a dirty diaper versus a used plastic berry container.

Major exporters of this type of scrap, namely the United States, nearly went into panic mode. Americans make up roughly 5 percent of the world’s population, but according to various studies, generate nearly 40 percent of the world’s total waste. According to the U.S. EPA, earlier this decade, the average American discarded as much as 4.4 pounds of trash a day - or four-fifths of a ton (over 1600 pounds).

China says no to being the globe's recycling bin

Previously, from 2005 to 2015, China imported nearly half of all plastic scrap globally. Figures from the United Nations Comtrade Database show that in 2015 alone, exports of all scrap commodities from reporting countries approached 180 million metric tons valued at more than $86 billion.

Scrap can be integrated into manufacturing supply chains at mass scale and with significant cost savings. While the U.S. was the largest exporter of recycled commodities in the world, and China was the world’s dominant consumer of scrap commodities, change is happening.

When China’s ban on scrap imports began leading to backlogged materials and stockpiling in the U.S., municipalities started hitting the brakes on recycling programs. Yet in a 180-degree turn of events, Chinese manufacturers that require wastepaper and flattened bottles for their production needs started investing in U.S. scrap recycling opportunities.

A ban generates new opportunities

ND Paper LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Nine Dragons Paper Limited, invested $500 million over the past year to buy and expand or restart production at paper mills in Maine, Wisconsin and West Virginia. As one of the world’s largest producers of cardboard boxes, Nine Dragons relies upon mass quantities of scrap to be turned into pulp to make boxes.

ND Paper also completed the acquisition of a recycled pulp mill in West Virginia. The mill will be used to increase the organization’s capacity to manufacture and distribute recycled pulp, which is used in a wide range of products, from packaging to tissue paper.

Domestic projects are coming online too. Several American owned and operated paper mills, plastic recycling plants and materials recovery facilities (MRFs) are reevaluating operations and policies in order to adapt to this major industry shift.

In California, five plastics recycling projects will receive millions in state funding to expand efforts. From a food and agriculture packaging producer who will process an additional 2,000 tons of PP and PE per year to a reclaimer who will produce decontaminated, food-grade HDPE from post-consumer packaging and agricultural film, these efforts are keeping plastic out of landfills and finding useful solutions for recycled plastic materials.

Memo to the world: mind, and mine, your own recyclables 

While there is skepticism such efforts aren’t grand enough, if countries like the U.S. are thwarted from selling trash to other nations to process it, then processing efforts must be beefed up domestically and new solutions will need to be developed - or, at some point similar to China, the U.S. will need to stop accumulating scrap.

In addition, as other nations like Malaysia replicate China’s ban and send back contaminated scrap materials, a clear message is being sent: nations are working to provide their citizens a clean environment to live in.

For the U.S., this means shipping millions of pounds of waste to other nations to process it may longer be an option. As the U.S. and other countries continue to explore scrap processing operations, questions of proper management, environmental consequences and companies that use the most of these recycled materials should be considered. If the trend continues that exporting recovered waste will become increasingly more difficult, nations need to build up domestic infrastructure in order do everything they can to reduce waste.

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'Caste System' at Google Shows What's Wrong with the Gig Economy

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Recent leaks to media outlets have helped publicize Google’s alleged “shadow staffing” practices. In layperson’s terms: The company has been hiring more temporary and contract workers than full-time employees. Continued accusations from workers, coupled with Google’s struggles managing this controversy, together show the long-term risks posed by the gig economy—one in which many younger workers have long found themselves mired.

Google exemplifies the ‘gig economy’

Late last month, the New York Times interviewed anonymous sources (due to these employees’ nondisclosure agreements) and concluded that Google had 102,000 full-time employed staff versus 121,000 temporary and contract workers around the world.

Within the company, workers have organized walkouts and demanded fairer work conditions for temporary and contract workers. The person or group behind the Twitter handle Google Walkout For Real Change has alleged that Google, akin to how critics say the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft operate, increasingly relies more on temp and contract workers, who do not receive the same benefits as their full-time counterparts.

A caste system for tech workers?

Pradeep Chauhan, the owner of the contracting job search firm OnContracting, told the Times this perceived preference for contract workers over full-timers has been “creating a caste system inside companies.”

Google has not verified or commented on the claim that 54 percent of its workforce is contractors and temp workers. The company has not released an official response to these accusations but did announce it will implement workplace changes for its temporary and contract staff. Google said it will now require that the outside companies employing the workers provide them with comprehensive health care, a minimum wage of $15 per hour, 12 weeks of parental leave and a minimum of eight days of sick leave by 2022, according to an internal memo obtained by The Hill.

Contract work is hardly new in and beyond Silicon Valley, though critics often consider this practice as contributing to the expanding gig economy—an expansion that may benefit companies’ ledger sheets but not necessarily these workers’ employment and economic security. Instead of a standardized employment relationship—in which an employee is hired by a company and is therefore covered under regulations including labor laws, employment laws and workplace safety regulations—many industries have been part of the ongoing trend in which companies increasingly rely on independent contractors or employees. Uber and other ride-hailing companies, for example, have utilized this approach to hiring workers in order to streamline costs. According to OnContracting, large tech giants can save $100,000 a year per American job by using a contractor instead of a full-time employee, as quoted by many news sites.

Contract workers are making their voices heard

The premise of deciding to work as an independent contractor is that there are some perks, including the flexibility to choose their projects and assumptions that workers can make their own schedules. Working as a freelancer also allows these employees to, theoretically, seek out the best work opportunities and receive competitive rates from companies. Such an arrangement can benefit companies, too: They can review their staffing needs and hire, or release, workers for assignments and projects with more ease.

But many of these contract employees have long felt they are at a disadvantage and have been powerless to fight back against anything they see as an injustice. Now, workers are pushing back, and are pushing back hard, loudly making their claims about workplace discrimination against part-time, freelance and contract workers. At the same time, they are demanding more employee benefits—especially if companies are increasingly dictating terms and conditions that should only apply to full-time, W-2 workers. Watch for contract and temp workers to make their demands louder, have their voices heard, and pressure more companies to treat them fairly and ethically.

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Glowing, Going, Gone: Taking a Stand for Coral

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For years, the lone polar bear stranded on a modest piece of floating ice has been the symbol of warming oceans. The documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, popularized the image in 2006. But as global atmospheric and ocean temperatures continue to rise, other canaries are beginning to chirp in the coal mine of global warming. Coral is the newest face for climate change because of the bright molecules it emits as a sunscreen when encountering conditions like fatally warm water or harsh ultraviolet rays.

The process is called fluorescence, and it is the subject of a new campaign from The Ocean Agency, Adobe and the Pantone Color Institute. Central to the campaign is a set of colors Pantone created from the neon compounds.

The colors of dying coral

Bright purple, yellow and blue are the colors coral has been fluorescing off the coast of New Caledonia — the colors glow like a flare in the sky. The image is both beautiful and alarming. In 2016, The Ocean Agency traveled to the archipelago to photograph the phenomenon as part of the documentary Chasing Coral.

Three years later, a partnership between Adobe, the Pantone Color Institute and The Ocean Agency has produced “Glowing, Going, Gone,” a campaign to raise awareness about rising ocean temperatures with a color palette to match.

Glowing Yellow, Glowing Blue and Glowing Purple are the three colors Pantone carefully selected from the dying coral for Glowing, Going, Gone, in hopes that designers will use the palette in their artwork.

The campaign begins this month with a challenge for artists to use the Pantone colors to create art and designs that people can’t ignore. Selected pieces will be showcased in New York’s Times Square, at ocean and climate policy conferences and events, on social media and elsewhere.

The global economy needs coral

Creating an entire campaign about stressed coral reefs can be beneficial not only to our oceans’ biodiversity, but also to our global economy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contends that coral reefs contribute $3.4 billion to the U.S. economy via tourism, fisheries, protecting coastlines from erosion and much more.

Warm water and intense sunlight can induce coral bleaching — the process by which coral expels its symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) and becomes more vulnerable to stressors. Bleaching threatens all of coral’s industries and services.

The inconvenient truth is that, by 2030, scientists expect 60 percent of the earth’s coral reefs to be highly or critically threatened.

Using color to take a stand

Glowing, Going, Gone is an excellent example of two brands taking a stand with a nonprofit. The partnership between The Ocean Agency, Adobe and the Pantone Color Institute began with some synchronicity. Before Adobe approached Pantone to create these colors, Pantone had already chosen “Living Coral” as the color of 2019, Laurie Pressman, Vice-President of the Pantone Color Institute, told TriplePundit. Pantone enthusiastically joined the team.

Pantone’s simple and memorable color scheme can push this climate campaign to become bigger than a fleeting fad.

The hope is that Glowing Yellow, Glowing Blue and Glowing Purple will become as memorable as color campaigns like the rainbow of LGBT Pride. This June, for LGBT Pride Month, businesses and brands around the world are taking the time to add the rainbow to products, storefronts, even logos. Most people understand these colors to be a symbol of solidarity.

Pressman imagines neon sneakers or shirts – basic daily items – that use the “Glowing” colors will be most effective at establishing the new meaning of this color combination in our visual language.

What can you do?

  • If you are a designer, start drawing something up with Pantone’s “Glowing” colors and submit it to the design challenge or simply share it on social media. Even if you are not an artist, use the colors online or in person to raise awareness.
  • Looking to donate? Consider The Ocean Agency, which supports ocean science and conservation and raises awareness via creative marketing. The Coral Reef Alliance is another great option that works with communities to protect and restore their reefs.
  • Businesses can take a stand with Adobe and the Pantone Color Institute and share Glowing Yellow, Glowing Blue and Glowing Purple with their customers and audiences.

Does this color activism for climate end with Glowing, Going, Gone?

Pressman doubts that. She told TriplePundit she imagines there will be many more opportunities for the Pantone Color Institute to partner with climate, conservation and sustainability causes to create “emblematic associations” that will alert people to Earth’s cries for help.

Image credit: Egor Kamelev/Pexels

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Could a Rare Earths Shortage Hurt the U.S. Cleantech Sector?

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Rare earths are in the headlines again. After it was announced earlier this year that the United States would, after a failure to reach a trade agreement with China, raise tariffs, followed by the news that the Chinese tech giant Huawei would face sanctions, there are growing worries that China will retaliate by restricting exports of rare earth elements, putting the entire U.S. tech industry at risk.

“The United States should not be depending on China and other foreign nations for our supply of rare earth elements,” said Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) in a press statement. “We utilize rare earth elements in the production of everything from our cell phones and televisions to strategic weapons systems.”

Limited in quantity, rare earths have a wide reach

Rare earths encompass seventeen elements found near the bottom of the periodic table, which exist on earth in tiny quantities but are crucially important for making electronics function. Chances are your smartphone, computer or tablet has a trace amount of some rare earth minerals in it, without which it probably wouldn’t work nearly as well. China has, for years, been the predominant source of rare earths for technology companies around the world.

An export ban or limitations are problematic for several reasons, but one industry that could especially suffer is the burgeoning cleantech industry. Electric vehicles, lithium batteries and wind turbines all need one or more rare earth elements to properly function. Moreover, any shortage could be particularly harmful for an industry that, despite years of record growth, is still in its infancy and not necessarily prepared to face a drastic shortfall of a necessary supply chain input.

Echoes of what tariffs did to the U.S. solar industry

Moreover, the trade war has already had a detrimental impact on clean energy. Back in early 2018, the Trump administration took the stunning move to put a 30 percent tariff on imported solar energy cells and panels. It was a move aimed squarely at China, the largest producer, though many also believe Trump’s long-held disdain for the environment and climate science likely played a role as well.

“Tariffs... will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry which, tellingly, opposed Trump’s move, in a press statement.

They were right. The result – billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. solar projects were shelved, according to Reuters, due to the higher cost of imported solar panels and the limited quantity of domestic alternatives. Moreover, it hasn’t helped American producers as well, as a report released by EnergySage Solar Marketplace Intel earlier this year found that the share of domestically produced panels actually fell in the first year after the tariffs were put in place.

Are there rare earths options other than China?

So far, the technology industry as a whole has been mostly silent on the potential impact if rare earths become caught up in a U.S.-China trade war. Part of the reason is that the world has been preparing for this. Back in 2010, China and neighboring Japan were seeing rising tensions due to the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain near islands that both nations claim as their own territory. China did then what it threatens to do today – shut the flow of rare earths to Japan for a short time, temporarily hurting the country’s high-tech industry.

Since then, there has been a global push to diversify rare earths production so that entire industries cannot be held hostage by the whims of a single country. New mines have opened in Russia, Mongolia, and even in the U.S. Malaysia is now host to the world’s only rare earth processing facility outside of China, and there are plans to build more in the coming years.

This means that even if the worst-case scenario – a full stop in Chinese rare-earth exports to the U.S. – occurs, it won’t destroy the market for rare earths. Still, it could result in short term challenges for cleantech. Considering that we’re seeing a record heat wave in India, and worrying news that ice sheets are melting faster than predicted, any hold up in bringing clean energy and other technologies to scale could be costly in the long run.

Image credit: Pexels

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How to Eliminate Child Labor, Farm by Farm, On a Global Scale

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This article series is sponsored by Philip Morris International.

The scene plays out in farming communities all around the world: Children working alongside their parents, harvesting crops or performing other manual labor to help the family business. For some families, the work is tradition. For others, it’s an economic necessity.

But for businesses that contract with these farms, it’s a problem. Many children drop out of school too early, combine school with long working hours, or do work that is dangerous and not appropriate for their age; they become child laborers, and this should have no place in a company’s supply chain. Companies should act to not only eradicate the problem, but also help tackle the underlying reasons it exists.

That’s what Philip Morris International (PMI) has been striving toward—eliminating child labor by changing the way it purchases tobacco, monitoring the labor practices on farms, and adopting initiatives to help farming communities improve their business operations so they don’t need child labor.

But it takes more than one company to make a dent in the problem.

Despite progress in recent years, 152 million children are still swept up in child labor practices globally, with the agricultural sector accounting for the largest share—71 percent. Much of that number comes from children working on family farms, which is why it is critical to understand and address family reliance on child labor before we can eradicate it. 

Companies involved in the purchase of agricultural goods can and must play a role in developing this understanding and eliminating child labor from their supply chains. To do so, they need to engage in business models that enhance the economic conditions of farmers and take an active part in monitoring and improving the overall practices of each farm that supplies them with raw materials. 

While this may not be easy given the globalized nature of trade in agricultural goods and the fragmented reality of agriculture production—with millions of small producers scattered across vast and often remote geographies—we believe companies can develop such business models, implement programs that monitor practices at the farm level and drive positive change on a global scale.

A model where anti-child labor efforts are part of business practices

PMI sources tobacco from more than 350,000 farmers in 27 countries. Child labor in tobacco growing is a reflection of the wider agricultural reality, with most farms that produce tobacco being small-scale family farms of less than 2 hectares.

To tackle this major issue, PMI adopted a business model that aims to enhance the economic conditions of farmers and take an active part in monitoring and improving conditions from farm by farm. The approach has seen success, and by 2025, we want to achieve a situation where no child labor occurs—or occurs only as isolated incidents that are addressed immediately. 

Here’s a look at how we’ve gotten this far:

Eliminating the middleman. Over the past decade, PMI has progressively moved away from complex supply chains with multiple intermediaries, implementing an integrated production approach that involves direct contracts with farmers and allows for the company to take an active role in improving farm outcomes and the overall conditions of production, including tackling a family’s reliance on child labor. In 2018, 93 percent of the tobacco purchased by PMI was sourced through direct contracts with farmers, either by PMI affiliates or its suppliers.

Doing away with intermediaries means that more of the economic value is kept at the farm level, by establishing mutually beneficial business relationships. Contractual arrangements also give farmers predictability—assuring them of the sale of the crop at the end of the season—and protect them from global price fluctuations driven solely by supply and demand pressures, as we see in many commodities. Moreover, direct contractual relationships benefit both the farmers and the companies involved. In the integrated production approach that PMI has implemented, these contracts are coupled with technical assistance to farmers, which support the improvement of yields and quality and therefore the improvement of the value generated and retained at the farm.

Using field technicians. Tobacco farmers contracting with PMI or with its suppliers are regularly visited by field technicians who provide technical assistance and facilitate access to information, technology and financing, which are otherwise not available to small-scale family farmers in many parts of the world. 

In addition to the direct positive impact they can have on a family’s income, these 2,600 field technicians play a crucial role in the company’s efforts to eliminate child labor from its supply chain by applying a set of standards regarding agricultural practices.

Implementing standards. Since 2011, PMI has been implementing an Agricultural Labor Practices (ALP) program that currently reaches more than 350,000 farms. This program was developed in a strategic partnership with Verité, a leading global NGO in responsible supply chains, and consists of a global ALP Code that sets labor standards, including protective child labor standards, consistent with the International Labor Organization’s relevant conventions. 

The standards of the ALP Code are reflected in the contracts established with farmers, and to support its implementation, there is an ongoing global training program for field technicians. During their regular visits to farms—at least once a month during the crop season—field technicians provide training and monitor farms’ practices based on the standards set in the ALP Code. They are also equipped with electronic tools to gather relevant socioeconomic information from each farm, including who lives and works on the farm, whether there are school-age children, whether the farmer has other crops besides tobacco, etc. Whenever field technicians identify a situation of child labor, their role is to take prompt action to stop it, work collaboratively with the farmer to prevent the situation from happening again, and escalate the problem if the situation persists. 

Through their regular farm visits, field technicians collect information that allows PMI and its partners around the world to devise strategies and initiatives to address the root causes of the problems identified. Two critical areas are looked at in tackling the underlying reasons behind child labor: how the farm’s business operation can be improved to empower the farmer to avoid child labor and the community work that can support a family’s efforts. 

Providing concrete help. PMI has invested in strategies to help farmers keep their children away from the fields. One way is by mechanizing certain processes and simplifying others so there is no longer a need for children to help on the farm. Another way is by supporting access to education (through scholarships, after-school programs and daycare centers) and mobilizing mothers and community groups. For example, in 2016, a community-based initiative known as Rumah Pintar (“Smart House”) was introduced in Indonesia by PMI’s Indonesian affiliate, its suppliers and local NGOs. 

Rumah Pintar are community facilities offering after-school recreational and educational activities to the children of contracted farmers and workers. In 2018, the program had expanded to 34 villages and 14,561 children aged 7 to 18, and two external surveys indicated a significant reduction in child labor among the communities where the program was active.

Monitoring and transparency. A comprehensive third-party monitoring system complements the overall effort. It provides an external perspective of the management efforts to implement the ALP program as well as a detailed assessment of farm-level practices. These external assessments are conducted by Control Union, following a methodology and approach developed by Verité, a world leader in this domain. The outcomes of these assessments are regularly published on PMI’s website; to date, more than 20 external assessments are available for review. We believe this level of transparency is a critical element in our work and a good show of the company’s commitment. 

In 2018, through its monitoring and remediation processes, PMI identified and addressed more than 4,000 child labor incidents worldwide. Over the years, we have seen tangible improvements of the global situation, but, clearly, much remains to be done.

Child labor has no place in our supply chain. We have put in place mechanisms to identify it, and we are systematically addressing the cases that surface. We believe our work could be an example for other companies in our sector and beyond: Together, we can support the child labor-related objectives within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Image credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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