This site provides information for consumers about how their spending habits affect human rights, animal rights and welfare, and the environment.
NEW on environmental concerns page: Jane Goodall at Paris Climate Conference
NEW for music lovers: Writings of Ernest Hutcheson, edited by Thomas W. Hutcheson. Ernest Hutcheson was a renowned concert pianist and President of the Juillard.
2016 Feb. 1 Scientific American BPS (Bisphenol S) animal studies indicate it has similar effects as the BPA it often replaces in plastic products
Even minute amounts of BPS "can disrupt a cell’s normal functioning, which could potentially lead to metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity, asthma, birth defects or even cancer." A rat study demonstrated heart arrhthmias in female rats.
2016 Jan. 24 Yahoo News, Reuters 5 million more autos with Takata air bags recalled, tens of millions more may be recalled
"Automakers affected for the first time include Volkswagen AG
"Twelve major automakers have previously recalled more than 23 million Takata air bag inflators in more than 19 million vehicles in one of the largest and most complex safety recalls in U.S. automotive history."
"Takata's inflators can explode with too much force and spray metal shrapnel into vehicle passenger compartments and are linked to more than 100 U.S. injuries."
2016 Jan. 20 , Los Angeles Times: California and New York investigations of what Exxon Mobil knew about climate change
News reports in 1980s and 90s indicated Exxon Mobil used climate change data in its planning but "argued publicly that climate-change science was not clear cut."
2016 Jan. 19 bbc.com: "Apple, Samsung and Sony face child labour claims", along with others.
Amnesty International says the companies do not ensure children as young as 7 are not mining cobalt, used in lithium iron batteries, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Apple, Samsung, and Sony deny this.
"UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 40,000 children working in mines across southern DRC." They are at risk for serious health problems and death.
"The Amnesty report, which was jointly researched with African Resources Watch (Afrewatch), traced how traders buy cobalt from areas where child labour is rife, selling it on to firm Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd."
2016 Jan. 15 ecowatch.com Monsanto seeks permits to grow genetically modified (GMO) corn in Mexico
Monsanto says its GMO corn yields higher yields and profits for small farmers. Mexican opponents of GMO corn say 59 varieties of indigenous corn could be threatened by hybridization from GMO corn, " the development of insect pests or weeds that are resistant to the chemicals used with GMO crops, and the unintentional poisoning of beneficial insects and non-target species."
2016 Jan. 14 Orange County Register Southern California Gas Company gas well leaking methane near Porter Ranch community in Los Angeles
The company's data on elevated levels of benzene, which causes cancer, is substantially less than that of regulators. Safe levels are hard to determine: "For one thing, it is unclear whether the benzene fumes persisted long enough to exceed state exposure limits", but the data and odors from the gas raise concerns, "and some environmentalists are calling it the worst environmental disaster since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.".
2016 Jan. 12 IDG News Service Electronic Frontier Foundation says Cisco Systems "built a security system for the Chinese government knowing it would be used to track and persecute members of the Falun Gong religious minority"
Cisco denied the allegations.
2016 Jan. 8 reuters.com Pfizer drug price increases as high as 20%
"...A novel breast cancer drug launched last year at a list price of $9,850 per month, or $118,200 per year." Other drug manufacturers also increased prices. A planned merger between Pfizer and Allergan "would create the world's largest drugmaker and shift Pfizer's headquarters to Ireland, would also be the biggest-ever instance of a U.S. company re-incorporating overseas to lower its taxes."
Consumerreports.org has an article entitled "Save Money on Meds: 6 Tips for Finding the Best Prescription Drug Prices". The article puts a human face on the situation: a woman could not afford to fill her prescription when the price skyrocketed, took a different, cheaper drug instead, and had a bad reaction.
Consumerreports says it pays to shop around: some insurance co-payments are higher than the price you would pay without insurance at some stores (go figure!)Not only that, but "drugs could cost as much as 10 times more at one retailer vs. another." Prices vary widely even in the same area. It also pays to ask for a discount, which the store may not tell you about unless you ask, even though retailers do not expect consumers to pay gigantic list prices.
Such shenanigans have a lot to do with prices insurance companies will pay pharmacies and how those prices are set. Mergers could make the situation worse. The article lists strategies that can help consumers save. Consumerreports.org's site "Best Buy Drugs" links to lots more information. You can look up specific drugs, their uses and prices and side effects.
Getting informed on the options for handling drug expenses takes a lot of research, something a sick person is not likely to be able to do. Responsibleconsumer.net hopes that providing this summary and these links will help people to access the information with less difficulty and will motivate them to find and save the information before they desperately need it.
2016 Jan. 7 npr.org: Most people would rather not know a product is produced unethically
A study gave college students a choice of two out of four options to be given information about characteristics of brand name jeans. One option was to find out "whether the company used child labor". "More than 85 percent" not only did not choose that option, but "tended to denigrate" those who did.
"Further testing suggested that the willfully ignorant participants may have been unconsciously compensating for the guilt they felt when compared with ethical consumers." Such comparisons drive people away from consumer responsibility, rather than draw them toward it. ResponsibleConsumer.net submits that the same test should be performed using ethical concerns other than child labor to see whether the results hold up; child labor could be viewed differently than, say, slave labor.
2015 Dec. 28 Truth-out.org: Should philanthropy by wealthy capitalists be celebrated?
A new book by Linsey McGoey, No Such Thing As A Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy, examines whether massive philanthropy by billionaire capitalists is a net gain for social good or expands the political and economic power of billionaires.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has set up a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) to receive 99% of his Facebook shares as "charity", but an LLC is "exempt from non-profit rules against political expenditures and profit-making" and from "any requirements to publicly list any grants made to either for-profits or non-profits". This is different from the Gates Foundation, which must justify grants to for-profit corporations as being for charity rather than profit, but such gifts still can involve rich corporations giving to other rich corporations rather than to non-profits. In spite of this, the author says, public scrutiny that existed in the days of Rockefeller and Carnegie "seems almost absent today."
The author does not accuse Bill Gates of using philanthropy for personal gain. Rather, she says, he misplaces faith in for-profit corporate recipients such as Mastercard using the money--which because of the tax and legal structure, is subsidized by US taxpayers--for charitable rather than commercial activities.
An argument for such faith is "the idea that the 'data-driven' and 'market-based' philanthropic efforts of today are far more efficient and productive than social services provided by the government." McGoey answers this argument by saying that poverty and inequality in the US are rising, not falling in the face of all this philanthropy, and that "an organization called Eurodad, the European Network on Debt and Development, has studied the rise of public-private partnerships in global development and concluded that partnerships with the private sector can often double the costs expended by governments."
McGoey states that "My own view is that nothing will change unless large media outlets such as the New York Times nuance the fawning way they cover large foundations such as the Gates Foundation and start asking tougher questions."
2015 Dec. 22 realnews.org: U.S. not practicing what it preaches on reporting greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urged such reporting at the Paris Climate Summit, but the U.S. Congress has renewed a provision that prevents the EPA from requiring reports on emissions from manure. The result has been serious underreporting by the U.S., second only to China in the size of the livestock industry. Worldwide, the industry produces "more than all the world’s exhaust-belching cars, buses, boats and trains combined."
2015 Dec. 21 American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan: Lead in water
Researcher alleges the state "attempted to cover up the fact that its own data revealed a significant spike in lead found in Flint children after the state forced the city to draw water from the Flint River...."
2015 Dec. 17 theREALnews.com: Members of The True Cost of Chevron network protest at annual Chevron shareholders meeeting
Protesters said oil giant Chevron neglected to mention huge potential liabilities to the company for spills in Brazil, an underwater gas explosion in Nigeria, and damage to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, and denied access to a union representative to present a resolution on safety and inform shareholders about a union suit to "get all of Chevron's oil and gas contracts canceled in Brazil because of their concern about Chevron's ability to do its operations".
2015 Dec. 4 Yahoo News: "Some espresso machines a breeding ground for bacteria"
"The researchers noticed that the bacteria started to grow in the used capsule container and then spread to the rest of the machine. They stressed that after rinsing the container, the bacteria quickly return."
"The study recommends regularly cleaning the drip tray, cup tray and capsule container with an antibacterial product to avoid contaminating the drink."
2015 Dec. 1 BBC News: Japanese whaling resumes after a year
"Activists say the programme is inhumane and unsustainable."
"Japan insists it is trying to prove the whale population is large enough to justify a return to whaling for commercial purposes, and says it has to kills the mammals to carry out its research."
2015 Nov. 24 Bloomberg Business: "How Walmart Keeps an Eye on Its Massive Workforce"
The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (Our Walmart) has accused Walmart of retaliation against employees who protested low wages and unpredictable schedules. The article says Walmart extensively scrutinized workers' activities and conversations. The case has been presented to the National Labor Relations Board. "A decision may come in early 2016."
"The study found virtually all U.S. and European companies buying seafood from Thailand are exposed to the same risks of abuse in their supply chains."
"Nestlé said it would post the reports online — as well as a detailed yearlong solution strategy throughout 2016 — as part of ongoing efforts to protect workers. It has promised to impose new requirements on all potential suppliers and train boat owners and captains about human rights, possibly with a demonstration vessel and rewards for altering their practices. It also plans to bring in outside auditors and assign a high-level Nestle manager to make sure change is underway."
2015 Nov. 13: New U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety rules
The rules pertain mainly to fresh fruits and vegetables, including imports, and irrigation water, following large outbreaks of sickness caused by contaminated foods. "The final rules [were] released under a court-ordered deadline after advocacy groups sued over the delays...." Congress will have to approve money to implement to rules and enforce them.
An EU source said labels on certain products from Israeli occupied territories "would have to include the word 'settlement'" as the point of origin.
"The EU, the source added, does not view the occupied territories as legally part of Israel, so products from there cannot be labelled as from Israel or benefit from preferential trade agreements." The Israeli foreign ministry called the new regulation "discriminatory".
2015 Nov. 7: Truthout reprint of report by Earthjustice.Residents of African American neighborhood in Tallahassee, Alabama fight stench from landfill.
Earthjustice has filed a complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of Tallahassee and several other communities, alleging racial discrimination by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which gave a permit to the landfill and receives federal money. "Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, agencies that get federal money can't discriminate on the basis of race. Discrimination doesn't have to be intentional; it includes any decision that has an unjustified, unequal impact on a particular racial group.""Agency rules say the EPA must determine whether or not there's discrimination within 180 days of receiving a complaint. Residents of Tallassee have been waiting 12 years."
2015 Nov. 5 Another move to cage-free egg production
If you are a hen, this move may not come during your lifetime, but at least there is a bit of progress in the industry. "Bakery-cafe chain Panera Bread Co will stop using eggs laid by caged hens by 2020, following similar moves from McDonald's Corp and other large U.S. restaurant chains."
2015 Nov. 4: USA Today: Expanding Takata air bag probe
"U.S. automotive safety regulators on Tuesday said Japanese auto supplier Takata has agreed to accept penalties for failures involving exploding air bags that have killed at least eight people and injured at least 98."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will impose the largest fine in its history on Takata. "'Takata acknowledged "that it was aware of a defect but failed to issue a timely recall,' NHTSA said."
Ammonium nitrate propellant is the suspected cause of the explosions. "Vehicles that have been housed in hot, humid climates for at least five years are most at risk, suggesting that climate is a contributing factor." 19 million vehicles have been recalled from BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, General Motors, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and Daimler.
The Coalition's Fair Food Program Code of Conduct is "informed by workers themselves". Supervisors who violate the Code are immediately terminated and barred from employment at other farms in the Program and must proactively prevent violations.
2015 Oct. 26 bbc: "Nestle set to resume sales of Maggi noodles in India"
Sales had been banned in May after lab tests in India had shown some packets to be high in lead. The ban was overturned in August.
2015 Oct. 26: Yahoo News: Cancer-causing meats
World Health Organization (WHO) research shows processed meat is carcinogenic to humans; mammalian meat as probably carcinogenic.
" A new investigative report from Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), a Hong Kong-based nongovernmental organization that has revealed a litany of labor abuses throughout the tech, toy and apparel sectors in China, details inhumane, illegal and dangerous work conditions at Lens Technology, Apple's main supplier of glass for its iPhone and Apple Watch products. Among the worst offenses is the use of benzene, a known carcinogen that is linked to high rates of adult leukemia among those exposed to it, in improperly ventilated areas."
2015 Oct. 23 Truthout: Poverty wages and fire hazards in Asian factories: Clothing retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) promises wage and labor reform, but has yet to name specifics or make real progress.
2015 Oct. 17: Truthout: Facial scrubs
Plastic microbeads "(listed as polyethylene and polypropylene in the ingredients)" in facial scrubs and other products release dangerous pollutants into our water. They have been banned in several states.
2015 Oct. 16: bbc: U.S. Arctic drilling for oil and gas curtailed
Two potential lease sales canceled, current leases not extended. Environmentalists applauded the move. They say "fossil fuels such as oil and gas must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid runaway climate change."
2015 Oct. 14: Truthout: Blood diamonds, gold, and the Central African Republic (CAR)
The government of the CAR is ineffective due to more than a decade of civil war over the country's natural resource of diamonds and gold. Instead of building wealth for the people, they have financed armed Christian and Muslim groups whose fighting has impoverished the people and brought them human rights violations, including child slavery.
From Amnesty International: "With the diamond industry due to gather at the Jewellery Industry Summit in March 2016 to discuss responsible sourcing, Amnesty International is challenging governments and international diamond companies like de Beers and Signet to support stronger regulation of the sector." Certification by the Kimberly Process, set up to prevent blood diamonds from being sold in the international market, is no longer reliable.
2015 Oct. 9 bbc: California forbids Seaworld from breeding whales
Ruling may spell end of Seaworld park killer whale (orca) program. Critics say Seaworld's program is inhumane. Seaworld says it is inhumane to prevent the whales from exercising a natural behavior.
2015 Sept 27: Associated Press in Seattle Times Shell Oil abandons Arctic drilling project
Although the region is expected to have enough potential to keep the U.S. one of three top oil producers in the world, Shell said this drilling did not produce enough oil to make the project worth while. Environmental activists worried about climate change from fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions, cheered.
Land trusts limit the resale value of homes on their land to keep the homes affordable. Opponents of the model say it unfairly prevents homeowners from building wealth through appreciation of home value at a market rate. Proponents say it allows people who would otherwise not be able to buy a home to do so and still build wealth, but at a more modest rate. They say most land trust homebuyers are able to move to a market rate home with a combination of appreciation of home value and personal savings. Their "returns on initial investments far exceed those that would have been possible if they had invested their down payment in stocks or bonds."
Real estate value doesn't always appreciate, as many learned in the foreclosure crisis. Low income people without appreciable savings or equity in their homes can have a hard time dealing with maintenance and repairs or avoiding defaulting on the mortgage when unemployment hits. Less favorable credit scores bring less favorable mortgage terms.
"One study found that only 47 percent of first-time homeowners and less than 80 percent of those with median incomes still owned their homes five years later." One homeowner "notes that if she needs to make repairs, she can look to the land trust for a list of contractors." Another "credits the land trust's homeowner education program for helping him understand what is affordable and sustainable."
The "Environmental Protection Agency says Volkswagen intentionally violated the Clean Air Act by using sophisticated software in its diesel-powered cars that detects emissions testing — and 'turns full emissions controls on only during the test.'" The report lists specific cars that have the device. With the device turned off, the cars can produce up to 40 times the allowed pollution. The EPA says drivers are not endangered and "do not need to take any action at this time."
2015 Sept. 10 npr.org: McDonald's will no longer buy eggs from caged hens, but hens don't go outside.
The Humane Society explains what the different labels mean.
2015 Sept. Huffington Post: Dupont chemical C8, found in Teflon and "thousands of household products", wrecked havoc on the West Virginia town of Parkersburg.
The post reads like a fascinating and horrifiying exposé with lots of human interest and is hard to put down. It relates the long struggle of a farm family's devastating illnesses, their lawyer's determination to demonstrate the link between C8 and other chemicals and the illnesses and birth defects besetting families in the region, Dupont's distortions and covering up of data, smears of legitimate researchers, and irrational hold on the minds and hearts of residents due to badly needed jobs and desirable products the company provided, and finally the partial bringing to account of Dupont but grandfathering in of chemicals already in use. "Only a handful of the 80,000-plus chemicals on the market have ever been tested for safety—meaning that we are all, in effect, guinea pigs in a vast, haphazard chemistry experiment."
Although C8 has finally been phased out, it takes decades to break down in the body, and other similar chemicals are taking its place. The fight to control them continues.
2015 August 18 U.S. News & World Report: Environmentalists disappointed over Obama allowing Shell to drill in Arctic following his strong support for protecting the environment.
"'It sends a terrible signal to the rest of the world for the United States to be using public resources to promote that development,' said Niel Lawrence of the Natural Resources Defense Council. 'We have to make clear to the rest of the world that we are all in on a clean energy future. And we've got to stop giving the rest of the world license to go exploring by permitting Shell to do it.'"
Obama has said "I would rather us, with all the safeguards and standards that we have, be producing our oil and gas, rather than importing it, which is bad for our people, but is also potentially purchased from places that have much lower environmental standards than we do." A spokesperson for the administration said that while the goal is to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, it will take time. Critics say the Arctic is an especially dangerous area in which to drill.
2015 August 17 npr.org: More on Red Cross transparency
In a June 2014 letter, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern wrote privately to Rep. Bennie Thompson asking that the Government Accountability Office investigation into Red Cross disaster relief be called off, saying the investigation was consuming limited resources and she would prefer to answer questions in face-to-face meetings.
"'Over time, the public has come to accept the American Red Cross as a key player in the nation's system for disaster relief,' Thompson said in an email. 'It is unfortunate that in light of numerous allegations of mismanagement, the American Red Cross would shun accountability, transparency, and simple oversight.'"
2015 August 13 Yahoo News: Nestle's Maggi instant noodle packages
"An Indian court on Thursday ruled in favor of Nestle in its battle to overturn a nationwide ban of its Maggi instant noodles, but demanded the popular snack be tested again for safety before it can go on sale again."
"The Bombay High Court order said these tests must be conducted at specific laboratories, after media reports criticized the [Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)] facilities as ill-equipped and under-staffed. The regulator itself has said India needs to strengthen food safety infrastructure."
2015 August 1 Truth-out: Senator questions secrecy in Red Cross aid to Haiti
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa wants to know more about the spending of nearly half a billion dollars, overhead, and results of Red Cross partners working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Grassley asked "'why the Red Cross enters into contracts with other organizations stipulating that details of grants can't be disclosed to the media or donors'".
The Red Cross claims it keeps careful track of what happens to money it grants to its partners, but internal assessments indicated that was not always the case. In an earlier article, Truth-out referred to "documents newly obtained by ProPublica and NPR" that showed lack of oversight by the Red Cross.
The Red Cross responded on its website: "The American Red Cross is committed to the welfare of the people of Haiti and is a responsible steward of donated funds. We monitor our projects and spending as well as that of our many partners to identify areas that are working well and those that need improvement. The 2012 reports, from which NPR and ProPublica selectively quote, are an example of such an evaluation. It is not surprising that in the $488 million dollar relief and recovery operation in Haiti areas for improvement were identified. The 2012 reports demonstrate that we continuously evaluate our work to find ways to improve. While areas for improvement always exist - in particular when operating at this scope and scale, addressing many demanding challenges and needs - we are proud of our achievements which include, among many other things, providing clean water and sanitation facilities to hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti."
Special Report: Chocolate
2013: How to make sure your chocolate purchases do not support child slavery.
Special Report: Torture
There is hope!Please see the post on a January 2012 anti-torture resolution by the city of Chicago, and how other municipalities can do the same. If you do not see it at first, refresh the page by clicking the refresh button on your browser bar or pressing the f5 key.
Special Report: Fair Trade
2013 update summarizes changes in standards and controversy over increasing availability of products with the certification by making it easier to get certified vs. maintaining more rigorous standards. Fair World Project offers suggestions for resolving the conflict by making product labels more transparent about percentage of ingredients that are certified.