Advocates for labor rights world-wide and highlights human rights abuses in industry, such as modern-day slavery in the chocolate industry, sexual harassment of women and environmental hazards in the cut flower industry, and conditions in Chinese toy factories. For more about their cuurrent campaigns see wikipedia.
How to evaluate green claims. Some of the claims, such as "environmentally friendly", are vague, likely to be misinterpreted by consumers, and meaningless; others adhere to the FTC Green Guides, which were revised in 2012. This site helps you distinguish the meaningless from the meaningful.
From summary of the 2012 changes: "The Green Guides are not agency rules or regulations. Instead, they describe the types of environmental claims the FTC may or may not find deceptive under Section 5 of the FTC Act. Under Section 5, the agency can take enforcement action against deceptive claims, which ultimately can lead to Commission orders prohibiting deceptive advertising and marketing and fines if those orders are later violated."
"Finally, either because the FTC lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance or wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates or contradicts rules or guidance of other agencies, the Guides do not address use of the terms �sustainable,� �natural,� and �organic.� Organic claims made for textiles and other products derived from agricultural products are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture�s National Organic Program."
ResponsibleShopper List of companies by name gives lots of details about the social responsibility of companies in its database. You can also jump to news blurbs about recent developments.
What's in a Label?
What's in an Animal Welfare Label?"Cruelty free" and "not tested on animals" are not legally defined and may be deceptive. The Leaping Bunny Logo is much more meaningful.
What's in an Environmental Label?Ecolabel Index is a project of Consumers Union, the nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports. Here you can compare hundreds of labels in various countries and industries, narrow down lists to certain regions or industry sectors, and keep up with environmental news.
What's in a Fairtrade Label?
Fairtrade labels can be very confusing, because there are various labels used by several certifying organizations, and even within organizations labels and their definitions can evolve. Following are links to four organizations.
The World Fair Trade Federation (WFTO) logo applies to organizations, not products. According to the WFTO logo section of its website, "the Fair Trade Organization Mark (WFTO Logo) shows that an organization follows the WFTO's 10 Principles of Fair Trade, covering working conditions, transparency, wages, the environment, gender equity and more." There are separate labels for products in various countries licensed by the Fairtrade International.
The Fair Trade Federation, based in the U.S., lets you choose from a long list of categories to look for products that are certified by them as Fair Trade. The Federation focuses on products that provide provide fair compensation to low-income artisans and farmers, and good working conditions. Consumers benefit from education about the cultures of the people who made the products as well as ownership of products that are often hand made.
The British Association for Fair Trade Shops focuses instead on alleviating poverty by improving access to international markets for producers cut off from mainstream markets.
For more on fair trade labels, see Ecolabel Index, Using the Fairtrade International Mark, and Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA).
For commentary on Fairtrade effectiveness, pros and cons, see Report by Organic Consumers Association, The Pros and Cons of Fair-Trade Coffee
What's in the Grass Fed label?
An article on the Huffington Post says "In 2007, USDA finally proposed a standard for "grass fed" meat. However, the standard has lots of problems, not the least of which is that it doesn't require animals to be on pasture and allows them to be fed lots of stuff that definitely ain't grass."
What's in the Non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) Project Label?
According to the April/May 2012 issue of Green American, "The Non-GMO Project label provides consumers with independent, third-party assurance that a product contains no GMOs. The Project tests high-risk ingredients in the products that bear its label, to ensure that they contain less than 0.9 percent GMOs (allowing for low levels of unintentional contamination)." The Non-GMO Project works to educate consumers and provide transparency about the growing prevalence of GMOs in our products.GMOs are highly controversial, as they have the potential both for great risks and great benefits.
What's in the Organic Label?
The National Organic Program (NOP), implements the U.S. Organic Foods Production Act. The NOP gives requirements for the various organic labels. For detailed information on the regulations, see Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Part 205. Be aware, however, that details of the code can change frequently.
The organic label has been quite useful for determining how environmentally friendly a product is, but critics allege that pressure from corporate members of the Organic Trade Association (see Truthout article) and the U.S. National Organic Standards Board, appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, (see PolicyMic article) has led to relaxation of standards for certification in favor of corporate profits.
Limitations of the label include that it says little about how humanely raised an animal has been, nothing about treatment of farm workers, and nothing about food safety or nutrition. Critics of the label point out what it does not cover. Advocates point out its considerable benefit for the environment, which is its core reason for being.
The industry has been criticized for lack of protection for humans and animals. Sarah Newman, writing for Alternet in The Ugly Truth Behind Organic Food, reports that although certified organic food is "healthier and safer" the "labeling standards do nothing to denote how farms treat their workers". (CORRECTION 2015 AUG. 26: Although the belief that organic food is healthier and safer seems to be widespread, the U.S. National Organic Program makes no such claim: "Our regulations do not address food safety or nutrition.")
Large organic growers are responding to increasing demand for organic food, expanding their operations and cutting costs to keep prices down. Newman maintains that ideals of the original organic movement embracing humane treatment of workers and animals often get lost in the process of large-scale corporate organic farming. Many workers receive less than minimum wage, no overtime pay, and no health benefits.
Defenders of the Act maintain that making it too broad would dilute the impressive beneficial effect it has had on the environment. They say that basing standards on the original movement would be a mistake, because today's organic movement has been transformed through modern science into one that is very different from the original. They say that originally there was no coherent ideal of what organic farming should be, because farmers were of diverse political stripes ranging all the way from the extreme left to the extreme right. Some did not like unions, but emphasized that farmers should be self-reliant. Some thought only plants, not animals, fit into organic systems. To this day there is little agreement on what makes an animal "organically raised", which explains why some terms in the Act have not been defined.
The Sustainable Food Trade Association, on its About Us page, seems to be working to expand the organic concept: " We believe that the organic food and farm sector must integrate environmentally sound, socially just business practices using a systems-based approach in order to reach its full potential."
For more organic labels, see Ecolabel Index.
What's in the Natural Label?
The calorielab.com website says "according to the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates most food label claims, �natural� means a product does not contain artificial ingredients." "Natural" does not mean "healthy" or "organic"; differences are explained on the site.