Fighting for people over profits
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April 28, 2012
We wanted to take a step back out of our normal email schedule and update you on the status of the important campaigns we’ve taken on as a community over the past few months. It’s a bit long (because we’ve been busy!), so we also put it up on our website to make it easier to read and share with friends.
- Taren, Kaytee, Emma, Claiborne, Becky and the rest of the team
Starbucks: Thank you for standing up for gay rights
Background: In late March, the homophobic National Organization for Marriage (NOM) launched a boycott of Starbucks for its public support of marriage equality in Washington State. We thought that Starbucks, and other businesses, deserved to know that we will support them when they support equality.
Update: We crushed NOM! Our campaign to thank Starbucks for supporting gay marriage went viral, and almost 650,000 people have signed our card — more than 18 times the number of people pledging to boycott Starbucks. Reporters as far away as Shanghai declared NOM’s boycott an utter failure. Dozens of local SumOfUs.org members joined members of Washington United for Marriage in presenting our giant card — which won our online poll — to Starbucks officials at the company’s headquarters in Seattle. Our own campaigner Emma Pullman even dressed up as a Starbucks cup! Hundreds of you provided a personal touch by delivering copies of the card to your local Starbucks.
Apple: Make the next iPhone and all other products ethically
Background: In January, the New York Times published an exposé of the horrendous working conditions at Apple’s suppliers in China. Workers were forced to work illegal amounts of overtime, and the lack of basic safety precautions — like ventilators to clear out industrial dust and prevent explosions — meant people were dying to make our iGadgets. Apple knew about all of this, but has turned a blind eye to inconsistencies with their Supplier Code of Conduct.
Update: Major news! After 130,000 SumOfUs.org members signed our petition calling for Apple to make their products ethically, Apple made a public commitment to reducing illegal overtime hours and raising wages for the workers who make its products. This is a very big step, and we are dedicated to the next step: Ensuring that Apple keeps its promise.
Here’s how we got to this point: We kept up the pressure on Apple by delivering your petition to Apple’s management — along with a letter by Apple factory workers poisoned while on the job — at its shareholder meeting in February. When the new iPad came out, we pressed Apple to release worker time cards to show whether or not Apple supplier Foxconn was violating Chinese labor law by forcing workers to work illegal overtime to get the iPad made “on time”.
In response to the pressure from SumOfUs.org members, along with thousands of others, Apple hired the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate the issue — a move that was simultaneously encouraging and frustrating. The FLA is funded by the very same organizations that it investigates, and the inspections were announced in advance, giving management time to push workers’ issues under the rug. And in his first days on the job, FLA President Auret van Heerden seemed more concerned about protecting Apple’s image than protecting its workers.
While imperfect, the investigation did reap significant benefits. The FLA confirmed that workers at Apple suppliers are forced to work illegal amounts of overtime while still being paid such meager wages that many can’t afford to feed and house their families. It also documented scores of health and safety violations and other labor abuses. In response, Apple pledged to clean up its supply chain within fifteen months.
We want to be clear: The solutions Apple has pledged are not perfect. For instance, they fail to recognize the importance of empowered trade unions at these factories. But even so, Apple’s pledge is momentous and could transform as many as one million lives.
However, those lives will only be improved if Apple keeps its promise, which is certainly not guaranteed. To that end, hundreds of SumOfUs.org members have collectively pitched in over $10,000 to make sure we have the resources we need to go the distance with Apple and see this campaign through to complete victory. We have some exciting ideas on the horizon. We are planning to keep up the pressure by publicly tracking Apple’s commitment and pressuring Apple employees at key moments over the next fifteen months. We will not forget Apple’s promise, nor allow CEO Tim Cook to either. We look forward to our continued work with you on this important campaign.
London Olympics: Reject Dow as a sponsor
Background: Dow is responsible for the worst industrial accident in history, the chemical spill in Bhopal, India that has killed tens of thousands of people, and injured hundreds of thousands more. To make matters worse, the site hasn’t been cleaned up for 27 years. Dow is also a sponsor of the Olympics, prompting Indian athletes to threaten a boycott unless the Olympics rejects Dow’s sponsorship.
Update: Nearly 50,000 SumOfUs.org members signed our petition to the Chair of the London Olympics, Lord Coe, and our signatures were delivered to the London Olympic Committee in March. Then Lord Coe committed to meet with Sanjay Verma, an activist and survivor of the tragedy who lost most of his family in the wake of the catastrophe. In the lead-up to the meeting, Sanjay penned a letter to SumOfUs.org members asking us to email Lord Coe directly. Over 20,000 of us flooded Lord Coe’s inbox with messages calling for him to renounce Dow as the sponsor of the London Olympics. Sanjay’s meeting with Lord Coe is coming up soon and we’ll let you know how it goes.
Walmart: Don’t sell Monsanto’s new unlabeled, genetically-modified corn
Background: Monsanto has created a new breed of genetically-modified sweet corn laced with Bt toxin — a pesticide that ruptures the stomachs of any insect that ingests it. This toxin has not been fully tested on humans, and the corn will be unlabeled and available for sale in US supermarkets as soon as this summer. Walmart had been silent about whether it would stock this potentially toxic corn, or if it would go in the same direction as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and refuse to stock it.
Update: Over 100,000 of us joined our allies at Food and Water Watch asking Walmart not to sell GMO corn. In total, nearly 500,000 people from half a dozen organizations joined in the campaign. How did Walmart respond to this massive outcry? By declaring that it “follows all local and state regulations.” Other than highlighting the need for government regulation of GMO foods, Walmart’s response is exceedingly disappointing. We are considering what actions to take once GMO corn hits Walmart’s shelves.
Novartis: Put patients before profits
Background: India is the world’s largest producer of generic medicines for the developing world. Millions of people with HIV, malaria, cancer and other deadly diseases are dependent on affordable generic medicines to remain alive. Pharmaceutical giant Novartis is challenging a patent law in India that prevents “evergreening” — a tactic that drug companies use to extend patents on drugs that are about to expire by making tiny tweaks to the medication. If Novartis wins this lawsuit, millions of people worldwide will lose access to affordable medicines in the future.
Update: SumOfUs.org partnered with Oxfam, ACT UP Paris, ACT UP Basel, Health GAP, and the Lawyer’s Collective in India to collect over 50,000 signatures on our global petition calling for Novartis to drop the lawsuit. Thousands of us phoned Novartis directly to tell them to quit trying to bully the Indian courts into protecting their profits alone. At this point, the case is scheduled to be heard in July — but it has already been postponed several times and could be again. Our allies on the ground will deliver our petition to executives at Novartis’ Swiss HQ at the right moment to maximize pressure on Novartis.
Read More: Original petition
Trader Joe’s: Sign the Fair Food Agreement
Background: Trader Joe’s CEO was refusing to sign the Fair Food Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group of farm workers in Florida who have successfully pressured corporate giants like Taco Bell and McDonald’s to agree to ensure that farm workers in their supply chains get treated humanely and get paid at least one penny more per pound of tomatoes they pick.
Update: We won! After partnering up with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, we got over 65,000 people to send messages to Trader Joe’s. Days after we scaled up our actions — hundreds of us called Trader Joe’s HQ in California, or dropped off letters of support for the Immokalee Workers at our local stores — Trader Joe’s caved to the CIW’s demands and signed the Fair Food Agreement.
Background: Rush Limbaugh viciously attacked Georgetown Law Student Sandra Fluke for speaking publicly about the importance of birth control. Our good friends at Reddit and Media Matters began to compile a list of companies that advertised on Rush’s show. Within 12 hours, the internet was abuzz with calls for Rush’s advertisers to stop supporting his bigotry.
Update: SumOfUs.org members joined the chorus calling for Rush’s sponsors to drop his show. In a matter of days, dozens fled, including AOL and ProFlowers. For the past month, Limbaugh’s ad space has been mostly filled with public service announcements.
Read More: Original petition
Beyond all of this, we’ve been waging a number of shorter-term campaigns you may have seen that aren’t included here in this big round-up. If you have specific questions about what is happening with any campaigns, let us know through our contact form.
So those are some of the highlights of the campaigns our community has been working on for the past few months. It’s a lot — and there are lots more super-important campaigns ongoing right now and to come soon!
One last thing: We are still a tiny organization, with just four full-time staff members. We don’t take any money from corporations or governments, which allows us to be truly independent and able to run campaigns like the ones above. But that also means we depend on our members. Any donation–even $5–that you can make not only improves our ability to campaign for corporate responsibility, but also energizes us, knowing that you are invested in what the SumOfUs can do.
So, if you’d like to donate to support our work, please know that we’ll really appreciate it!
Thanks for reading this far, and continuing to support our growing movement for corporate accountability.