To have power means to have responsibility – National Consumers League

This post originally appeared on SOCAP International’s Web site Guest blog by Matt D’Uva, President of the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals I had the absolute privilege to attend the Trumpeter Award Dinner on Tuesday night hosted by the National Consumers League.  NCL, founded in 1899, is an inspiring organization.  They have been fighting the good fight for important causes such as workers’ rights, consumers’ rights, and equal pay for equal work.  Although the organization is well over 100 years old, this year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Trumpeter Awards Dinner which, of course, made me think about the interesting connection between this celebration and SOCAP’s own 40th anniversary.

Organizations like NCL have been a critical player in important movements in the history of our country, such as the consumer movement which helped create new legislation, practices and accountability which ultimately led to the creation of SOCAP and literally the customer care profession.  I believe that leaders like Florence Kelly, the first general secretary of the NCL (and the namesake of one of the Trumpeter Awards), would be thrilled to see the power of consumers today.  I believe she would be challenging organizations like SOCAP and our members to ensure that the Voice of the Consumer is alive, strong and elevated within companies on every issue.  Ms. Kelly once famously said, “To buy means to have power, to have power means to have responsibility”. This responsibility is born by consumers, by customer care executives and by organizations like SOCAP and NCL.  To that end, SOCAP has worked hard to build a partnership with the National Consumers League to ensure that we are living up to Ms. Kelly’s challenge of taking our responsibility seriously to consumers.  For example, SOCAP—working through our local chapters and our national members—actively supports NCL’s LifeSmarts program which works with young people in grades 6 – 12 to help them learn important skills to better and more educated consumers.

Our members help write questions, volunteer their time, and donate funds to help the LifeSmarts program grow.  As SOCAP’s President and CEO, I also serve as a member of the Advisory Board. We have also been working with NCL on other programs such as their project protecting consumers from bad players who mean to do them harm, the very opposite of customer care.  Additionally, we have started important dialogue with NCL about the issue of consumer privacy.  Privacy is an important topic for customer care and business, especially as we see the great opportunities to use Big Data to build meaningful, authentic relationships with consumers.  It is through these important partnerships like this that SOCAP can contribute to your internal conversations.   To that end, I invite you to participate with us at our 2013 Annual Conference (October 27-30 in Scottsdale, AZ) where we will convene a panel session with NCL leaders as well as industry representatives from Microsoft and Publishers Clearinghouse to discuss issues around consumer privacy and what we can learn from consumer organizations and industry working together.  This will be the first of many discussions on this important topic and we hope you will join us. I am proud of SOCAP’s history of supporting customer care experts who are the heart and soul of industry and who bring the voice of the consumer to decision makers.  I am also proud to share a bit of our history with the consumer groups like NCL who have fought to push for the transparency and openness that customer care provides.  As we look to the future, our partnership will ensure that SOCAP members remain at the forefront of pushing our profession and service to customers through listening and engagement.

Around the world 15.5 million children are trapped in domestic servitude – National Consumers League

 By Sharon L. Fawcett, CLC Contributing Writer “I clean the floor many times in a day. When it is not well done, my employer throws the dirty water at my face.”

This is how a girl from Togo describes her experience with child labor to Anti-Slavery International (ASI) researchers. She is a child domestic worker, enduring her employer’s abuse. The International Labour Organization estimates that 15.5 million children around the world are involved in domestic work in a home other than their own; 10.5 million of these children are involved in child labor as they are either under the legal minimum working age, or employed in hazardous conditions or conditions akin to slavery. In 2008, 61 percent of children in domestic labor were between 5 and 14 years of age; one-third were under age 12.73 percent of children engaged in domestic work are girls.

Child domestic labor is one of the most widespread and exploitative forms of child labor in the world. Child domestic workers help with the day-to-day tasks of running a household. These may include cooking, cleaning, caring for children or the elderly, gardening, running errands, and other tasks, as well as selling goods in the marketplace and on the street. These children may live with their employers, they may receive financial remuneration for their work, or “in kind” payment like food and housing. The hours are long, and many child domestic workers report that they are always on-call.

The reasons children end up in domestic labor vary by country and region, but poverty is usually a major factor. Child domestic workers are often overlooked in attempts to protect child workers, partly because of the notion that domestic work is a “safe” form of employment. However, because these children work inside private homes, they are especially isolated and at risk for abuse. According to the ILO, three-quarters of all children in domestic child labor perform hazardous work. This includes children working at least 43 hours per week, working at night, and being exposed to physical or sexual abuse.

The ILO reports that significant numbers of child domestic workers are victims of trafficking, debt bondage, or servitude. Approximately 225,000 of these children work in Haiti’s restavek system, trapped in what amounts to forced labor and slavery. From the French words rester avec (“to stay with”), restavek children, usually girls, from poor rural backgrounds are given or sold by their parents to work as domestic servants for other families.

ASI and Free the Slaves (FTS) report that restavek children are treated as sub-human, and are extremely vulnerable to exploitation as well as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. A similar form of servitude takes place in Nepal where, for more than half a century, daughters of lower-caste, Tharu, have been sold or given to those of upper-castes as a means of debt repayment by their families. These young girls are known as kamlari.

In spite of Nepal’s government officially banning bonded labor in 2000 and its Supreme Court making the kamlari practice illegal in 2006, at least 500 girls are still trapped in domestic slavery, according to Man Bahadur Chhetri from the Kamlari Abolition Project. The suicide by self-immolation of 12-year-old kamlari Srijana Chaudhary, this year, highlighted the dire situation of kamlari girls. Yet another form of child domestic servitude is found in Niger, where girls born into slavery can be sold to wealthy men as “fifth wives” or wahayu, a practice in which they become sexual and domestic slaves. Child domestic labor violates the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which all countries that have ratified it are bound.

The United States, Somalia, and newly constituted South Sudan are the only UN member nations that have not ratified the CRC. (To learn what children’s rights are violated by child domestic labor, see table “Child Domestic Work and Children’s Rights.”) Child domestic labor also violates the ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (C182) and Minimum Age Convention (C138). In many cases it may violate the UN Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.

In 2011, the International Labour Conference adopted the Domestic Workers Convention (C189). C189 gives domestic workers, in states that ratify the convention, the same protections that other workers are entitled to. The convention also contains specific provisions to protect children from child labor in domestic work, ensuring that those of legal age to work can do so in decent conditions, without jeopardizing their education. The entry into force of ILO C189 on September 5, 2013 is a major step towards acknowledging the rights of domestic workers and protecting child domestic workers. However, as Kali Yuan of The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas points out, the standards in C189 must be translated into local context, changing norms and attitudes at the grassroots level. The same is true for other relevant conventions, so that children who wish to perform domestic work—and are of legal working age—can do so in conditions that are fair, safe, and respect their dignity.

For more on what some CLC members are doing in this sector see: Report: Human Rights Watch (2012), Lonely Servitude: Child Domestic Labor in Morocco. Information about the work of Free the Slaves, and partners, to end domestic slavery in HaitiIndia, and Nepal. Information about the work of UNICEF, and partners, to help child domestic workers in Haiti regain their rights.

Dethrone the King Amendment – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Over the past two months, animal welfare groups have expressed outrage over the King Amendment to the Farm Bill. Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa put forward the proposal in response to a California law that would only permit the sale of eggs from cage-free hens by 2015.

Last year, King proposed a Farm Bill amendment, which would have exempted out-of-state producers from having to meet the standards of the state in which their products sell. Now, seeing an opportunity for passage, Rep. King has introduced his bill as an amendment to the Farm Bill yet again. However, animal welfare groups are not the only ones with the right to be enraged; everyday-consumers have a stake in this, too. The provision, written in loose and ambiguous language, could ultimately lead to overturning a wide array of state laws enacted to promote food safety and ensure fair labor standards. In this aggressive assault on states’ abilities to protect and promote the health and safety of their citizens, the amendment threatens the very laws that citizens helped to enact. As a result, child labor laws might go out the window. Rules related to additives in alcohol production, rules on raw milk and arsenic in poultry-feed are also under threat. NCL has been working hard with a multi-stakeholder coalition to ensure this amendment does not make its way into the final Farm Bill.  But we need your help, too. We call on you to contact your representative and two Senators, encouraging them to reject the King Amendment and stand up for consumer protection.

The UK institutes a front of package labeling system, we hope FDA follows – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Anyone who has ever been to the grocery store knows how overwhelming picking a product can be.  When there are 20 brands of peanut butter it can be difficult to choose which one to purchase.  Should you pick the one with less fat but more sugar?  What about the claims that one brand is “all natural?”  How much sodium is too much?

This understandable confusion has given rise to a proliferation of front of package (FOP) labeling systems which ostensibly present more concise information to consumers.  Unfortunately, because these systems are designed and implemented by the industry, they can often still be confusing. This is why we have, for many years, been urging the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to adopt a mandatory FOP labeling system.  In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report on the topic, recommending a system that granted foods stars based on the amounts of fat, sugar and salt they contained.  As of yet, FDA has taken no public action to implement this system.  Chronically underfunded, the agency has been overwhelmed by an expanded food safety mandate in recent years and has had to prioritize those responsibilities over labeling. The UK, on the other hand, is making inroads, having just recently introduced a system.  However, they do not mandate its use and thus estimate the voluntary regime will cover 60 percent of foods.  Still, this is certainly a step in the right direction.  A single uniform, government-issued system provides clarity and consumer demand can pressure non-compliant companies into implementing the system.  Here’s to hoping FDA takes note and moves forward with its own long-delayed regulations.

Debate about the farm bill rages on in Congress – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow For anyone interested in food and agricultural policy, the last month has been an exciting and tense one.  As both the House and the Senate took up long delayed farm bills, many advocates were hopeful that the final bill, which provides a foundation for important farm and nutrition programs, would finally pass after a year’s worth of delays.

Surprisingly, and to the shock of many who have followed its progress closely, the farm bill was voted down in the House.  The bill was defeated, ironically enough, by a group of bipartisan Congressmen. Democrats voted against the bill because of its draconian cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and some Republicans voted against the bill because they felt the bill did not do enough to curtail spending.  This historic defeat of the farm bill has imparted some important lessons legislators and advocates would do well to heed before once again trying to pass the bill.

  1.  While it’s called the farm bill, SNAP is key.  Despite its name, somewhere around 76% of farm bill spending goes to nutrition programs.  It is this coupling that has for many years enabled the passage of expensive farm programs and continued funding of safety net programs which are unpopular with many Republicans.  As we’ve written before, there are many myths floating around about SNAP, and they serve to fuel strong and often heated debate.  Several amendments dealing with SNAP were offered during the floor debate on the bill, including mandatory drug testing and work requirements.  These amendments are largely credited with losing the necessary Democratic votes.
  2. Bipartisanship is integral to passing the farm bill.  Given that some Republicans feel that the farm bill should face even more drastic cuts than those proposed, the Republican leadership was counting on a handful of Democratic votes to help push the vote through.  Without these votes, it may prove impossible to get a farm bill passed.  This emphasizes the importance of reaching across the aisle when trying to get through “must pass” legislation, lessons we can only hope the leadership will take in mind while working on immigration reform and next year’s budget.
  3. Kicking the can down the road doesn’t always work.  When the farm bill came was about to expire last year in the midst of an election, House leadership refused to bring the bill to the floor.  Instead, they extended the old bill for one year, seemingly confident that the legislation could be passed after the election.  Last week’s vote proves that this was not the case.  The leadership will now have to come up with a new and innovative strategy to get the farm bill passed, a tricky prospect given the strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

While the vote surprised House leadership as well as those working on the farm bill, in the current climate, it was not entirely unforeseeable.  If recent action in Congress has taught us anything, it is that we can hardly predict what action that body will take.  For advocates, this should be an encouragement to pursue issues that may seem unlikely to pass.  And this unexpected vote gives us another chance to make sure important safety net programs like SNAP are fully funded, an opportunity we should not let go to waste.