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, Link to Union of Concerned Scientists Palm Oil Scorecard 2015
NEW on Investing page, Mutual Fund Performance Chart
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.
2015 Sept. 30 (published in consumerreports.org Aug. 30): Buying prescription drugs online a risky business
Drugs sold through many rogue pharmacies have been found to contain dangerous ingredients or ineffective. Your personal and financial information is at risk, and selling drugs from outside the U.S. is illegal, so you have no legal recourse for complaints, the article says.
"'There are legitimate online pharmacies,' says Lyndsay Meyer, an FDA spokeswoman. '“But consumers need to be careful and know what to look for.'” Legitimate pharmacies have ".pharmacy at the end of the Web address." "For a list of accredited sites (and those not recommended), go to nabp.net."
N.B.: comments from readers are highly critical of the article, alleging bias on the part of the nabp (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy). ResponsibleConsumer.net lets you be the judge, hoping the information on how to verify pharmacies is useful.
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."
2015 July 27 New York Times: Human trafficking and beatings in Thai seafood industry
Demand for labor in the Thai fishing industry far outpaces supply. Traffickers entice or force desperately poor migrants, often undocumented so difficult to track, into fishing fleets where they endure 18 to 20 hour days, beatings, poor nutrition, unsafe and filthy (as in vermin, rats, and cockroaches), cramped and intensely hot working conditions.
Much of the seafood "is sold to the United States, typically for canned cat and dog food or feed for poultry, pigs and farm-raised fish that Americans consume."
"The U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday granted Royal Dutch Shell its final two permits to explore for oil in the Arctic this summer, but said the company cannot drill until required emergency equipment arrives."
2015 July 16 Yahoo News: "Brad Pitt, Bill Maher slam Costco, speak up for caged hens"
Pitt wrote that "birds producing eggs for your shelves are crammed five or more into cages that are not large enough for even one hen to spread her wings". Maher, in a New York Times editorial, wrote "Multiple investigations into battery cages document animals with deteriorated spinal cords, some who have become paralyzed and then mummified in their cages....Imagine cramming five cats or dogs into tiny cages, hundreds of thousands in each shed, for their entire lives. That would warrant cruelty charges, of course. But when the egg industry does it to hens, it's considered business as usual."
2015 July 15 Democracy Now! interview reprinted by Truthout: PETA vs. Sea World
PETA says Sea World planted a staff member in a group of activists protesting treatment of animals at Sea World. The staff member, according to PETA, advocated illegal, violent activity against Sea World in an attempt to make PETA look like the instigator of the activity. PETA has been active in protesting Sea World's treatment of orca whales in captivity and resulting danger to their human trainers.
Sea World declined to be interviewed, but wrote "We are focused on the safety of our team members, guests and animals and beyond that we do not comment on our security operations. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, especially as animal rights groups have become increasingly extreme in their rhetoric and tactics. In fact, PETA itself actively recruits animal rights activists to gain employment at companies like SeaWorld, as this job posting demonstrates. Safety is our top priority, and we will not waiver from that commitment."
2015 July 15 Environmental Health News: Mickey Mouse marketing asbestos fibers?
Asbestos fibers were found in some Chinese-made crayons and fingerprint kits. The fibers can cause cancer and damage lungs. "Experts say there is no 'safe' level of asbestos exposure."
"The current report found asbestos in Amscan Crayons, Disney Mickey Mouse Clubhouse crayons, Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crayons, Saban's Power Rangers Super Megaforce crayons, EduScience Deluve Forensics Lab Kit (black fingerprint powder), and Inside Intelligence Secret Spy kit (white fingerprint powder)." The tests were conducted at the Scientific Analytical Institute in Greensboro, North Carolina.
"While the fingerprint powder could easily be inhaled, for crayons the concern is children eating them."
2015 July 14 BBC Canada: Horses still die in annual Calgary Stampede
"While officials have implemented changes to make the race safer, animal rights activists argue the popular horse and wagon sprint is still cruel and dangerous."
"A 2012 New York Times investigation found about three horses die every day on US race tracks, but the number of horses in chuckwagon races is far smaller than those in thoroughbred racing."
2015 July 1 BBC report: "Apple conspired with publishers to fix the prices of electronic books, a US federal appeals court has ruled", following an appeal to a 2013 decision that the conspiracy eliminated retail competition and caused prices to rise.
A dissenting opinion maintained that by challenging Amazon, which then "controlled about 90% of the sector", Apple opened up the market to competition.
"People can use Prescriber Checkup, a tool created by ProPublica, to look up doctors and see how their prescribing patterns compare to peers in the same specialty and state."
2015 June 19 Ben & Jerry's targeted by Migrant Justice's Milk with Dignity campaign for discriminating against Latinos in dairy industry.
Ben & Jerry's claims the Caring Dairy program can handle complaints about worker rights, wage theft, and squalid housing. Migrant Justice representative Victor Diaz claimes "there are no teeth, there's no monitoring, there's no worker participation" with Caring Dairy.
2015 June 12 npr article: Organic farmers say Whole Foods new "Responsibly Grown" rating system degrades organic label
Some nonorganic produce was rated better than organic produce under this system. The new Whole Foods system includes some measures organic certfication does not, but unlike organic certification, is based on producers' own answers to a survey and requires no third party verification, according to the article.
2015 June 2: New Delhi bans Nestle India's Maggi instant noodles for 15 days due to high lead levels. The ban will allow "time to recall and replace tens of thousands of the packets sold in stores throughout the city". Excessive levels of lead can damage kidneys and the nervous system. Nestle India has said its own tests showed all samples were safe.
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.