This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


L'Oréal court verdict won't wash, says French anti-racism group

L'Oréal court verdict won't wash, says French anti-racism group

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Friday June 2, 2006

The Guardian

A French anti-racism group yesterday said it would appeal against a Paris court's decision to clear the cosmetics giant L'Oréal on charges of recruiting shampoo saleswomen according to their colour. SOS-Racism brought a case against L'Oréal over a recruitment campaign in 2000 in which its Garnier France division sought women to sell the shampoo line Fructis Style in supermarkets in the capital.

In July 2000 a fax detailing the profile of hostesses sought by L'Oréal stipulated that they should be 18 to 22, size 38 to 42 and "BBR", the initials for "bleu, blanc, rouge" - the colours of the French flag.

Prosecutors argued that "BBR" was a well-known code among employers to mean "white" French people and not those of African and Asian backgrounds. Christine Cassan, a former employee at Districom, the communications company acting for Garnier, told the court her clients demanded white hostesses. She said that when she went ahead and presented candidates "of colour", a manager in her company said she had "had enough of Christine and her Arabs".

L'Oréal, Districom and the recruitment agency Adecco had consistently denied all charges. The Districom employee who wrote the fax stating the "BBR" requirement said she was acting on her own initiative and was not racist. She said "BBR" was a code to show only the need for women who spoke correct French.

The judges yesterday ruled that none of the companies had "definitively" taken part in a selection process that could be discriminatory. They said the case against L'Oréal and the other firms was based on "supposition and approximation".

L'Oréal, which yesterday saw EU regulators approve its takeover of the Body Shop chain, said it had been "acting for years against all forms of discrimination".

Samuel Thomas, vice-president of SOS Racism, said he was "flabbergasted" by the court judgment at a time when rioting across poor immigrant suburbs had highlighted acute discrimination in France.

Cleaning up the city: Ken Livingstone wants to make London into a green city. It already is

Cleaning up the city
Jun 1st 2006
From The Economist print edition

Ken Livingstone wants to make London into a green city. It already is

LONDON'S left-wing mayor, Ken Livingstone, is proud of his green credentials. On May 30th he announced several eco-friendly changes to his London Plan, a 500-page Utopian manual that maps out the city's future over the next 20 years. He introduced new, legally binding targets for a 20% cut in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2015 (and 60% by 2050). New developments will have to get a fifth of their energy from renewable sources on the site, and small combined heat and power systems (which supply both electricity and warmth) will be preferred over traditional power plants. Even rainwater will be collected for later use.

“These are radical standards,” gushes Eleanor Young, Mr Livingstone's chief planning adviser. “National politicians are talking about climate change. But in London we're actually doing something about it. We're leading the way.”

Whether Londoners will appreciate such leadership is another question. Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, points out that all this extra environmentalism is just gilt for an already-green lily. A combination of good public transport, expensive (and small) houses and high population density means that urbanites tend to be more eco-friendly than their country-dwelling cousins, though intuition suggests the reverse. The typical London household generates 5% less carbon dioxide than the national average, even though the typical Londoner is more than 25% richer. Houses in Camden are the cleanest in the country: each generates 3.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, compared with a national average of 5.6 tonnes.

One problem with enforcing eco-friendliness at home is the cost. The government reckons that roof-top solar panels can take more than 100 years to pay for themselves in lower energy bills (although sun-gatherers say this figure is “ludicrous”). Windmills are cheaper, but still take over a decade to break even. Higher house prices may push people out of the capital and into dirtier homes in the countryside, adding to pollution rather than cutting it. Tony Arbour, who chairs the London Assembly's planning committee, worries that strict environmental standards may put even subsidised housing beyond the reach of the poor.

Ms Young admits that low-carbon homes may cost more. If some technologies are too expensive to install right away, she says, developers will be granted exemptions, as long as they leave room to include the windmills and so forth in future. In any case, cost problems will disappear over the next few years, thanks to the power of global capitalism. “The Chinese are beginning to manufacture solar panels,” she says. “Once they start making something, the cost tends to fall sharply.”

Mr Livingstone hopes to convince Londoners with a show development—inspired by Greenpeace—of around 1,000 “zero-emission” homes, somewhere in the Thames Gateway. “We want to show that you can do this at a reasonable cost,” says Simon Reddy, Greenpeace's policy director. Londoners—for whom the price of even non-green housing is exorbitant—will be hoping he is right.

Supercomputer Deployed In Search For Hidden Oil

Supercomputer Deployed In Search For Hidden Oil

By K.C. Jones, TechWeb News

With oil prices hovering around $70 a barrel, a French company will use a supercomputing system, with 113 teraflops of capacity, to compete against a Houston company in a quest for hidden oil.

IBM announced Friday that it is deploying Europe's most powerful seismic supercomputer to help Compagnie Generale de Geophysique search for oil in dead zones, such as salt domes. The system will include with IBM's dual-core JS21 blades and will be the first major implementation of the new 64-bit UNIX blade. It is expected to give CGG a formidable tool as it goes up against its global market competitor, WesternGeco of Houston.

The UNIX blade is three times faster than its predecessor, the JS20, delivering double the performance at half the price. That will help reduce the time it takes CGG to collect geophysical data and interpret it in the form of seismic imaging.

GCC is using more than 2,800 JS21 nodes, each with the latest dual-core Power PC 970MP processor, and more than 200 BladeCenter H high-speed chassis. The company is also using Geocluster, CGG's application software optimized for the VMX vector accelerator in the JS21, to improve speed, efficiency, and oil field management, and to render more accurate images.

The system is being deployed in Houston, London, Kuala Lumpur, and Massy, France.

WesternGeco uses 4D technology, or time-lapsed 3D images, to help its clients locate oil.


France Introduces Compulsory Eco-Labels for New Cars

France Introduces Compulsory Eco-Labels for New Cars
Edie News

PARIS, May 23, 2006 - Eco-labels reflecting CO2 emissions became a legal requirement for all new cars sold in France this week as part of the country's climate change policy.

A series of seven color-coded labels indicate CO2 emissions per kilometer of all new vehicles sold in France. The French government hopes the labeling scheme will not only inform consumers, but also pushing carmakers to improve their performance as a similar scheme for electrical equipment has successfully done.

Nelly Olin, France's environment minister, said: "We have seen in recent years the effect of the eco-labeling scheme on refrigerator and washing machine sales: manufacturers have changed the products on offer and now, in general, only propose machines classed A or B.

"I am convinced that we will observe a similar effect on the vehicles offered by car manufacturers. We must avoid a drift towards cars that are too big for our towns, too polluting, like in other countries," she said.

New French cars currently produce 152g of CO2 per kilometer on average, against an EU-wide average of 160g/km for 2005.

Despite a voluntary engagement from European carmakers to cut carbon emissions down to 140g/km by 2008-9, progress has been slow. Environmentalists have warned that the industry cannot be trusted to self-regulate and that significant reductions will never be reached without compulsory measures.

Nelly Olin backed their claims, saying that voluntary commitments from industry will not be sufficient to drive carbon emissions down. France has asked Brussels to consider other, compulsory measures to put pressure on European carmakers, she said.

The car labeling scheme is promoted on the grounds that it reduces fuel costs as well as cutting France's energy dependence and combating climate change.

From July 1, an "energy label" will also become compulsory for French homes.

More information is available on the French Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development
Web site.

Ship It Good: How Companies Are Driving Down the Impacts of Shipping

Ship It Good: How Companies Are Driving Down the Impacts of Shipping

With environmental activists turning a fresh eye on freight, progress is gaining speed. By Joel Makower

We all know that planes, trains, and automobiles use gobs of fuel and spew mega-gobs of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere -- and that makes freight transport a particularly dirty business.

The environmental impacts of shipping goods hither and yon are significant but relatively obscure, the true costs hidden amid complex shipping tariffs and product price tags. Businesses that rely on products being moved from one place to another have been able to do little to change the performance of truck, rail, and marine cargo companies. Moreover, cargo companies haven't been on most environmental activists' radar screens.

But that's changing. The growing focus on climate and energy -- along with such evergreen issues as biodiversity and air and water pollution -- have brought shipping's environmental impacts into the fast lane. Activists are starting to wage campaigns against dirty shippers. And a handful of companies, including some of the world's largest freight haulers, are beginning to take action.

Ships Happen

The environmental cost of moving goods can be significant. Take cargo ships, for example -- the means by which two-thirds of the goods purchased by U.S. consumers arrive on American shores. While oceangoing vessels worldwide account for just 2% to 3% of global fossil-fuel consumption, they are responsible for 14% of the nitrogen emissions from fossil fuels and 16% of all sulfur emissions from petroleum, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University.

One reason: cargo ships run on "bunker fuel," the dirtiest, cheapest product that remains after gas and other high-grade fuels are refined from crude oil. Bunker fuel contains up to 5,000 times more sulfur than diesel. As a result, according to Bluewater Network, a division of Friends of the Earth, a single container ship emits more pollution than 2,000 diesel trucks.

Ballast is another issue. Modern cargo ships hold within their hulls millions of gallons of water, which is moved around to ensure the ship is properly trimmed, improving safety and speed. Ships routinely exchange ballast water while in port as cargo is loaded or unloaded. The water pumped out of the ship is alive with organisms from ports previously visited. One
analysis of ballast water from foreign ships entering Canada found as many as 12,392 marine creatures per cubic meter. The survivors often invade their adopted homes, sometimes wreaking havoc; the zebra mussel fouling the Great Lakes is just one example.

Of course, ground and air freight have impacts, too. Truck and rail represent about 17% of all transport-related climate emissions. Over the past four decades, freight-truck vehicle-miles have increased more than 50%, while fuel efficiency has grown only about 12%. Overall, the 35 billion gallons of diesel fuel used by truck and rail companies each year produce more than 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, aircraft transport boasts greater fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions per ton-mile than any other mode of transport. And their emissions' negative impacts are amplified due to the high altitude where they occur.

All of which is getting activists moving. In recent years, for example,
Bluewater Network successfully sued the U.S. EPA over regulation of emissions from large, oceangoing vessels. In April, a delegation of environmental and public-health organizations from the E.U. and the U.S. pressed the International Maritime Organization to reduce ship smokestack emissions by 70% to 90%, saying the cuts would protect those who live and work near ports from cancer, respiratory ailments, and premature deaths.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has also weighed in, issuing a
report that points out that although trucks account for just under 6% of highway miles driven in the U.S., they account for a tenth of all domestic oil consumption. They're also responsible for a quarter of smog-causing pollution and the majority of the cancer threat posed by air pollution in some urban areas. According to the EPA, idling trucks and locomotives use 1.2 billion gallons of diesel fuel a year and emit more than 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxides. Talk about idle indulgences.

Freight Expectations

What's going on to reduce such impacts? A boatload. A couple of years ago, the nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility convened a
Clean Cargo Working Group to help retailers and manufacturers reduce the impacts of oceangoing transport. They developed a set of standards for measuring the climate impacts of shipping, along with a questionnaire to give ship operators.

This wasn't easy. Calculating the climate impact of, say, a pair of shoes being shipped from China involves understanding the type of ship, the kind of fuel it burns, the shipping lane it traveled, and other factors. Companies like Chiquita, Hewlett-Packard, Mattel, and Nike have been involved with the effort to work with vessel operators including K Line, Maersk Sealand, and NYK Line to implement the new standards.

Meanwhile, back on dry land, trucking companies -- driven by such mega-shippers as Dell, Home Depot, IKEA, J.C. Penney, and Lowe's -- are gearing up a new generation of vehicles that significantly improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. FedEx has been working with Environmental Defense to produce a low-emission, hybrid-electric delivery vehicle that could become a medium-duty truck for the company's fleet. Wal-Mart, with one of the world's largest fleets, has pledged to increase its trucks' efficiency by 25% over the next three years and double it (from 6.5 to 13 miles per gallon) within a decade. Efficiency comes from improving engines, of course, but also from such steps as installing "side skirts" on trailers to reduce wind resistance.

What can you do to reduce shipping's impact? Four things:
  • Avoid air freight whenever possible. Aside from being expensive, it consumes far more fuel per mile traveled. Patagonia calculated that the energy costs associated with a product rose from 6% to 28% when the mode of transport shifted from ground to air.
  • Consolidate shipments. This reduces overall packaging and fuel use, and can lead to lower shipping costs.
  • Press shippers on their environmental practices. Encourage them to use hybrid vehicles, idle-reduction devices, and other cleaner technologies.
  • Buy local whenever possible to reduce the need for shipping altogether.
In the end, keep in mind that the environmental impacts of the products you buy may pale compared to the impacts of shipping them across oceans and continents.

Getting there, as they say, is half the fumes.


Social Accountability Violations on the rise round the world

Social Accountability Violations
   on the rise round the world
Rajesh Chhabara is Singapore based author and consultant on corporate social responsibility issues. He has authored a highly acclaimed book ‘Social Accountability: A Practical Guide to Implement Code of Conduct’. He is director of CSRWorks Consulting, Singapore. He has over 15 years of experience and has helped hundreds of factories in Asia to improve compliance standards. He can be reached at :

Bangladesh back under fire

Death of hundreds of workers in the last three months in Bangladesh garment factories has once again raised serious questions about the safety of workers in the country. In the most recent accident, over 50 workers were seriously injured on 23rd April, when an electric spark caused stampede in an eight-storied building called Sufia Plaza that houses several garment factories. Workers of Mega Tex Limited on the 7th floor factory started running for life after an explosion and a spark. The commotion caused panic on other floors as well and resulted in a stampede in the staircase. The building houses another factory called Sweater Concern.

On February 23 this year, 63 workers were killed in a fire caused by short circuit in KTS Textiles. The dead included three young girls aged 11, 12 and 13. Over 100 were injured. At the time of fire, the exits were locked and this prevented workers from escaping. Two workers had died in the same factory last year also.

Just two days later, on February 25, a five-storeyed Phoenix Building collapsed, killing 22 workers and leaving dozens injured. The collapse was caused by an illegal construction to expand the upper floors. The building housed Phoenix Garments factory. On the same day, in another incident, a transformer explosion left more than 50 workers injured in a factory in Chittagong owned by the Imam group.

Less than two weeks later, on March 6, a fire at Savem Fashions killed three workers and left over 50 injured. The building also houses SK Sweater and Radiance Sweater. Exits were blocked resulting in a stampede.

Last year, on April 11, more than 60 workers were killed in Spectrum factory when the building collapsed. This year, international NGOs and labour rights groups announced that 11th April would be commemorated as the International Action Day for Workers’ Health and Safety in Bangladesh.
Continued accidents indicate the inadequacy of audit and monitoring programmes of various brands sourcing from the country. Though the government has ordered a safety survey of garment factories, the outcome remains to be seen. A previous survey conducted by the Chief Factory Inspector in March last year revealed that 48% factories lacked basic safety measures. Two weeks later, the building of Spectrum collapsed burying over 60 workers alive. Not much has changed since then, it appears.

Worker Training Fund in Pakistan

Pakistan has launched a programme to upgrade the skills of workers in the garment and textile factories. A Textile Garment Skill Development Board has been established with an initial funding of 19.9 million rupees. Eighteen hundred workers would be trained in the first phase. Pakistan is facing a shortage of skilled workers in the high value product categories. The Textile Ministry of Pakistan is also seeking government approval to hire technically skilled workers from Sri Lanka and other countries to fill the skill-gaps.

Indonesian workers against labour reforms

Workers are up in arms in Indonesia against the proposed changes in the existing labour laws. These changes will empower employers to hire contract workers, outsource permanent and core functions, reduce severance pay for dismissed workers and other pay-outs. In all, there are about 50 changes jointly proposed by the industry and the government. The government feels the changes are necessary to make Indonesia an attractive destination for investment. Indonesian industry has suffered over the years followed by the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. Industry views the current laws as heavily tilted in favour of the workers.

Workers have taken the matter to streets and unions have organised several strikes in the last few weeks. Considering the sensitivity of the issue, the government has now constituted a tripartite committee representing government, industry and unions to resolve the matter. However, not all unions have joined the initiative, making the climate more difficult for the government.

It may be noted that sweeping amendments in 2003 gave for the first time the freedom of association to workers, among other benefits, in Indonesia. Since then, Indonesia has seen the emergence of powerful unions.

Wal-Mart accused of sweatshops in China

Reports published by New York-based China Labour Watch and National Labour Committee has alleged that Wal-Mart is using sweatshops in China to produce toys. The reports allege that workers in these factories are forced to work 15 to 19 ½ hours a day, seven days a week. Inhuman working conditions leave these workers with sore, blistered and bleeding hands. One of the reports mentions a factory named Huangwu No-2 Toy Factory in Guangdong province. The report says that the factory looks great from the outside and even has a basketball court for its employees. But the factory works in violation of most local laws that include excessive overtime, non-payment of legal wages, withholding of wages, deductions for failure in meeting production targets, denying leave/holidays and inhuman dormitory conditions.

The reports allege widespread violations of labour and human rights in toy factories in China.

Another report in February this year by CCTV found over 50 children working in a toy factory in Dongguan in the same province. Most of these children were below 15 years. They were tutored by the factory managers to say they were 16 years of age just in case anyone asked them.

Last year, severe criticism of the working conditions in toy factories in China had prompted the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) to announce that Chinese toy factories must receive compliance certification by ICTI before January 1, 2006. The ICTI said the member brands will cancel their orders if factories failed in getting the certification by the due date. However, by December 2005, only 500 factories had applied for the certification. Only 200 managed to get the certification. ICTI is in a dilemma as to how to deal with those who have not received the certification.

Labour unrest in recent months has increased pressure on the communist government of Vietnam which is trying to generate over a million needed jobs through inviting foreign investment. In the last three months, thousands of workers have expressed their anger by shutting down plants and taking to streets. Their key demands include better wages and working conditions and right to form independent unions. The current law does not allow workers to form their own union. The government controlled Trade Union Federation of Vietnam is the only labour organisation and workers automatically become its members. Workers allege that the government-controlled union is corrupt and only caters to the interests of employers.

Though, the government ordered a of 45% increase in minimum wages this February, it has not satisfied the workers’ aspirations. The monthly minimum wage in Vietnam varies from $45 to $55 depending on the city. Despite this increase, wages in Vietnam are the lowest in the 10-nation Asian region. Lower wages have attracted several foreign companies to invest in Vietnam in recent years. The current labour unrest is causing unease among these companies.

Recently, the European Union slapped a 20% tariff on textile and footwear imports from Vietnam. Increased tariff and labour unrest are posing serious threats to the textile and footwear industry in Vietnam.

A new limited edition shoe from Adidas has created a controversy in the market. A part of the Yellow Series, the shoe is decorated with a face that “mocks” a stereotype Asian man. The face appears as a design on the tongue of the shoe. The image depicts an Asian man with bowl-cut hair, slanted eyes, pig nose and buck teeth. Critics say that the image is offensive and is similar to the ones used in anti-Chinese political cartoons. To make matters worse, the shoe line is named as “Yellow Series”, linking it more obviously to the Chinese. Interestingly, the design is the work of a half-Chinese artist who lives in the US. The shoe has been brought out jointly by Adidas and the San Francisco-based clothing retailer HUF. The shoe is retailing at $250.

Several Asian-American organisations have called the design “racist” which helps perpetuate a negative image of conventional Asian men. Bloggers have stormed the internet accusing Adidas of being insensitive to Asians. Adidas has denied the accusations, saying it had no intention of offending any individual or group.

The incident reminds one of a similar accusation against Abercrombie & Fitch a few years ago when the retailer had to recall its T-shirts that featured offensive caricatures of Asians. Will Adidas resort to recalling the offending shoes?

(Rajesh Chhabara is the author of “Social Accountability: A Practical Guide to Implement Code of Conduct,” a landmark book for apparel factories.)