Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stop the TPP, the next biggest Free Trade Agreement - Organizational Sign-On Letter on the TPP & Fast Track

This just in from our local organizer.
Please join us in putting your organization's name on this list and circulating this to your networks.
It's FTAs like this that create the rules for economic injustice and allow companies to continue to exploit workers and the environment. 
Hi Friends,
We have only two weeks to get hundreds of organizations to sign onto this letter opposing Fast Track, a tool the Chamber of Commerce in D.C. is pushing for to make it easier to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Please bring this to your unions, churches, organizations, and more to sign onto!
Thank You!

Elizabeth Swager
Oregon Fair Trade Campaign
Organizational Sign-On Letter on the TPP & Fast Track

Please add your organization's name by Sunday, March 3 at:  
Email with any questions.

Dear Member of Congress:

As U.S. trade negotiators seek to conclude a standard-setting new trade and investment pact for the Asia-Pacific region by this October and consider launching another with the European Union, we write on behalf of our combined XX million members and supporters to share our expectations regarding commercial agreements in the 21st Century and the congressional oversight role needed to transform past U.S. trade policy into a tool that helps build a more just and sustainable global economy. 

We find it troubling that, even as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement enters its 16th major round of negotiations this March in Singapore, U.S. negotiators still refuse to inform the American public what they have been proposing in our names.  Shielding not only proposals, but agreed-upon texts from public view until after negotiations have concluded and the pact is finalized is not consistent with democratic principles.  In this regard, the TPP appears to be even less transparent than some past trade negotiations.  For example, in 2001, the United States joined with 33 other countries in releasing draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americans, and draft texts within the World Trade Organization are frequently made available.  

Issues that must be addressed so that a TPP, a European Union-U.S. Agreement or any other U.S. trade pact actually improves the quality of life for Americans and people throughout the world include:
  • Prioritization of human and labor rights.  Too many existing trade policies go to great lengths to protect the rights of investors, while ignoring or glossing over issues of forced labor, child labor, sweatshop working conditions, political violence, environmental degradation, violations of indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and government suppression of such basic freedoms as speech, assembly, movement and the rights to form independent trade unions and bargain collectively.  Human and labor rights must be front-and-center in any trade agreement if it is to help reverse the global race to the bottom in working conditions and environmental practices.  
  • Respect for local development goals and the procurement policies that deliver on them.  Trade agreements should not impede governments from spending taxpayer funds in ways that prioritize local development, environmental or social goals.  The procurement provisions of trade pacts must maintain existing “Buy American” preferences, as well as prevailing wage requirements, green preferences, sweat-free preferences, human rights preferences and policies designed to address long-standing inequalities.  
  • No elevation of corporations to equal terms with governments.  Trade agreements should not grant individual corporations and investors special powers to privately enforce agreement terms by challenging laws, regulations and court decisions through tribunals that circumvent domestic judicial systems.  The “investor-state” tribunal system that allows panels of three private sector lawyers to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for foreign firms who claim that a country’s laws undermine their expected future profits must be eliminated.  International investment rules must also be revised to more narrowly define terms including “investment,” “expropriation” and “minimum standard of treatment” in order to safeguard the ability of governments to regulate in the public interest.  
  • Protect food sovereignty.  Trade agreements should respect governments’ ability to implement programs that ensure farmers and other food workers receive fair compensation and that consumers have access to safe and affordable foods.  Likewise, nations must be able to protect themselves from dumping and other unfair trade practices that force farmers off their land.  
  • Access to affordable medicine.  Maintaining access to affordable, generic medications is critical to reducing health care costs in the United States and to saving lives throughout the world.  Trade agreements are an inappropriate vehicle for extending the length of drug patents, and U.S. policies should explicitly uphold the standards set forth in the Doha Declaration on access to medicine.  
  • Safeguards against currency manipulation.  Trade agreements should include measures that allow the United States and other governments to take measures to counteract trade-distorting currency manipulation.  Agreements should also include strong rule of origin provisions to ensure that the benefits of the agreement go to those countries that agree to meet its rules.
  • Space for robust financial regulations and public services.  Trade pacts should set floors, not ceilings, when it comes to the regulation of banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and other financial service providers.  Trade agreements’ services provisions should contain clear and specific language stating that nothing in the agreement should be interpreted as requiring deregulation or privatization of any private or public service.   
  • Improved consumer and environmental standards.  Likewise, trade agreements should set floors, rather than ceilings, when it comes to environmental, food and product safety and consumer right-to-know measures.  
We believe a much greater degree of public and congressional oversight is needed if the TPP and other pacts are to achieve these high standards.  Before granting the Obama administration any special trade policymaking authority, please request that it make the draft TPP texts public.
Instead of delegating Congress’ exclusive constitutional authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations” to the executive branch through the reinstatement of outdated and extreme procedures like Fast Track “Trade Promotion Authority,” we urge you to support a new American trade agreement negotiation and approval process that:
  • Requires that Office of the U.S. Trade Representative consult with all interested stakeholders, participate in hearings with all committees of jurisdiction over matters affected by trade agreements and provide a thorough and public assessment of what specific job creation and export expansion opportunities each prospective trade partner would provide and how a proposed agreement would impact human and labor rights, the environment, food sovereignty, access to medicine, currency manipulation and balance of trade among the countries involved — beginning this expanded engagement process with the TPP as soon as possible;
  • Sets up an objective process to verify that negotiating objectives set by Congress are actually achieved in the final agreement; and 
  • Includes a process by which a majority of the Congress must vote to certify that a proposed agreement is in the public interest and that Congress’ negotiating objectives have been met before the executive branch can sign the agreement and bind the United States to its terms.
Only through this type of robust oversight and public participation can we forge a new national and global consensus on trade policy that works for all.


[YOUR ORGANIZATION & many others]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kala Gouda Arts Festival : Craft Melas for Indian NGOs, new work caring for the earth, we see Stree Shakti

(above: signage in MESH's fair trade shop showcasing India's new national Fair Trade brand - this weaver produces the Awaz Table Linen Collection in a Leprosy Colony outside of Delhi)

Every time I go to India I’m often moving around a lot visiting organizations, collecting stories and so busy spending time with people and  that I don’t have much time to share those stories with you, our supporters.
There are so many beautiful community development programs we are connected to here, learning from, supporting, nurturing and building upon that this time, it is about the stories. It is about documenting and sharing the social change that’s happening on the ground here, the life and culture of the people and more about the work we do here in India so that you too can learn, live through our experiences and find more ways that you too can be more involved.
I commit to you to share one blog a week of the Awaz 3-month work in India.

It was a beautiful blessing that this time my arrival was routed through Mumbai in Southern India as the annual Kala Gouda Arts Festival was happening.  I was most excited to know that I could see one of our artisan partners, Stree Shakti, at this exhibition. 

From the beginning, it was my work with Stree Shakti in 2008 in Purkal Village in the Himalayas that inspired me to start Awaz. I spent 6 months working with Mr. and Mrs. Swamy from the early beginnings of this income generation program for widowed and marginalized women helping to grow and expand their work. From a crowded home filled with women stitching and quilting, Stree Shakti (meaning Women’s Power) now boasts 100 women organized into 10 Self Help Groups who now have their own production center and on-site day care center to host their work. 
I spear headed a Capital Campaign for their Production Center in 2008 and with great joy, we found a donor who made a kind donation to fund the building in honor of their son who past away. 

They now are struggling to keep up with production and are seeking funding for a new training program for 50 new women. 
While I’m here, I intend to help garner support for this program and use any donations to Awaz to provide a grant to the new training program. Please consider a small donation through our website to help lift more women out of poverty in India.

I met Maneet, Vicky and Akash representing Stree Shakti at their stall. Their beautiful handcrafted quilts, pillow covers and fashion accessories stand out amongst all other stalls. When there are so many groups doing weaving and blockprinting and every other traditional craft, they’re one of the only doing hand quilted products. They’ve now achieved the Craftmark, authentic Indian handcraft labeling for their quilting and their work is renown throughout India.

The Growth with Fair Trade for Stree Shakti
They’ve been sourcing better quality fabrics and working hard on quality control over the years that have improved the look of their products  - instantly I can see the growth in their work.
This is truly one of the best feelings experiencing the growth and success of a group you’ve worked so closely with.
After I finally convinced Mr. and Mrs. Swamy to join the Fair Trade movement in India in 2010, the women and the organization are benefiting so much more.
They’re store on site has become part of the new national Fair Trade branded shops and is bringing more customers on a daily basis.
They’re staff have undergone more trainings, they’re part of annual fair trade celebrations, they’re invited to more product development workshops and are now part of this larger network filled with resources and experience to help them grow.

We sponsored a design training from Jaya, an experienced textile designer who works with artisan groups, to help the organization develop Production Plans, implement better management and controls and develop new products with better quality fabrics and prints.

At their stall, I got to catch up on their latest designs and work.
Their Baby Quilts are one of their key products we offer and I saw many new themes we’ll start offering to our customers, including this new fabulous Birthday theme.

Their pillow covers were decorated with intricate hand embroidery of elephants and kalamkari block print fabrics and other modern themes that looked fabulous.  We have a custom order from a store in Portland to implement some designs on pillows with this group while we’re here.

The scarves or “stoles” that Jaya developed with Maneet, their new Designer, were displayed nicely with beautiful embroidery and prints. They’re a unique accessory that showcases the best of India’s craft that I think we’ll order a few of this time. For the last few years, Jaya has been in touch with our groups sharing her knowledge and experience to guide them in whatever way she can and we’re very thankful.

Nowadays Stree Shakti, like many of the groups we work with, are attending some 10-15 exhibitions a year to sell their work in some of the biggest cities all over India. These art and craft exhibitions or “melas” as they are called in India serve as platform for NGOs and craft organizations to get exposure and showcase their work.  Mela” is a Sanskrit word meaning “gathering,” and it’s used to describe all kinds of get-togethers in India. Many buyers interested in Indian craft come specifically for these melas to source their goods and make connections. Dastkar, whom we learned about during our first visit to India in 2005, has been one of the core organizations in India working to preserve and promote traditional craft for a long time - they now organize great craft melas all over India.

Most of all though, I love these melas because they serve as great opportunities for the women to travel outside of their communities and interact with the customers about their work. They get the feedback and feel the praise for what they do. This in itself is empowering for the women. The women can’t travel all the time, but many times they do. Sadhna, another group we work with, sponsors annual Exposure Trips for women to go outside and visit other women’s organizations to learn and experience their work.

This mela was very exciting and fresh. It’s been two years since my last trip to India and the country has grown so much, not to mention the inflation.
There were many NGOs and also individual artisans and small businesses, like Farmer’s Markets in the U.S., displaying their new, cutting edge, handcrafted work.
In addition to many works of art like this addressing different social issues, as more and more young people are getting involved in activism.

From organizations promoting environmental conservation and recycling to eco-friendly kids toys and games, it was great to see all the good work and people thinking in new ways.