Ethical Consumption in the News this Week: October 18-24

This week's ethical consumption news features five key stories: the U.S. passed a law increasing enforcement of IUU fishing; there were some wins and some losses for the fossil fuel divestment movement; advocates raised three core concerns about the TPP trade deal; a boycott was launched to deal with air pollution in Southeast Asia; and several companies turned against the SFI eco-label. For more on each of these stories, read below. 

1. U.S. Passes Legislation to Up Enforcement of Illegal Fishing

This week U.S. Congress passed the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015, a law which will increase enforcement capabilities to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. (For more on IUU fishing click here). 

2. A Mixed Week for Fossil Fuel Divestment

If you are a fan of fossil fuel divestment, this was a mixed week. Warren Wilson College and Cambridgeshire joined the fossil-free divestment movement, while MIT rejected student-led demands to divest from fossil fuels and Cornell's board of trustees defended its refusal to divest from the fossil fuel and private prison industries. Students at the University of Virginia launched a divestment campaign, while the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System (a public pension fund) adopted a resolution in 2013 to divest, but has recently come under criticism for the sluggish pace of implementation. And proponents of divestment have defended the strategy in reaction to Bill Gates' claim that divestment is a "false solution" to climate change.

In a similar vein, the City of Berkeley rejected calls for divestment of Israel in a 5-2-1 vote. 

3. TPP: Milk from Hormone-Injected Cows to Enter Canada; Intellectual Property Provisions Stir Concern About Generic Drugs, Privacy

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal agreed to recently opened the doors for the sale of some liquid milk from the U.S. While the use of bovine growth hormone to boost milk production is not allowed in Canada, those American farmers seeking to export milk to Canada will not be bound be that rule. This highlights one of many indirect implications that free trade can have for consumption decisions. As another example, the TPP will set common rules for intellectual property amongst the 12 participating countries. Many, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have raised concerns about the implications of the deal for access to essential medicines and data privacy. This article analyzes TPP in terms of how it will affect the sustainable development goals. 

4. Southeast Asia Haze Caused by Forest Burning Prompts Boycott of Palm Oil Producers

Consumers International (CI), a consumer watchdog, has urged a boycott of palm oil producing companies whose practices have contributed to the haze in Southeast Asia through the burning of forests. Air pollution from the hazy conditions pose a risk to public health. They are directing consumers to purchase Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood and paper products. 

5. SFI "Greenwash" Eco-Label Losing Support

Upwards of 27 prominent brands (including, for example, Xerox, Disney, US Airways, Energizer, and Hewlett-Packard) have declared that they will distance themselves from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), a rival eco-label to the FSC based in North America which has been accused of lacking stringent standards and evaluation procedures -- and therefore being an instance of "greenwashing" wherein companies appear to look environmentally friendly without taking on meaningful commitments. Competition amongst eco-labels has hurt adoption of the FSC eco-label, widely seen to be the most stringent certification scheme for forest products. As such, this decision is likely to strengthen the credibility and scope of FSC. (A related article explained the difference between eco-labels and a newer practice called 'environmental product declarations').