January 5, 2015

Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building, collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, in 2013. Photo by rijans.

Safety checks increase costs for garment factories

Garment factories in Bangladesh have undergone extensive safety inspections since the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, which killed more than 1,110 people. While these inspections are necessary and long overdue, hundreds of smaller factories cannot afford the structural, electrical and fire safety upgrades that are necessary to bring their buildings up to standard. Small factory owners say they are experiencing a slide in orders and an increase in minimum wages, making it even harder for them to finance safety upgrades. Corporate Knights reported in October that one way to improve health and safety standards in the garment industry is to take a long-term view of investment and give workers a voice in health and safety reviews. This means that companies will have to stop demanding higher quality goods, at cheaper prices in less time. The garment industry currently makes up over 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports and employs more than 4 million people, Reuters reported yesterday.


Pope Francis expected to take strong stand on climate change

Pope Francis is preparing to implore 1.2 billion Catholics to act on climate change following his visit to Tacloban, a town in the Philippines that was badly damaged by super typhoon Haiyan in November. The announcement is likely to be released through an encyclical that will be distributed to the world’s 5,000 bishops and 40,000 priests, ThinkProgress reported last week. The Pope is also expected to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September where he will lobby political and faith leaders ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris in December. “If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” Pope Francis warned a crowd in Rome last May.


Madrid plans largest street-lighting overhaul in the world

The City of Madrid has announced a massive upgrade to its street lighting system. It will replace 225,000 light bulbs with energy efficient LED lights, 84,000 of which will be manufactured locally. The entire system, which is being supplied by Phillips, will be controlled from a central command panel that will adjust the intensity of the bulbs as needed. This is the world’s largest street-lighting upgrade to date and will save the city 44 per cent in energy costs. According to Philips, these savings should cover the costs of the entire system.


New GM crops being developed outside the jurisdiction of regulators

Several companies are developing genetically modified crops using techniques that are outside the jurisdiction of regulators. New methods of genetic modification, such as genome editing and synthetic biology did not exist when the rules were written, meaning U.S. regulators have no authority over them, the New York Times reported. Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, the world’s largest marketer of lawn and garden products, plans to release a genetically modified grass that requires less mowing, is a deeper green and is resistant to Roundup, a popular weedkiller. The company tried to market the seed in 2003, but failed to get government approval after the seed escaped from test plots into the wild. This time, the grass will bypass federal approval and go straight field testing and market. “They are using a technical loophole so that what are clearly genetically engineered crops and organisms are escaping regulation,” Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, told the New York Times. The grass “can have all sorts of ecological impact and no one is required to look at it,” he added.


Food recommendations could take climate change into account

The latest version of the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines may urge Americans to eat more plant-based foods – not only because they are healthy, but because they are better for the environment.  A panel that advises the Agriculture Department has been discussing sustainability in public meetings, and a draft of its latest recommendations mentions the benefits of a sustainable diet, the Associated Press reported last week. The beef and agriculture industries are fighting back, saying environmental concerns should not be included in health guidelines.

The upcoming Winter 2015 issue of Corporate Knights highlights a Chatham House report that supports the Agriculture Department’s decision to include environmental concerns in its guidelines. Livestock: Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector, released in December, finds that there is a lack of public awareness about the link between meat consumption and greenhouse gases, which currently account for about 14.5 per cent of global emissions. The report calls on governments to improve awareness of the food-GHG link and says climate change must become a primary consideration in food choice.

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