News has been spreading of White Castle’s new veggie sliders. Why should we care? Because we care about broader acknowledgement of health and sustainability. Not that a company particularly cares about either, but it acknowledges that customers want those things … even if the actual product isn’t healthier.
White Castle is diving into a market other fast food chains have tried out but with limited customer buy-in. When McDonald’s gave it a go back in 2000, they reportedly sold about four veggie burgers a day. Burger King sells them, but I’ve yet to hear or read a great review. And yet, White Castle is forging ahead.
The Holidays! Food! Fun! Festivities! Gifts! Oh man … oh so many gifts for the little ones and the family, cookies for neighbors, charity just a bit, traditional foods. Oof. For many Americans, mixed in with the fun is maybe just a twinge of another reminder of how broke we are despite a rising economy. A Pew Research Center survey of consumer finances shows a story of stagnating wealth for most Americans, while only high-income Americans are seeing gains.
With the Great Recession of 2007-2009 falling in the rear view mirror, American families have yet to recover the wealth they had just 10 years ago. Everybody across the board lost wealth from that crap storm. During the recession, lower-income families lost 41 percent of their wealth, middle-income families lost about 39 percent of their wealth, and upper-income families lost 17 percent of their wealth.
Since then almost nobody regained their lost wealth. In fact, post recession, most American families are in about the same place they were over 20 years ago wealth-wise, the study found. The lowest income families have actually lost ground from the early 1990s.
The one exception to this, of course, are the higher-income families who have begun to recover their lost wealth. Unlike everybody else, they’ve seen their wealth double from $318,100 in 1983 to $639,400 in 2013.
With higher-income families gaining wealth, and everybody else staying static since the recession, we’ve hit a record high in wealth disparity between the upper-income families and all other families in the United States. 2013, the latest year on record since the Federal Reserve started tracking consumer finance data, shows that the wealth of upper-income families ($639,400) is nearly seven times the wealth of middle-income families ($96,500). It’s the highest gap recorded.
For over 40 years, global trade has grown at a pretty decent clip relative to GDP. That is, up until now.
For the first time in nearly half a century, trade between nations has grown slower than the global economy. Some economists believe trade may be at a peak, at least for a while. “Peak Trade” suggests the world could hit a long-term ceiling in terms of the effects of trade growth as an economic driver.
Why would this be a problem? Because international trade accounts for about 60 percent of the world’s GDP. In the 1990s, it accounted for about 40 percent of the world’s GDP. So, a good chunk of economic growth for decades came from (and resulted in) increased trade. This reduction in trade growth over the past few years could explain why economic recovery has been somewhat sluggish. Maybe the engine that fueled rapid international economic growth has maxed out.
The Alcoa Foundation, in partnership with the Institute of International Education, is contributing $1.25 million to a paid youth-internship program in order to combat youth unemployment around the world. This particular international challenge is serious and daunting, and the Alcoa Foundation is taking a unique step to address it.
But first let’s go back a bit to explore the problem on a smaller scale. In 2011, even with the state of Michigan still reeling from years of double-digit unemployment, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. cited 77,000 jobs that Michigan employers struggled to fill — despite the desperately high unemployment in the state. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder even went so far as to suggest importing talent from other nations to fill these positions. The issue persists.
The problem, it seems, is a mismatch between the skills of the unemployed and the skills employers need.
It’s not just a challenge in Michigan. It’s happening worldwide. More worrying is that it manifests acutely among the world’s youth, the next wave of the workforce. The International Labor Organization estimates that 73 million young people are unemployed globally, despite unfilled positions and a demand for skilled workers.
Paint it pink. Why not? The pink-ification of just about everything to raise breast cancer awareness may have run up against its limits with pink oil drill bits.
In a world with pink AR-15s, pink trash bins, pink soup cans, and pink everything else now Baker Hughes, a leader in hydraulic fracturing equipment, is painting pink 1000 drill bits used in fracking. The reason? To raise breast cancer awareness among the hard working mostly-men in oil fields.
Baker Hughes’s commitment doesn’t stop at pink though, though. It extends to green, and we don’t mean environmental. For the second year in the row the company is donating $100,000 to Susan G. Komen, the best-funded breast cancer organization in the U.S. In exchange, Baker Hughes gets to use the specific shade of pink Susan G. Komen has trademarked. Generally, that’s a hard thing to call “Bad.” Obviously they shouldn’t forego donations if they help people. But there’s definitely a bit of irony involved considering the carcinogenic nature of fracking chemicals.
Ed note: This article and its title have been updated since this piece was first published and includes statements from NOW and Chevron.
So, it seems kind of weird at first glance that the National Organization of Women would come down in support of Chevron. Coincidentally, just months after Chevron donated $50,000
million bucks to the National Organization of Women, the legal arm of NOW, Legal Momentum, filed a legal brief in favor of the oil company in its legal plight in Ecuador.
This isn’t as out of left field as it might seem, since NOW has its own reasons for supporting a particular ruling on the RICO injunction. But the substantial donation and its timing sure raises eyebrows, particularly since the toxic waste at the root of the ruling had a particularly strong impact on Ecuadorian women and their children.
Money really complicates something that should seem simple and raises questions of corruption. NOW may have had good intentions, but that donation sure makes it seem like quid pro quo. Ironically, that sort of corruption is one of NOW’s reasons for siding with Chevron, as the organization cites the integrity of RICO injunctions as their reason for getting involved at all — RICO being the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and “corruption” traditionally defined as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.”
So, if NOW was motivated to urge the court to uphold the integrity of the RICO Act in part because of a healthy donation, that would be … kind of funny. And definitely ironic.
This case is complicated. Let’s back up a bit with a little history:
Two-thirds of America’s largest retailers, most of which pay minimum wage, are citing “flat or falling disposable incomes” as a serious risk factor to their business models. This according to a report by the Center for American Progress. The report isn’t based on squishy personal corporate responses from public relations staff. No … It’s based on the actual Securities and Exchange Commission filings for these companies as they cite risk factors to their businesses. These 10-K filings show that major retailers are highly concerned about how low and stagnant wages among consumers are a threat to business.
Median household incomes are not doing well. In 2013 they were 8 percent lower than in pre-recession 2007 which, according to the report, “leaves the median married couple with two kids with $5,500 less to spend annually on food, clothes and other essentials that retailers sell.”
Low estimates are that the middle class accounts for 30 percent of the 115 million American households. That’s about 35 million households, times $5,500 less per year, for a total of about $193 billion less in available funds each year that could be going to Walmart, Burger King, Kohl’s, Sears or whatever favorite retailer you might have. That’s a huge hit to America’s retailers, and it’s got Wall Street worried. While our leaders in Washington, D.C. keep insisting on the merits of trickle-down economics, retailers, restaurants and Wall Street economists are starting to notice that not only is money not trickling down — but it’s also no longer trickling up.
At first NASA scientists didn’t believe it, thinking it was an instrument error. But then came the confirmation. They had found a Delaware-sized methane cloud over the American Southwest at the Four Corners. At 2,500 square miles, it is the largest concentrated area of methane emissions in the United States.
Methane, also known as natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas — 20 times more potent than CO2.
The gas isn’t coming from hydraulic fracturing well leaks, which are indeed a source of methane emissions. The data shows the Four Corners methane cloud pre-dates the fracking boom. So, it’s not from fracking or cow farts. This methane cloud is believed to be coming from leaks from coalbed methane extraction.
Leaks. It’s because of such inevitable leaks that it’s worth taking it with a grain of salt when natural gas is billed as a solution to climate change for its lower CO2 emissions.
Upon learning today that China has a plan in place for a carbon emissions “cap and trade” market by 2016, my joy was mixed with frustration at U.S. foot-dragging. The D.C. gridlock and politicizing of energy sources like wind and solar — the politicizing of energy sources — has consistently ceded manufacturing and renewable energy technological ground to China and Europe for decades. Are we going to let that happen again with carbon markets?
China aims to finalize its plans for the largest “cap and trade” program in the world by 2016 — a program that will eclipse the scope of European emissions trading. China’s market will be the main trading hub for Asia and the Pacific. It’ll place a cap on CO2 emissions from power plants and the nation’s many manufacturers. Basically, if an entity wants to emit carbon dioxide above the cap, it needs to buy permits from the market.
China has made a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gross domestic product to about 45 percent of its 2005 emissions — and by 2020. Mind you, that’s no small feat.
A thoughtful article in the Economist suggests we should be more rigorous with the meaning of ‘sustainability’ in the corporate world, granting it to the broad efforts undertaken by companies like SABmiller and Unilever.
What many companies call ‘sustainable’ measures should be more succinctly termed ‘efficiency’ measures … which, if we really think about it, is what corporations should be doing anyway in the name of just straight-up economic principles. If producing less waste, using less packaging, putting up solar panels and reducing energy use with LED lights is ‘sustainable,’ then of course companies that do this will see a return. Of course they will!
However, the jury arguably is still out on broader, more aggressive moves toward social and environmental responsibility. But companies like SABmiller are undertaking the Big Experiment.
SABmiller is the second largest brewer in the world. Here in North America we’re familiar with the company through products such as Leinenkugel, Molsen, Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Lite. And of course the next time you poo-poo that 40-ounce bottle of Olde English 800, just know that the company producing it is personally bringing experts and facilities to wheat farmers in Rajasthan in northern India to help them reduce water draw from the strained aquifer by 23 percent and water runoff by 40 percent. The company is also increasing its focus on its own customers with road-safety and anti-drunkenness campaigns.
The difference between SABmiller’s approach and other company-centered ‘efficiency’ efforts is the depth of focus outside the company’s own walls. A business can say “we reduced our water use” or “we have reduced our carbon footprint” or even say “we don’t use child labor” but refer only to what is directly from their own operations, which tends to be comparatively small.
The larger environmental and social impacts are often found in the sprawling supply chain and in consumer use.
According to Jane Nelson, director of the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School, the broader view of social and environmental responsibility is part of a growing trend among businesses.
On Tuesday the U.S. National Labor Relations Board found that McDonald’s is a joint employer with its franchisees and can be held accountable for the franchisee’s poor labor practices. The NLRB sided with workers who filed cases against McDonald’s claiming that the corporation is the one really calling the shots because it exerts tight controls on nearly every aspect of a given store’s operation, including employment practices.
This has broad implications for many other companies with closely-controlled franchise requirements, and may even pave a trail for the fast food unionization movement.
In April I wrote about a Hart Research Poll which showed a shocking 89 percent of fast food employees faced some form of wage theft. Such wage theft comes in many forms from requiring work before clocking in and after clocking out, to making all sorts of unjustified automatic deductions from employee paychecks, including meals that were never eaten or items that went missing from the restaurant. For one of the most egregious forms of wage theft, employers exploit the corporation’s own time management software to doctor employee paychecks, shortening time or making it seem like employees had gotten a break when they hadn’t.
And yet, when these rampant problems come to the fore, major fast food corporations have traditionally been able to say, “It wasn’t us, it was the franchisee.” While the corporate entity may hold tight control over business practices all the way down to the color of the drapes, they have classically held that they aren’t accountable for poor labor practices because they don’t control that part. This week’s decision will make it a lot more difficult for McDonald’s to make that claim and distance itself from the bad labor practices of its franchisees.
I type here today to testify about the avalanche of diapers going into our landfills and the bizarre or ingenious solution to that plague. Based on research from Tel Aviv University on the super-absorbancy of jellyfish flesh, the Israeli nanotechnology company Cine’al Ltd. is developing a diaper that’s more absorbent and decomposes in just 30 days. And by the way, this new green product is made of jellyfish.
Back in my college days I worked my way through school as a janitor at a large child care center, scrubbing tiny toilets, sanitizing doorknobs several times a day, sweeping wet rice off the lunchroom floor, and yes, I was that guy who brought in the sawdust when some poor kid got sick after eating rainbow-colored cereal. But most of all, I remember the diapers. Mounds of them. Thousands. Every three hours I’d sweep through the baby and toddler rooms, play peek-a-boo for a couple of minutes, then take out the diaper-stuffed bags and replace them with new bags: Four 55-gallon Hefties every three hours, each filled with scores of compact little white plastic-lined balls of … you know … let’s just say diapers.
As a parent, I saw the same thing. Garbage overflowing with diapers.
Disposable diapers, as it turns out, are the third-largest category of landfill trash by volume accounting for 4 percent of the solid waste in U.S. landfills. And in households with a baby or toddler, disposable diapers make up about 50 percent of the family’s trash. At the child care center, I’d wager about 75 percent of our trash was Huggies/Luvs/generic Target brand based — all of which take hundreds of years to decompose.
We are overrun with diapers.
Enter the jellyfish.
Following massive Friday protests that led to nine arrests, the city of Detroit announced on Monday it is suspending its sweeping water shut-offs for 15 days to launch a massive campaign to inform city residents of water assistance.
It’s difficult to get a full picture of the water crisis going on in Detroit. To date, the city has cut off water service to about 16,000 households, with another 324,000 overdue water and sewage accounts facing potential shut-off. That’s over 40 percent of the city. In response, the United Nations Human Rights Council recently condemned the city’s water shut-off campaign as a human rights violation and public health concern, as thousands of low income Detroit households and families are facing the absence of a basic necessity for every living creature on planet Earth.
The U.N. special reporter on extreme poverty and human rights, Leilana Farha, added that if it turned out the water shut-offs targeted African Americans it could be in violation of treaties the U.S. has ratified. It’s important to note that Detroit’s population is 83 percent African American.
It’s also worth pointing out that Michigan is the only state entirely within the Great Lakes water basin and surrounded by some of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. It’s not like water is scarce here.
But what the heck? The Detroit Water and Sewage Department is shutting off water for non-payment in a city that’s billions of dollars in debt. What do people expect, right? Once you reach the $150 delinquency amount, your water goes off.
Unfortunately, Detroit — long at the epicenter of industrial decline, offshoring and a crumbling auto industry — has experienced massive poverty, with more than 40 percent of the population at or below the poverty line. The people are broke. The city is broke. And while the city claims there are plenty of resources for people facing water shut-offs, they admit that they’re kind of short-staffed in the Notifying People of a Shut-Off department.
Go small or go home. That’s my motto. Or it would be if I had a motto. And it seems that’s something Walmart is embracing — to the benefit of walkable communities and of those in food deserts where lower-income people suffer limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Walmart has announced it will nearly double its number of “small format” stores in unconventional locations, adding up to 300 more units around the U.S. focused on “perishables” such as fresh fruits and vegetables and meats. One of the major factors in the format’s success is how it uses pharmacies — another benefit to communities with walkability issues — as traffic builders.
This is not to say that the stores are specifically intended to address food desert issues. Back in 2011, Walmart committed to building stores in rural and urban food deserts, but that didn’t include the smaller format stores. However, the company did say stores like Walmart Express “will likely” serve food deserts. Ultimately, though, the intent of the smaller stores is to get a foothold in dense urban centers that aren’t cut out for the huge, sprawling format. Heck, some cities like Chicago have been downright politically hostile to Walmarts within the city limits.
The new format seems to be a huge hit, already. Walmart expects to see up to $20 billion in growth each year from these wee little outlets by 2018.
As if it’s not enough that so many minimum wage workers can’t make ends meet on an honest day’s work, many also find themselves performing work for free or less than they’re due. A new poll conducted by Hart Research Associates shows an overwhelming majority of fast food workers, 89 percent, have experienced wage theft.
Low-wage employers’ conniving ways to avoid fair pay for honest work is the general rule, not the exception. McDonald’s franchise employers, for example, are facing lawsuits for these types of practices, as they exploit corporate-provided computer systems to doctor their workers hours so they can avoid paying overtime, or to make it seem like employees took breaks they worked through instead. Time worked, but not compensated.