Consumer Revolt: The New Blue Eagle, Fair Trade and Environmental Symbol
Globalization’s dark side is obvious to all but the blind. The race to the bottom that devastates the middle class in the rich countries and makes near slave labor in the poor countries is well documented. Corporations with record profits in the US and Europe move their operations to Mexico or Asia. They seek to operate in countries with weak labor and environmental laws.
One way to remedy the situation is to construct international standards, establishing minimum standards for minimum wages, working conditions, right to form unions and environmental protections. Since the current administration and Congress are dead set against doing anything like this, non-governmental organizations can set standards for the American public and the world. The environmental, social justice and fair trade organizations can initiate a joint project to ascertain fair labor standards, wage structures and environmental practices. Companies that seek approval would pay an annual fee to cover periodic inspections to see that they are living up to their bargain.
The organizing group supervising the operation would authorize participating companies to use a symbol: the New Blue Eagle. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) instituted the original Blue Eagle during the Great Depression. A former brigadier general, Hugh S. Johnson, who was the director for the Army’s Purchase and Supply Branch during World War I, was the NRA director. He had the power to make deals with business and industry to establish wage, hour and price codes. The goal was to end cutthroat competition, reduce work hours and generate fairer working conditions.
Johnson and the NRA vigorously worked to establish code agreements with major industries – Textiles, coal, automobiles and others. Johnson’s patience was soon exhausted and asked President Roosevelt to approve a blanket code the businesses and industries could use until individual codes were ready for the president’s signature. The code could waiver antitrust laws for companies that agreed to abolish child labor and pay a minimum wage from $12 to $15 per week. In the early 1930s, 50 or 60-hour weeks were all too common. The blanket code established a 35-hour workweek blue collar workers and a 44-hour week for white collar workers.
Johnson wanted to popularize the program and fire up the public. He did a good job. He used a symbol that came to be known as the Blue Eagle, a thunderbird image used by Navajo Indians. The businesses that signed the agreement could show off the blue bird image with the motto,”We Do Our Part.” People began seeing the blue bird everywhere on windows, windshields, magazines and billboards.
By September 1933, more than two million businesses signed the blanket agreement and proudly displayed the Blue Eagle.
In 2012, the environmental and social justice groups can design their own icon and rate products and services based on how corporations treat their employees and adherence to environmental standards. Companies can be rated by many criteria. Having pensions and health care benefits would be a good starting point. Attention to customers is important. “Your call is important to us.” I expect a reasonable wait and a knowledgeable person to help me. I expect people not to be worked to death for the food I eat and the products that I buy. Skeptics may rightfully wonder if people would pay more for a socially progressive product (food without pesticides). I am willing to pay more but I cannot say how much. People are generally willing to pay more for a superior product. My late wife frequently bought groceries at Whole Foods while she could have gone somewhere else to find something cheaper.
Since the 1950s, life for the poor, the middle class and working class has become more brutal in this country. While material goods are more abundant now, statistics showing hours worked per month and wages adjusted for inflation show changes for the worse. Right wing efforts to weaken unions and labor laws have made life harder for the working class and the poor. Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Making It By in America portrays her experience as a waitress, a cleaning lady and a Wal-Mart employee. Remembering John Howard Griffin, a white man who lived as a black man for 6 weeks in the South, she left her middle class writer’s life to learn firsthand the pain, stress and humiliation when taking on life’s underpaid jobs.
Sport shoes are an easy place to start. No company manufactures these shoes in the US anymore. The companies contract foreign suppliers, mostly in Asia. The companies allege that they are helpless to determine or influence labor conditions and wages as if they were talking about sunspots or solar eclipses. The same companies know how to set and enforce design and product specification standards and could easily dictate working conditions, wage and environmental standards, should they choose.
I envision the environmental consortium authorizing a the new icon (the Blue Eagle replacement) for products and services that meet environmental and social requirements. When the universities, churches, school districts, governmental units and families start to buy these products with the new Blue Eagle, things will change in a hurry, for the good, for a change.
Wikipedia, “Blue Eagle.”