Is world trade a poison apple?
By Tom Politeo
HABOR VISION TASK FORCE CO-CHAIR
Deep red, bright gold, pale green—the apples look great on the shelf of a local market. You can feel good about buying them too; they’re organic.
Or can you? The story behind these apples, which may come here all the way from Chile and New Zealand, is laced with toxic pollution, rife with an environmental justice crisis and labor abuse and is steaming with global warming.
It’s not just apples. It’s almost everything—clothes, televisions, books, gadgets. And it’s not just the things. It’s the entire life cycle of these goods, including manufacturing, shipping, distribution, sale, use and disposal, which is so tainted it may as well be cooked up in a witch’s brew.
Big-box retailers scour the globe to find the cheapest way to produce the goods they sell, the least cost way to ship them and the most economical way to sell them. This entire system is based on apparent price reductions to the corporation and at the register, but with an immense offsetting burden of externalized costs—both fiscal and social—that permeates almost every step of the cycle.
Problems include labor abuse, human rights violations, toxic pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, industrial sprawl and blight, incessant noise and invasive species introduction—all of which are compounded by inefficient operations and excess consumption.
The problems are so tightly intertwined, it’s hard to unravel them, it’s hard to know which thread is an environmental issue, a labor issue or a human rights issue. At this magnitude, the issues spill into one another. They are all issues caused by irresponsible behavior by multinational corporations and the self-serving trade treaties that they have promoted.
No corner of the globe is untouched, whether it is involved in this trade or not. Southern California is no exception. The problems hit locally too —and hit hard. More than 2000 people die every year just in Southern California from the goods movement industry.
The answers rest with us, both as citizens and as consumers. We’ve allowed globalization to move forward in a way that has allowed huge corporations to return to the “good old days” of polluting factories and sweatshops—only in other countries now instead of the U.S.
Even American workers aren’t immune. They’ve lost their jobs in shuttered factories. Port truckers work in the same unacceptable conditions we covered in July of 2002.
We’ve let globalization progress in a destructive manner and we support it with our purchasing power. We need to redefine it and bring it down to a sustainable scale.
Tijuana. Electronics industry leaves a wake of toxic pollution and harsh labor conditions in maquiadores— Tijuana’s border factories. When workers organize, factories move to China, p. 7.
Wilmington. The nation’s largest harbors extract a high toll on Wilmington. Environmental justice advocate, Jesee Marquez, sees reparation in restoring some of Wilmington’s lost wetlands, p. 6.
Long Beach. Local mom writes how she copes raising children with asthma, p. 6.
San Pedro. Sen. Barbara Boxer holds a Senate field hearing on reducing marine vessel emissions, p. 5. Local emergency room doctor among the witnesses to testify on impacts, p. 2.
Toxic tour. College students tour port area, and journal their reactions, p. 8.