Challenging Heights Named Beneficiary Of 2012 Stop Modern Slavery Walk

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Want to experience Ghana with an all-expense paid trip? Read on.

As a co-host of the 2012 Stop Modern Slavery (SMS) Walk, the Hovde Foundation announced that its Hovde House partner, Challenging Heights, will be one of 15 financial beneficiaries of the event. Challenging Heights is a nonprofit children’s rights organization in Ghana that rescues, rehabilitates, educates, and protects children who are involved in forced labor, as well as those at risk of being trafficked. With the DC SMS walk expecting over 4,000 walkers, Challenging Heights hopes to raise $20,000 in order to scale up its anti-trafficking efforts.

James Kofi Annan, Executive Director of Challenging Heights, is a former child slave who is now on the frontlines defending the rights of children and rescuing those in captivity. Challenging Heights is unique in its multifaceted approach to ending child slavery including its recently opened “Hovde House”, which provides shelter for 65 survivors of child slavery. Funded by the Hovde Foundation, this Hovde House is the first point of refuge for rescued children, offering a transitional home for holistic rehabilitation, survivor support, aftercare, and love.

Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing illicit industries, with an estimated 27 million people enslaved worldwide. Local and international organizations will join Challenging Heights at the National Monument on Saturday, September 29, 2012 to raise awareness and funds for the anti-slavery movement.

To support Challenging Heights, please visit, click Register to Walk and sign up under the Challenging Heights team. As an extra incentive to recruit walkers, the Hovde Foundation will award the top individual recruiter with a 7-10 day all-expense paid trip to Ghana to experience the need for these critical efforts to rescue and rehabilitate survivors.  Find more details about the Ghana trip promotion, visit here.


African Businesswomen Get Help Fashioning Futures – But Still Not Export Ready

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An article that appeared in the LA Times last week, and in the Chicago Tribune’s Business section today, touts a recent visit by 47 African women entrepreneurs who came to the U.S. as part of a program by the State Department aimed at helping African countries build their economies and rely less on U.S. aid.

Having worked with women artisans in African countries directly now for several years, it’s always exciting to see any program that helps a woman develop and grow her business. Programs like these are especially useful and informative when the programs highlight specific trade agreements that can help get the products export-ready and cost less to export for the importer (for example, the article specifically covers the African Growth and Opportunity Act – or AGOA for those us of who need to know the term) but it doesn’t cover another very important trade agreement between the United States and many other countries (not specifically African countries but it does benefit those countries as well: the Generalized Systems Preference or GSP).

Most of us, as consumers, would never hear of these, or any other, trade agreements and yet they affect almost everything we buy in the United States that we import. I hope the program organizers stressed the importance of keeping up to date with those trade agreements as not only do they vary among countries, but they are among the many things any exporter needs to know to become “export-ready”.

I’ve covered this topic before on the blog, the fact the importing, much fun as it is to work directly with our artisan partners in developing countries, is not fraught with many challenges. The trade agreements and importing, in general, are among them. It really really really helps when the artisans, on their side of the pond, are as export-ready as possible, making sure they have all of their paperwork correct, organized and AVAILABLE so when it leaves their country, the country officials will let it leave the country. And, when we are bringing our shipments into the U.S., our U.S. Customs broker and freight forwarders have what they need to show U.S. Customs officials to get the green light and release our shipments.

Sound glamours, eh? Yea, it’s about as glamorous as that. But, truth be told, importing can be a lot of fun and very exciting because we really do get to see some amazing things in these countries – things we just don’t see in the U.S.

I’m proud to be an importer and work with these amazingly talented women artisans in developing countries. It’s exciting to see these programs in place and, hopefully, as they continue to grow the program and reach out to more African women entrepreneurs, we’ll see even more great things coming out of those countries!


Who Is Mary Kom?

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Who is Mary Kom? In a world where men’s physical strength is valued, it’s very exciting to see a woman like Mary Kom get some recognition for her amazing talents. Great piece on her in the current issue of The Economist.


The Invisible War – in Theaters June 22

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Most of the time I reserve this space to talk about issues pertaining to women in developing countries. But the reality is that dangerous and brutal actions are done against women all over the world and much of it goes unnoticed for a variety of reasons. I hope The Invisible War, a film set to open in theaters around the country on June 22, will help shed light to a very real reality for women in the military.

From Oscar®– and Emmy®-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated; Twist of Faith) comes The Invisible War, a groundbreaking investigation about one of America’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The film paints a startling picture of the extent of the problem—today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 19,300 service members sexually assaulted in 2010 alone.

Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of rape victims, The Invisible War is a moving indictment of the systemic cover-up of military sex crimes, chronicling the women’s struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. It also features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm of conditions that exist for rape in the military, its long-hidden history, and what can be done to bring about much-needed change.

At the core of the film are often heartrending interviews with the rape survivors themselves—people like Kori Cioca, who was beaten and raped by her supervisor in the U.S. Coast Guard; Ariana Klay, a Marine who served in Iraq before being raped by a senior officer and his friend, then threatened with death; and Trina McDonald who was drugged and raped repeatedly by military policemen on her remote Naval station in Adak, Alaska. And it isn’t just women; according to one study’s estimate, one percent of men in the military— nearly 20,000 men —were reportedly sexually assaulted in 2009.

And while rape victims in the civilian world can turn to an impartial police force and judicial system for help and justice, rape victims in the military must turn to their commanders—a move that is all too often met with foot-dragging at best, and reprisals at worst. Many rape victims find themselves forced to choose between speaking up and keeping their careers. Little wonder that only eight percent of military sexual assault cases are prosecuted.

The Invisible War exposes the epidemic of sexual assault in the military – one of the most under-reported stories of our generation, a story the filmmakers are proud to be breaking to the nation and the world.  They hope the film will help lead a national dialogue about the crime of rape perpetrated on the very people who have pledged to protect our country and are gratified to see the film is already making an impact. Since it premiered at Sundance, the film has been circulating through the highest levels of the Pentagon and the administration. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched The Invisible War on April 14.  Two days later, he directed military commanders to hand over all sexual assault investigations to a higher-ranking colonel.

At the same time, Panetta announced that each branch of the armed forces would establish a  Special Victims Unit.  While these are promising first steps, much more needs to be done.

To that end, The Invisible War is a call for our civilian and military leadership to listen.  And to act.


World Day Against Child Labor – June 12, 2012

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When you choose fair trade, you essentially celebrate World Day Against Child Labor every day.

I find it sad that a day like this needs to be recognized because the reality is that child labor exists every single day and hour.  This year the World Day Against Child Labor will provide a spotlight on the right of all children to be protected from child labor and from other violations of fundamental human rights. In 2010 the international community adopted a Roadmap for achieving the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016 (it can be downloaded by clicking on the link) which stressed that child labor is an impediment to children’s rights and a barrier to development. World Day Against Child Labor 2012 will highlight the work that needs to be done to make the roadmap a reality.

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Conventions seek to protect children from exposure to child labou. Together with other international instruments relating to children’s, workers’ and human rights, they provide an important framework for legislation established by national governments. However the ILO’s most recent global estimate is that 215 million children worldwide are involved in child labor, with more than half this number involved in its worst forms. The children concerned should be at school being educated and acquiring skills that prepare them for decent work as adults. By entering the labor market prematurely, they are deprived of this critical education and training that can help to lift them, their families and communities out of a cycle of poverty. In its worst forms, child laborers may also be exposed to physical, psychological or moral suffering that can cause long term damage to their lives.

One we in which we can support the END TO CHILD LABOR is to SUPPORT FAIR TRADE. No child labor is used in the production of fair trade goods whether those items are chocolate, coffee, jewelry, clothing or gifts. Ensuring children’s rights is one of the principles of fair trade, both of the Fair Trade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization.

Children need to be in school, not in the fields. What are you doing today to celebrate World Day Against Child Labor?


Importing from Kenya Can Be Oh So Much Fun

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This morning the DHL delivery person greeted me with my latest package from my Kenyan artisans. It’s a package that I’ve been waiting for and couldn’t wait to tear open. The package came to Chicago via Dubai and because we had it shipped quickly (it has some of our pieces from our last order as well as samples so we needed the shipment to arrive quickly), the shipping cost is about 25 percent of the actual products. Shipping from developing countries is insane.

I mention this because I have a lot of friends who are not importers who think us importers lead some crazy, glamorous life. We get to travel to various countries, work with artisans, design pieces, sell them to retailers and life is just this big old party. OK, I’ll admit, some of the aspects of what I do is really amazing, inspiring and uplifting. But I caution people interested in importing because there is a lot of hard work, frustration and hard work. What? I said hard work twice? I should mention a lot more times. You see, in addition to all of that earlier stuff, you have to add trade shows, visiting retailers, keeping up with retailers, keeping up with fashion trends, knowing as much as you can about fixed costs, non-fixed costs like supplies, merchant processing fees, website hosting fees, shipping boxes, emails, time to spend marketing, catalogs, photography…ok, this isn’t “hard” work in the sense that it’s physically grueling work (although, doing trade shows isn’t exactly for the meek), it’s work nonetheless. So why do I do it? Because I can. Because others can’t. Because kids need to go to school and they and their parents need to eat and have clean drinking water. Yes, this is true. But ALSO because cultures are amazing. Fair trade is about a lot of things like providing fair wages and developing long term opportunities with our artisans, but it’s also about exposing others to the cultures, art, traditions of another country to ours. Perhaps some of these countries aren’t as rich in the sense of monetary value – but many of them are much richer in the sense of community and family than many of the folks I know here in the United States. Family really means something to them. None of this, “let me see if I can see grandma this weekend…I’ve got drinks with my friends the night before.” Community means a lot. To them, the phrase “it takes a village” is quite true in every sense of the word!

So next time you see a fair trade product in your local shop, ask the owner how it got there. She might have more information than you think! And, if nothing else, know that your purchase really does make a big difference in their lives.


TOMS Shoes – Helping or Just Hype


According to TOMS Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie, buy one pair of his company’s shoes and another pair will be given to a child in a poor country through his One for One Movement. His idea has quickly grown into a $100 million enterprise that has sold more than two million shoes over the past six years. That’s a lot of shoes. But besides that, it also means that two million shoes have been given to children who needed them.

Its popular style is its trademark “Classic” loafer and has introduced other designs including sequined shoes, ballet flats and wedges. Most recently the company introduced sunglasses and through its One for One program, for every pair of sunglasses you buy, vision screening will be provided to a child in need which may result in either prescription eyeglasses or corrective surgery.

By all accounts, it seems TOMS has the perfect socially conscious business plan, right? But dig beneath the surface and you may notice that the shoes are made in China. They are not a member of a fair trade organization. Glancing through its website and its FAQ pages show no mention of its manufacturing practices. I did find, on its Eyewear website’s FAQ page that its sunglasses were made in Italy. That’s it.

TOMS is no stranger to criticism. Kelsey Timmerman, author of Where Am I Wearing, documents the manufacturing conditions of some of the articles of clothing we may find ourselves wearing on a daily basis like Teva sandals and t-shirts. Last April he documented his concerns over TOMS Shoes which include that while providing shoes to children in need is great, it doesn’t really solve the larger problem of poverty.

According to Timmerman: “A takeaway from the One Day Without Shoes movement [one of TOMS Shoes’ promotions] of, ‘we need to give shoes to these poor shoeless people,’ isn’t useful. But getting more people to think about poverty on this level is important and I think that’s something that the TOMS critics miss. I always say step #1 is getting people to give a shit.

“However, I do wish that TOMS would not just give shoes on the back end, but give quality jobs on the front end. Then impact of TOMS, unlike like a pair of shoes, wouldn’t wear out.”

Here’s the thing, as far as shoe companies go, TOMS is onto something. Their heart is in the right place and they are making things happen as opposed to sitting on the sidelines and waiting for things in our world to improve by doing nothing. But like Timmerman, I would LOVE to see TOMS Shoes have its shoes (and eyewear) created using fair trade practices in developing countries where its providing much-needed employment to people in need. Then those families can afford to purchase shoes for their children. One pair for one child is going to go so far. Yes, it’s a lovely gesture and has good intentions. But good intentions won’t put food on the table night after night. Let’s get to the root of the problem and not just the surface.

Do you own a pair of TOMS Shoes? Or will you buy a pair? I’d love to hear what you think of the company, its mission and, its shoes! 🙂




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