Brattleboro Ecological SustainabilityTesting
Pioneering Advances in the Quality of Life in our Bio-Region


Current Article, Child and Forced Labor

In support of what is sustainable both in terms of the integrity of an product and its manufacturing processes, there is another factor which has to do with what is ethically sustainable, Human Ecology:

Here first is a brief report on child labor, followed by forced labor statistics worldwide:

CHILD LABOR Ten-year-old Adriana Salgado spends her days in a field in northwestern Mexico, picking the spinach, cabbage and other vegetables that fill American salad bowls. Adriana doesn't know how to read. She attends school for only one hour a day.

Her 15-year-old sister, who works with her, can't read, either. Adriana had an 8-year-old brother, too, until he was crushed to death by a tractor while working in a tomato field last year.

About 300,000 youngsters such as Adriana work illegally in Mexico's fields, the U.N. Children's Fund says, making child labor a major link in the chain that increasingly supplies American dinner tables.

FORCED LABOR is estimated to be about 50,000 people in the USA. World statistics differ radically and here is the smallest estimate I could find

Recently the Swedish furniture giant IKEA were shocked to learn that they had employed forced labor from East Germany, which included political dissenters.

This BEST report does not report on working conditions which may be abysmal but this other aspect  of ‘human ecology’ as a cost of goods.

It is extremely difficult to obtain a list of products which have been produced by forced labor and some countries, while specifically banning it, or setting standards do not in fact observe of police those standards. Mexico is one example, and their direct client is the United States of America. Here is the list of product types from Mexico

Mexico,Beans (green beans),X,

Mexico,Chile Peppers,X,










Even the US Government finds it difficult to identify ‘likely forced labor products’: Some of our most basic purchases are produced by children. Though hard data is scant, it's estimated that there are 115 million children worldwide in forced labor.

There are some 128 goods among the products that most commonly use child labor, according to newly updated data from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The broad definition of exploitive labor by underage workers used by the DOL includes "slavery or practices similar to slavery, the sale or tracking of children, debt bondage or serfdom; the forcible recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; the commercial sexual exploitation of children; the involvement of children in drug tracking; and work that is likely to harm children's health, safety, or morals."

The vast majority of the explotiive labor done by children is in agriculture (60 percent), followed by services (26 percent), and industry (7 percent), according to the DOL. But some industries are definitely worse than others.

Below, the Basic idea of a Qualitative Rubric which works as a tool to measure sustainability.

“Sustainabillity” Meeting

15 Grove St., Brattleboro

June 27, 2011

Present: Phil Innes, Spoon Agave, Tom Finnell, Kathy Gaiser-Licht, Bob Oeser, and Jane Southworth

The document “Declaration for a Sustainable Brattleboro” previously shared with the group, is “philosophy” and as such begs for a “tool” for implementation. A tool which has promise is the Qualitative Rubric #.  [It was later suggested that  a working title might be  BEST -  Brattleboro Environment Sustainability Testing #.]

The process would seem to entail three steps:

  1. Development of Categories for the rubric - and details for those categories

  2. Trial placement of various products on the rubric

  3. Deployment of the rubric to entities, i.e., the Town government, the Food Coop, the Hospital, etc. - this may entail different or specialized rubrics

As to products, three broad areas were mapped:

  1. Consumables

    1. e.g., food, or paper products

  2. Durable goods

    1. e.g., machinery, electronics, toasters

  3. Large Scale Projects

    1. these might well require a different matrix and different categories

The Rubric is conceived as a matrix or a grid. The horizontal axis shows graduation along the destructive to optimal scale. The categories are listed vertically. A representation follows

                                        A Destructive    B  Degrading    C Transitional    D Good    E Excellent     F Future

Human Ecology

Local Environment



Carbon Footprint

Shipping Process

Manufacturing Process


Made from Renewable


Product Disposal



Food: Nutritional Value

Using this grid, one could conceivably rate any product, from a California tomato to paper towels made from recycled paper.

Certainly, there would need to be research to determine, for any product, where it might fall on the matrix. E.g., was the tomato picked by an undocumented worker, paid a less than adequate wage? Were pesticides used? There may be some interest at Marlboro Graduate Center and at SIT to become involved in research on this project. Peer review of the rubric is also needed, so that there is buy in from larger groups of people.

Cost of a product is not on the matrix. Cost is often the factor used by purchasing agents when deciding to buy. This is especially true when boards have fiduciary authority with respect to taxpayer funds. But cost does come into play when assessing the full cost of a product, i.e., to include the disposal costs.  Durability is often a counterbalance to simple cost.  This model could be used as a tool to ensure that decision makers are aware of the consequences of their decisions. Clearly, all products which fall into column A on all categories should not be bought. The rubric could be used in making recommendations to the Town. The model could even expand to the State level as a way of determining whether there should be a “green tax” on items that are destructive.

In connection with the “Human Ecology” category, note was made of social and economic justice concerns, which seemingly were absent from the Declaration document. It was pointed out that the document did, however, address goals around keeping unemployment rates down and obtaining a livable wage, which was $13.07 /hour in 2008. There was discussion that the livable wage is now closer to $17.50. #

Two final points are

  1. 1.The Rubric is not a system of philosophy;

  2. 2.The reason philosophies don’t go to work is because they are not tools.

The problem the Rubric seeks to address is the one raised by the question, “What does one mean by ‘Sustainability’ or ‘Quality of Life’?

A qualitative rubric describes qualities a product has against set criteria. A rubric is literally ‘where you draw the (red) line’, or how we define one thing from another.
Below is the basic idea in creating a tool to measure and define ‘sustainability.’