Zubrow Commons served as the locale on Wednesday for a lively public information session on how the global economy is reflected in some familiar products we use and consume. On display were a series of colorful and information-packed posters created by the students in Assistant Professor of Political Science Craig Borowiak’s Politics of Globalization class as an end-of-semester project. The students, who were on hand at Zubrow to answer questions, teamed up to trace the history, production process and global supply chain for such products as Dannon yogurt, Converse sneakers and Jansport brand T-shirts. To get the full picture, the teams contacted the manufacturers to seek information about their operations, and then did additional research (including searching for any lawsuits filed) to verify the information and more closely examine the social and environmental impact of the company’s practices.
Kate Monahan, Sofia Athanassiadis and Sam Fox, all ’14, looked into the Poland Spring brand of bottled water (produced by a subsidiary of the Nestle company) and found that the water really is bottled in Maine as advertised. But the trio also found that the company is facing growing opposition in Maine for its practices. They also learned that the PET plastic the Poland Spring bottles are made from comes from Asia where its manufacture has damaged the environment and affected health. “Bottled water also requires a lot of shipping, and that means a lot of energy wasted,” said Monahan.
A number of students said they were surprised by their research, which turned up some relatively solid corporate citizens. Ananya Mukkavilli ’14, for example, was stunned at how quickly representatives of Intel responded to her queries. “They are really big on transparency,” she said.
Karina Siu ’14, looked at lingerie company Victoria’s Secret with Marnie Klein ’12 and Lynne Ammar ’14. The group, whose poster was adorned with an actual Victoria’s Secret bra, reported that the company has dealt with problems it encountered in 2007 with a subcontractor in Jordan who was abusing workers. Today, the trio’s poster showed, more than half the bras sold by Victoria’s Secret parent company Limited Brands are made by an Indian manufacturer known for its socially responsible practices, which includes paying medical and education benefits to its almost entirely female workforce.
Florida’s Natural brand orange juice got a glowing report from Claire Perry, Molly Kaufman and Zach Reisch, all ’14. Among the positives: The juice is made from oranges grown entirely in Florida by a cooperative of growers, it is packaged close to where the fruit is grown, and the company has been ahead of the curve in reducing its water use. “I feel like an ad campaign for them,” joked Perry. “We did not expect them to be this great, but we concluded it really is a good domestic product.”