A major discussion of climate change and gender raised some interesting ideas around labor organizing here at the “Advancing Climate Justice” conference. The talk was led by Aimee Thorne-Thompsen of Pro-Choice Education Project, Shana Griffin of New Orleans’ Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, Rachel Harris of Women’s Environment & Development Organization and Dana Paredes of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice.

At the ACRJ, Paredes works to connect the dots between climate change and the unsafe working conditions of women in the electronics and the nail salon industry. The manufacture of computer parts and equipment releases high levels of perfluorocompounds (PFCs), which are among the most potent greenhouse gases. A huge number of workers in this industry are women, as a result there have been high rates of miscarriage, fertility problems, birth defects and cancer. Ditto for the women, mostly Vietnamese, who dominate the nail salon industry, inhaling unhealthy levels of chemicals daily. Nail polish and acetone from remover give off volatile organic compounds in addition to the phenols released from disinfectants, degreasers and equipment cleaners.

The health of these workers is in a sense double-taxed, once by the fumes they inhale while working, and then again when climate disasters such as hurricanes and flooding occur due to global warming spurred by the greenhouse gases emitted from these industries.

Paredes’ group started the Participatory Research and Organizing Leadership Initiative for Safety and Health (POLISH) to advocate for better working conditions for Asian and Latina women, as well as to call for reform of the manufacturing processes of the producers.

Perhaps these industries and the women who work in them should get a close examination from the implementers of Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Plan job stimulus experiment?

--Brentin Mock

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