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Politics of Globalization students display their research in Zubrow Commons.
Politics of Globalization students display their research in Zubrow Commons.

Global Politics and the Products We Buy

Students in Assistant Professor of Political Science Craig Borowiak’s Politics of Globalization class created colorful and information-packed posters on how the global economy is reflected in some familiar products we use and consume. They teamed up for this end-of-semester project last April to trace the history, production process, and global supply chain for such products as Dannon yogurt, Converse sneakers, and Jansport brand T-shirts. 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 companies’ practices. They then displayed their research in Zubrow Commons as part of a lively public information session. Kate Monahan, Sofia Athanassiadis and Sam Fox, all ’14, looked into the Poland Spring brand of bottled water (produced by a subsidiary of Nestle) and found that the water really is bottled in Maine as advertised. But the group also learned that the PET plastic the Poland Spring bottles are made from comes from Asia where its manufacture impacted 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 reported that the company has dealt with problems it encountered in 2007 with a subcontractor in Jordan who was abusing workers. Today, the trio learned, 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.”

Prof. Anita Isaacs (Political Science) and students cross Founders Green after class.

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