LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
Full Biography for Medea Susan Benjamin
Profile of Medea Benjamin, Co-Director of Global Exchange and Green Party Candidate for U.S. Senate from California
Medea Benjamin is Founding Director of the San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange. Her books, reports and articles have examined global issues of hunger and unequal development. Ms. Benjamin worked for ten years as an economist and nutritionist in Latin America and Africa for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and the Swedish International Development Agency to develop more sustainable models of development. She was also a senior analyst with the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) in California.
Ms. Benjamin's most recent work has focused on improving the labor and environmental practices of US multinational corporations, and the policies of international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Her organization, Global Exchange, was instrumental in organizing the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in December 1999 and is a leading advocate of the concept of "fair trade" that puts labor and environmental needs over corporate profits. In May 1998 Global Exchange was credited in the Washington Post as a group that has "put labor rights on the human rights agenda."
Ms. Benjamin has become a key figure in the anti-sweatshop campaigns to change the garment and shoe industry. When the Clinton Administration formed the Apparel Industry Partnership to come up with standards to eliminate sweatshops, Ms. Benjamin interceded by urging the Partnership to address the right of garment workers to earn wages that cover their basic needs. She has since become a leading national figure in the effort to pressure US companies to include a living wage provision in their corporate Codes of Conduct.
Global Exchange's campaign focusing on the giant sports shoe company Nike put the national spotlight on factory conditions overseas, exposing the long hours, low pay, unhealthy environment, and physical abuse that young women workers endured in Indonesia, China and Vietnam. Global Exchange mobilized US Congresspeople, college students, women's groups, environmentalists, civil rights organizations and athletes to pressure Nike to agree to independent monitoring of their overseas factories and to increase the pay of the factory workers. The Campaign achieved its first major victory in May 1998, when Nike agreed to independent factory monitoring by non-governmental organizations and raised health and safety standards in the factories. The Campaign is still mobilizing the garment and shoe industry around a living wage and the workers' right to freedom of association.
In 1999 Ms. Benjamin helped expose the problem of indentured servitude of garment workers in the US territory of Saipan (the Marianas Islands), including a billion-dollar lawsuit against 17 US retailers profiting from the workers' plight. She also launched a campaign focusing on the giant retailer Gap, exposing their abuses in Saipan and elsewhere around the world. Ms. Benjamin has also been a key advisor to the student anti-sweatshop movement, helping to shape a model university Code of Conduct and monitoring guidelines.
With the garment, shoe and toy industries moving so much of their production to China, in 1999 Ms. Benjamin, along with the International Labor Rights Fund, spearheaded a campaign to promote workers' rights in China. The Human Rights Principles for US Businesses in China has been endorsed by major companies such as Reebok, Levi Strauss and Mattel, and a NGO/Company Working Group has been set up to oversee the practices of US companies in China.
For over twenty years, Ms. Benjamin has supported human rights and social justice struggles around the world. She was instrumental in building US. support for the movement to overthrow General Suharto in Indonesia and has been fighting for the right of self-determination for the people of East Timor. She has been involved in supporting the Peace Process between the Zapatista rebels and the Mexican government, has fought to lift the embargoes against Cuba and Iraq, and was active in cutting US military aid to repressive regimes in Central America.
Her books The Peace Corps and More: 175 Ways to Work, Study and Travel in the Third World and Bridging the Global Gap: A Handbook to Linking Citizens of the First and Third Worlds examine the myriad ways North Americans can get involved in sustainable development-including working overseas, ethical tourism and alternative trade, sister cities and material aid, human rights activism, and changing US. corporate and government policies. Medea edited and translated the award-winning book Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart, the moving story of a campesina leader. She also helped produce the public TV documentaries The Fight for Land and Liberty, Indonesia: One Struggle, One Change, and the anti-sweatshop video Sweating for a T-Shirt. Her books on Cuba include Cuba: Talking about Revolution, The Greening of the Revolution: Cuba's National Experiment in Sustainable Agriculture, and No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today. Her most recent book, Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman's Story of Politics and Love, is the life story of Brazil's first poor, black woman senator.
Ms. Benjamin received a Masters degree in Public Health from Columbia University and a Masters degree in Economics from the New School for Social Research. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Kevin Danaher, who also works at Global Exchange, and her two daughters.
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