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Dara O'Rourke

Dara O’Rourke is Associate Professor of Environmental and Labor Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and cofounder and Chairman of GoodGuide, Inc., a database for safe, healthy, green, and ethical products based on scientific ratings. He is author of Community-Driven Regulation: Balancing Development and the Environment in Vietnam (MIT Press) and coauthor of Can We Put an End to Sweatshops?

Titles by This Author

“Buy local,” “buy green,” “buy organic,” “fair trade”--how effective has the ethical consumption movement been in changing market behavior? Can consumers create fair and sustainable supply chains by shopping selectively?
Dara O’Rourke, the activist-scholar who first broke the news about Nike’s sweatshops in the 1990s, considers the promise of ethical consumption--the idea that individuals, voting with their wallets, can promote better labor conditions and environmental outcomes globally. Governments have proven unable to hold companies responsible for labor and environmental practices. Consumers who say they want to support ethical companies often lack the knowledge and resources to do so consistently. But with the right tools, they may be able to succeed where governments have failed.
Responding to O’Rourke’s argument, eight experts--Juliet Schor, Richard Locke, Scott Nova, Lisa Ann Richey, Margaret Levi, Andrew Szasz, Scott Hartley, and Auret van Herdeen--consider the connections between personal concerns and consumer activism, challenge the value of entrusting regulation to consumer efforts, and draw attention to difficulties posed by global supply chains.

Balancing Development and the Environment in Vietnam

In Community-Driven Regulation Dara O’Rourke proposes a new policy model for pollution control, based on detailed case studies from rapidly industrializing Vietnam. He shows that environmental problems can be solved when affected community groups mobilize to pressure both state and industry and argues that this strategy, which he terms "community-driven regulation," used successfully in Vietnam, can achieve similar success in other countries.

Vietnam’s recent entry into the world economy has brought many benefits to its population—more jobs, higher income levels, more plentiful goods and services. But this very rapid growth of industry has also brought predictable environmental problems. Areas near industrial plants experience declining crop yields and polluted groundwater; residents downwind from factories suffer respiratory ailments. Vietnam thus serves as a model for nations dealing with environmental problems during the transition to an industrialized economy and global integration.

O’Rourke offers six detailed case studies, based on his own fieldwork in Vietnam, that show how strategies adopted by local communities achieved positive results despite a strong state bias toward development and the absence of existing advocacy groups, a free press, or politically vulnerable elected officials. The firms studied are both state-run and multinational; they include a Taiwanese textile factory, a state-owned fertilizer plant, and a Korean factory producing shoes for Nike. The communities affected range from traditional villages to urban neighborhoods. O’Rourke’s policy model of community-state synergy challenges traditional notions of state-centric environmental regulation and questions the growing literature that identifies market mechanisms as the best way to solve environmental problems in developing countries.