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.
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.
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.