Panelists Connect Environmentalism and Workers' Rights

Four experts in environmental justice analyzed the connections between environmental preservation and workers’ rights at the Kennedy School Monday, honoring one panelist for her work promoting safer conditions in nail salons.

The panel, moderated by Marshall L. Ganz ’92, a senior lecturer at the Kennedy School, was structured as an open discussion on environmental and labor issues, as well as the need for innovative solutions to address them.

“What we’re hearing is an account of work that connects the most vulnerable among workers, immigrant workers... and policy development, and groups connecting the two,” Ganz said.

The event celebrated the granting of the Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership to the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, whose co-founder and manager, Julia Liou, served as a panelist. The award is given every two years by the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs to a project that promotes an environmental cause through creative methods.

The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative works to “improve the health, safety, and rights of the nail and beauty care workforce,” according to its website.

“The issue is that nail salon workers experience health issues because of the toxic chemicals that are in personal care products,” Liou said. “A lot of the workers were experiencing acute symptoms like asthma, respiratory illnesses, even miscarriages.”

Aside from Liou, the panel featured Matthew Tejada, director of the Office of Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Boston-based Brazilian Worker Center and Brazilian Policy Center; and Donnell “Trip” Van Noppen, the president of Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law organization.

Each panelist was given time to discuss their personal efforts organizing to improve environmental conditions for citizens, particularly underrepresented or exploited workers.

Tejada emphasized that environmental degradation exists beyond the typically imagined scope.

“A lot of folks think it’s black and brown people living next to a refinery, or it’s a bunch of toxic sites down in the south or somewhere, or something’s happening on the border,” Tejada said. “But environmental justice issues happen throughout all of our communities, throughout the United States.”

Hope Cahan, a California government employee who has worked with the Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, also attended the event.

“The Healthy Nail Salon Initiative is a great combination of both environmental issues along with social justice,” Cahan said. “We’d certainly like to have this replicated in as many places as possible, and improved upon. The broader goal is to reach out into the whole cosmetology field.”

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