Support Fight Against Sweatshops
February 29, 2012 Journal North
By Jennifer Garcia and Cam DuncanOur City Council is about to open a new front in the global fight against sweatshop exploitation – a city purchasing ordinance that requires decent wages and factory conditions for the apparel workers who make uniforms for Santa Fe’s finest. Santa Fe spends up to $400,000 a year on uniforms for police, firefighters, sanitation, park and other employees. The city is a customer with clout.
The ordinance would require any uniform vendor to certify that its sub-contractor’s wages meet the non-poverty wage standard – before the city will buy the vendor’s goods. “The products and services bought with City funds should be produced in an environment that is ‘sweat-free,’ the Council resolution declares. Sweatshop conditions include below-subsistence wages, excessively long working hours and unhealthy and unsafe working environments.
Unfortunately, sweatshops are common in the global apparel industry. The U.S. Department of Labor cites over 50 percent of the sewing shops in the United States as sweatshops. Some large companies themselves now publicly admit to serious and chronic human rights violations in most of their factories. For example, Nike admitted that up to half of its Asian factories restricted access to toilets and drinking water, and up to 50 percent of factories deny workers even one day off every week.
The sweat-free policy, introduced by Councilor Ron Trujillo for consideration at the Council meeting today, connects the consumer with standards for decent conditions and a decent wage. The uniformed unions of Santa Fe – police, firefighters and other city employees – are very supportive. To wear uniforms made by people in sweatshop conditions is not what they want to stand for.
What is the enforcement mechanism of the proposed sweat-free policy? The policy includes:
♦ A sweat-free manufacturing code of conduct: All vendors and contractors must follow the code of conduct which includes respect of local and international labor rights, such as freedom of association and a ban on child labor.
♦ Public disclosure and transparency: To qualify for a bid, vendors must disclose locations of factories and the wages of workers producing goods to be sold to the city.
♦ Independent accountability: Santa Fe will join other states and cities in the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium to pool resources, investigate labor violations, monitor factories, and buy jointly from sweat-free factories to leverage our influence.
If a vendor files a false report and violates the standards, it could be fined or barred from contracting with the city.
The Sweatfree Consortium will carry out inspections of factories and report any labor violations. It is then the city’s decision whether to continue purchasing goods from that factory or contractor. As a member of the Consortium, Santa Fe will be educated and able to make pertinent decisions based on the beliefs of our community. The goal is to see apparel factories improve working conditions and reach a point where workers are paid a living wage in factories that respect their right to organize.
Sweat-free policies should help level the playing field, benefiting responsible local businesses and vendors. Santa Fe’s new purchasing policy will ensure that all companies, small or large, play by the same rules in order to qualify for a contract. The Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium will ensure that small businesses have the resources they need in order to submit sweat-free bids, including information about suppliers.
Nine states, 42 cities, and over 100 school districts have already passed sweat-free ordinances. Santa Fe should take action and become the 43rd sweat-free city in the nation.
Jennifer Garcia is vice-president of AFSCME Local 3999 City Employees Union and president of the Northern New Mexico Central Labor Council. Cam Duncan is a member of the American Federation of Teachers, teaches for the National Labor College and lives in Santa Fe.