The Federal government, according to official policy, can and does buy supplies made in sweatshops, foreign and domestic. A grassroots movement to change that is gaining strength.
Short of the federal level, 39 cities, 15 counties, eight states, and over 100 public school districts have already adopted procurement rules to ensure that the uniforms, shoes, and other products they buy for police, fire, and other public employees are not made in sweatshops.
Laying the ground work for extending such a ban to the Federal level was a major focus of the sixth annual “Sweatfree Communities summit” held in Washington, D.C., November 6-8.
“There’s a big gap in federal procurement policies,” says Bjorn Claeson, executive director of Sweatfree Communities, the non-profit organization that unites the movement.
A potentially ground-breaking document, “Principles for International Sweatfree Federal Government Procurement,” was released at a forum held on Capitol Hill on January 6. It is a five-page working draft compiled by Claeson with contributions from the AFL-CIO, the Change to Win union alliance, the International Labor Rights Forum, and other like-minded organizations.
To help member governments meet their sweatshop-free purchasing goals, Sweatfree Communities has recently formed the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium. Still in the developing stages, it has two core functions:
-- Connect government buyers with suppliers pre-screened as sweatfree.
-- Serve as the contact and coordinating points for monitoring suppliers, investigating complaints, and achieving effective remedies.
Might any of these efforts conflict with the rules of the World Trade Organizations? Briefly, no; they are “WTO compliant,” says Claeson, whom I interviewed by phone.
Unfortunately, because of heath problems, I was unable to attend the summit. But I am impressed by what I read on two Websites and what I heard from Claeson. This is a movement whose time has come.
The two Websites, http://www.sweatfree.org, and a separate one for the consortium, http://buysweatfree.org, contain a surprising wealth of information. A particularly useful one for ordinary shoppers is the 2009 Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide, with listings for women’s wear, men’s wear, baby clothes, footwear, outerwear, T-shirts, and sports equipment.
Among the 2009 Sweatfree Summit co-sponsors not mentioned here before are these: the Catholic Relief Services, the United Methodist Church Global Ministries, and Georgetown University Law School, which hosted all the sessions except for the one on Capitol hill.