Thursday, March 11, 2010

Joining forces against sweatshops

After more than a decade of campaigns, why haven’t anti-sweatshop organizations made much more progress? When I put that a question to a friend who is a veteran of those campaigns, he replied: “Because the movement is Balkanized.”

In that light, a March 10 public letter of two anti-sweatshop organizations, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and the Sweatfree Communities (SFC) is especially good news. Barma Arthrea, ILRF executive director, and Bjorn Claeson, SFC director, wrote that they are “pleased to announce that SFC and ILR will be joining forces in a new collaboration that we hope will stengthen our advocacy efforts to create a sweatfree world.”

Among the benefits expected from working together:

• Expansion of “our work to encourage federal, local, and state government entities to use their purchasing power to promote and enforce strong labor rights standards.”
• “Strengthen our efforts to build a grassroots international labor solidarity movement in the U.S.”
The two groups have already been working together informally, especially in the past year. Now they are doings so more actively “during a one-year transition period followed by an evaluation at which time a final decision will be made on whether to fully merge into one organization.”

Sweatfree Communities, headquarterd in Bangor, Maine, was founded in 2003 by anti-sweatshop activists, including local labor leaders, in Maine, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. Their working together since then has led 39 cities, 15 counties, and eight states to adopt “sweat-free” procurement policies, starting with uniforms for police officers, firefighters, and others, including prisoners.

The International Labor Rights Forum, headquartered in Washington, was founded in1986 by leaders in human rights, labor, academic, and faith-based organizations, to promote global labor standards, especially through trade and aid policies. (Personal disclosure: I’ve been a member of ILRF since the ealy 1990s.)

Both organizations have excellent Websites that inform members and the public on developments affecting the human rights of working men and women.

For a copy of 2010 Shopping with a Conscience Guide, see

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