Kelsey Hilbers, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
Starting on April 16th and going through May 5th ILRF will work in conjunction with SweatFree Communities (SFC) on the “Sweatshop Workers Speak Out” speaking tour. Traveling through nine states including Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the District of Columbia, the tour will focus on spreading awareness for labor rights in the supply chains used by cities and states for things like police uniforms and soccer balls. This speaking tour will also support the ongoing sweatfree campaigns http://www.sweatfree.org/toolkit)in many of the cities we are visiting
To see if the “Sweatshop Workers Speak Out” speaking tour is coming to your community, go to the ILRF website for more information.
This year’s speaking tour will feature the first hand accounts of labor violations from two speakers. Kalpona Akter, a former child factory worker, from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) will speak about her work supporting working women, the rights of children, and the security of working families and communities in Bangladesh. Zehra Bano, the General Secretary of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation of Pakistan, will share her intimate knowledge of the plight of soccer ball workers especially related to home-based and stitching center workers.
There will also be a broader focus on public procurement which is the purchasing of goods by a government to be used in the public sector. This can include everything from fire fighter uniforms to school lunches. Governments in the US, whether it is a local, state or federal branch, can be some of the largest purchasers of manufactured goods. They need to buy uniforms and equipment for their offices, employees and schools. These purchases are usually very large and therefore the purchases are an opportunity to encourage the use of strong labor standards as a prerequisite for any business that wants to sell products to the government.
The US has a Department of Labor that regulates domestic labor laws; these include rules for minimum wages, freedom of association, health and safety standards and rules against child labor. When purchasing large orders of manufactured goods, made outside the US for domestic public use, government purchasers should be buying products from suppliers and manufacturers who adhere to similar rules. By joining an active sweatfree movement, governments can ensure that their purchases are made from factories that pay a living wage and have a safe working environment.
ILRF has participated in speaking tours in the past focusing on the supply chain of Walmart in Costa Rica, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Swaziland, and South Africa. ILRF and SFC aim to raise awareness and participation in the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium, a nation wide organization for governments to share knowledge of sweatfree action plans and help each member make sweatfree purchases more effectively and less expensively than any single member could on their own. The larger the purchase order, the cheaper it will be for governments to take action and buy from sweatfree factories, by bringing buyers together that need to purchase the same product, the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium helps to end support for sweatshops and labor violations in government contracts.
Currently one of ILRF’s key campaigns is focused on making Washington, DC a sweatfree city. We are calling on DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, and locally elected officials, to join the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium and pass a strong sweatshop free purchasing policy to end tax dollar support for sweatshops (http://www.laborrights.org/sweatfree-dc). The DC government purchases millions of dollars of apparel for city employees each year. To ensure that no apparel purchased for DC city officials and employees was made in sweatshops we are urgently asking the DC city council to amend the proposed procurement legislation to include a sweatfree policy and join the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium.
We hope that if you live in one of the 15 cities that we are visiting during the second half of April, that you can come join us in this educational speaking tour (and hopefully you’ll bring for family and neighbors too!)