By Bonnie Stinson, Intern, SweatFree Communities
On Wednesday a landmark bill on sweatfree federal purchasing was introduced in Congress. The Jobs Through Procurement Act, H.R. 6262, would “stimulate job creation by directing Federal procurement to domestic sources, ensuring the enforcement of domestic sourcing requirements, [and] prohibiting the procurement of sweatshop goods by the United States.”
Introduced by Representatives Phil Hare (IL-17), Mike Michaud (ME-2), and five other original cosponsors, this bill would require federal contractors to enforce already existing domestic sourcing requirements and comply with internationally recognized worker rights standards. It would also require that subcontractors adhere to these requirements as well, making ethical sourcing not only a priority but a practice at all levels of the federal supply chain.
The introduction of this bill is also the culmination of years of civic activism for justice for sweatshop workers. “Community-based grassroots campaigns have persuaded 40 cities, 15 counties, nine states, and over 100 school districts to buy only ‘sweatfree’ products,” said Liana Foxvog, a national organizer for SweatFree Communities, a campaign of the International Labor Rights Forum. “Now these campaigns expect the federal government to follow the example of their state and local governments and ensure our tax dollars help create good non-sweatshop jobs and work to move our economy out of this recession.”
Currently, the federal government spends more than $500 billion on services and goods annually, including around $4 billion on apparel and textiles. That volume of purchasing can be used responsibly to create jobs, promote decent working conditions, and to support a fair global economy domestically and internationally. The Jobs Through Procurement Act can make this vision a reality.
Existing legislation governing procurement includes the Buy American Act of 1933 and the Berry Amendment of 1941. The Buy American Act sought to protect domestic labor with a stipulation that the majority of components of federally procured products must be domestic in origin. The Berry Amendment governs only Department of Defense contracts, and mandates that products be 100% domestically produced. Both of these laws aimed to shelter domestic industries at a time when the United States was mired in hardship. Similar reasoning for protecting domestic manufacturing applies during today’s recession.
It seems to me that, in line with the BAA and the Berry Amendment, this bill calls for measures that will create much needed jobs and will ensure actual sweatshop-free national procurement. The Jobs Through Procurement Act requires a pre-award compliance agreement that requires federal contractors to verify the names and addresses of suppliers and subcontractors to be used in the execution of their contract; this step is necessary to confirm that factories and vendors are adhering to these standards.
At a deeper level, the Jobs Through Procurement Act will support small American factories that depend on government contracts, and will ensure that America walks the walk and talks the talk when it comes to supporting workers at home and abroad.
The writing and introduction of the bill has been a collaborative process. Activists, workers, and supporters are celebrating the introduction of this bill. This legislation has the potential to provide monumental visibility and traction for workers’ rights movements around the world. It can enable Americans to simultaneously redirect our immense purchasing power to uphold workers’ rights and jumpstart the economy.
Join the movement by sending a letter to your Member of Congress at jobsact.org. Let’s show that Americans are committed to worker rights, human rights, and responsible government.