Lisa Herbold, Councilmember Nick Licata’s Office, 206-684-5331
Seattle to Begin Using Sweatfree Uniform Purchasing Policy
Seattle joins nine states, 40 cities, 15 counties, and 118 school districts with sweatfree policies
Every year Washington suffers the loss of several thousand trade-related manufacturing jobs. About the new policy Councilmember Licata said, “When incentives exist for fair business practices, the competitive ability of companies with fair labor practices can increase and this can also level the playing field for regional manufacturers, helping our local Seattle economy retain manufacturing jobs.”
The U.S. Department of Labor cites over 50 percent of the sewing shops in the United States as sweatshops violating labor, environmental, and human rights laws and standards. The U.S. federal, state, and local governments spend approximately more than $10 billion annually on apparel procurement. The City currently spends approximately $1.3 million on uniforms for City employees.
As a result of the City Council’s unanimous request in 2009, the policy was developed by the Department of Executive Administration in collaboration with the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, the King County Labor Council, the Seattle Women’s Commission, and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. It was presented to Councilmember Licata’s Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee last week.
SWEATFREE WASHINGTON CAMPAIGN
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What IS A SWEATSHOP?
Sweatshop labor means work performed by any worker under terms or conditions that violate the laws of the jurisdiction within which the work is performed; or that violate core labor rights as defined by the International Labor Organization; or work that pays a poverty wage. Unfortunately, sweatshops are not an aberration in the global apparel industry. The U.S. Department of Labor cites over 50% 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 50% of its Asian factories restricted access to toilets and drinking water; up to 50% of factories deny workers even one day off every week; and in 25% of factories workers are paid below even inadequate legal minimum wages. (1)
What is included in the proposed City of Seattle/Washington State Sweatfree Purchasing Policy?
l A sweatfree manufacturing code of conduct: All vendors, contractors, and subcontractors must adhere to the code of conduct which includes respect of local laws and International Labor Organization standards; non poverty wages, adjusted by labor markets; freedom of association; non-discrimination; ban on child labor; and safe working conditions.
l 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 state.
l Independent accountability: Seattle will join other states and local governments in the State and Local Government Sweatfree Consortium to pool resources, investigate labor violations, monitor factories, coordinate enforcement, and buy jointly from sweatfree factories.
l Sweatfree Procurement Advisory Committee: Established to advise the state purchasing office on policy implementation and enforcement.
Who would support a sweat-free policy in Seattle/WA State?
● Working people: Sweatshops represent a general decline in wages and working conditions. From 2001 to 2004 Washington State has lost 66,700 manufacturing jobs. At least 27,000 layoffs, more than 40 percent of the net total manufacturing jobs lost in the state, were trade-related, as determined by the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council’s Job Export Database Project. (2) Many sweatshops have appeared overseas due to cheap labor costs and lax environmental standards.
● Local business owners: Sweatshop exploitation undermines local economies and the competitive ability of companies with fair labor practices.
● Women: 85% of sweatshop workers are young women between the ages of 15-25.(3)
● Human rights activists: Everyone deserves dignity, respect and to work free of exploitation.
● Civil rights activists: People of color and women are the majority workforce in sweatshops. Sweatshops deny workers basic human rights.
How can a sweatfree policy make a difference?
Sweatfree policies tackle the root causes of sweatshops and introduce a vision of a new global economy where fairness, justice, and dignity are rewarded and not penalized. A sweatfree campaign is a powerful way to build public awareness about sweatshops, transform outrage about sweatshops into engagement with local institutions, and take proactive legal action. If the independent monitoring organization discovers that a production facility does not meet standards set forth in the policy, the state will pressure the supplier to improve its conditions. The policy does not promote cut-and-run tactics and the cancellation of a contract is a last resort.
Do other states have sweatfree policies?
Yes! California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania and Vermont are among the over 180 states, cities, counties, and school districts nationwide that have adopted sweatfree policies.
How much would a sweatfree policy cost?
The sweatfree policy requires funding for independent monitoring and staffing to ensure that it is meaningful and properly implemented. The sweatfree procurement policy requires a fee for membership in the State and Local Government Sweatfree Consortium, equivalent to 1% of the value of a contract or purchase order covered by the policy, to go towards an independent monitoring organization. A fee can be required of vendors to cover the costs of this membership, similarly to policy enacted by the state of Maine.
The Consortium will oversee the investigation of allegations of worker rights violations at supplier factories, identify potential pre-screened sweatfree supplier factories, and facilitate cooperative sweatfree purchasing.
Would higher wages for workers increase the cost of clothing?
An increase in workers wages has little effect on the price of the garment. Workers wages are often less than 1% of the consumer price.(4) Raising wages does not significantly affect companies’ profit margin, even if they do not pass on added costs to consumers. But suppose they did. If a company doubled the wages, causing the price of a $20 garment to increase to $20.20, would you be willing to pay the difference? Our public institutions should use our taxpayer money to choose clothes sold to the lowest responsible price–not at a price that can only be met by using sweatshops.
How will a sweatfree policy affect the local economy?
The local economy thrives when incentives exist for fair business practices. A global economy founded on sweatshop exploitation undermines global economic security and political stability. Sweatfree purchasing policies ensure a level playing field where all companies compete for business without the unfair advantage of exploiting workers.
Would a sweatfree policy violate trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA?
The procurement rules in trade agreements do not apply to U.S. counties, cities, school districts, or smaller public entities. So this issue is not relevant to the effort to make Seattle or other Washington cities sweatfree.
At the state level, NAFTA’s chapter on government procurement only applies to federal government entities. CAFTA’s chapter on government procurement only applies to those states whose governor has signed on to the rules. As of yet, Governor Gregoire has not rescinded Washington’s commitment, made under the Locke Administration, to cover state government procurement under the World Trade Organization Governmental Procurement Agreement (GPA) and bilateral free trade agreements. Every other state on the west coast including Alaska has either declined or rescinded this agreement. Meanwhile, if sweatfree policies should violate trade agreements like CAFTA, the WTO, etc., this is simply more evidence that we need to reform those agreements.
How can I get involved?
For more information about how to join the campaign contact Kristen Beifus, Coordinator for SweatFree Washington at email@example.com
(1) See Nike’s Corporate Responsibility Report at:
(2) See Washington State Job Exports: An Analysis of the Role Trade Plays in Manufacturing Job Loss, a report of the Job Export Databased Project, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council October, 2004
(3,4) See Sweatfree Communities “toolkit” for more information: http://www.sweatfree.org/tk/toolkit_campaign.pdf