This Thursday, October 16, Chicago Fair Trade will celebrate the passage of the Sweatfree Ordinance!
The campaign is part of a larger campaign called Sweatfree Communities. It’s brilliant, and here’s why: it calls on municipalities, states, religious denominations, school districts–basically any large body–to use large-scale purchasing power to create a sea change in the garment industry.
Why is this important? As a small designer trying to manufacture ethically, all I can do is avoid sweatshops and support contractors and suppliers who are already manufacturing ethically. While doing so helps me to sleep better at night, I realize that on my own, I lack the financial leverage to pressure large contractors to pay cutters and stitchers fair wages and to make large scale changes in the garment industry. Likewise, as a consumer, I choose to avoid brands that use sweatshop labor and instead purchase clothing from ethical brands, or buy vintage/thrift items, or make my own clothing. But the loss of my disposable income alone is not enough to cause big brands like Walmart, Gap, etc, to monitor contractors and ensure that workers are paid a fair wage, that no child labor is employed, and that workers labor in a healthy and safe environment.
While I can’t stress enough the cumulative power of small, individual choices, I know that we can do even more to create change when we organize and work collectively. For example, our tax dollars fund multi-million dollar uniform contracts. We form our respective cities’ tax base, so we get a say in how that money is spent. And a multi-million dollar contract is quite a carrot. Now, thanks to the passage of the Sweatfree Ordinance, uniform vendors who have contracts with the City must comply with new rules in order to keep these lucrative contracts. First, they must agree to make their supply chains transparent. In the garment industry, where opacity and a race-to-the-bottom in terms of wages and labor rights is the norm, transparency is an enormous step! Once we know where our cities’ uniforms are made, we can draw on reports and investigations from the Workers’ Rights Consortium and the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium. If contractors are found to be violating basic health, safety, or labor rights, then they are given a list of recommendations to correct any issues, and time to implement changes. If they choose to not comply, then they will lose these lucrative contracts.
Testifying in favor of the ordinance along with fellow Chicago Fair Trade member, Pushpika Freitas, Owner/Founder of Marketplace of India
We live in a globalized world where currently 98% of our garments are made abroad, often in abysmal conditions. To adapt to in this globalized world, we must continue to support globalized movements like Sweatfree Communites, like Fair Trade. These movements not only help to end entirely preventable tragedies like the Rana Plaza factory collapse, but also help to level the playing field for ethical business, and to raise the floor for all workers and their families, both at home and abroad.
So please, join CFT this Thursday to celebrate with fair trade wine, locally made beer, snacks, and the company of CFT’s visionary, inspiring members!