City of Chicago Passes Sweatfree Ordinance!

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.

                                           Screen shot 2014-10-12 at 11.35.45 PM

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!



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