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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007 12:46 am

What cities can do

Municipalities are taking steps to fight sweatshop labor

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Untitled Document If you wish there were something you could do about some of the worst abuses of corporate globalization, check out a fast-spreading grassroots movement called SweatFree Communities. Its concept is simple: Although one shopper can’t make a dent in the ethics of global manufacturers, each of us can have an impact if we team up as citizens to harness the purchasing power of our city and county governments, getting them to reject products made with sweatshop labor. We often forget that the biggest consumer in most places is local government, which buys huge quantities of uniforms, computers, office furniture, and such from various corporations. We can say to these vendors: No public dollars for sweatshop goods.
In my town, Austin, Texas, the City Council recently voted unanimously to join about 170 other localities across the country in the SweatFree network. These cities, school districts, and other public entities have committed to buy only from contractors and subcontractors that do not engage in such sweatshop abuses as the use of child labor, poverty wages, and toxic workplaces.
To enforce the “no sweat” commitment, the consortium sends independent monitors directly to the factories for periodic unannounced reviews of labor conditions. The shared cost is minimal — Austin’s share, for example, is only about $17,000 a year. In turn, the assurance that the city’s purchases reflect our people’s sense of justice is priceless. SweatFree Communities was founded in 2003 and is supported by a wide range of churches, student organizations, unions, advocacy groups, and community leaders. The notion is that there is power in numbers — with each new community that signs on, new strength is added to change industry practices . . . and end the shame of sweatshop labor.
To learn more, call 207-262-7277 or go to www.sweatfree.org.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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