|ONLINE VERSION||NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 2001|
|Historic Coalition Launches Campaign Against Sweatshops|
|by Bruce Raynor, International
President, Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees
Despite years of public pressure against sweatshops, today’s global retailers are greedier than ever and more workers around the world are toiling in sweatshops to make their goods. It’s time for retailers to stop hiding behind high-priced public relations firms and industry-created cover-ups and finally sit down at the table with workers to develop concrete ways of ending the global sweatshop crisis.
With support from many concerned worldwide organizations, UNITE is leading a first-of-its-kind international anti-sweatshop coalition to hold retailers responsible for the conditions under which the clothing they sell is produced. Members of the coalition include labor organizations, religious leaders and civil rights groups from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, Nicaragua, Hong Kong, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Together we will launch an unprecedented anti-sweatshop campaign that will target retailers throughout the upcoming back-to-school and holiday shopping season and challenge them to address the terrible working conditions faced by garment workers worldwide.
This new coalition marks the first time that a truly comprehensive effort has been made to bring together labor leaders and clergy from both the countries responsible for producing many of the goods and the countries in which most of these goods are purchased.
Last month I joined other leaders of the coalition including AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer, Richard Trumka, labor leaders from around the world and 400 anti-sweatshop activists in a march to kick-off our campaign that culminated with protests at the New York City outlets of international retailers Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer and Ann Taylor.
While we have identified Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer and Ann Taylor as the first three retailers to be targeted, protests will be held at more retailers throughout the country over the next several months.
The campaign will continue to stage demonstrations, rallies and other public actions at major retail outlets throughout the busy back-to-school and holiday shopping season in an effort to educate consumers about the appalling conditions faced by the workers who make their clothes.We demand that senior decision-makers at each of the targeted retailers meet with representatives of the anti-sweatshop coalition to address the working conditions under which their goods are produced.
According to recent polling by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, consumers say sweatshops are a major concern for them. In fact, consumers say they would pay a little more for goods which they knew weren’t produced in sweatshops, and feel that there is a moral obligation to make sure working conditions overseas are good, including ending child labor and ensuring that workers can form unions.
Even though public opinion is on our side, sweatshops continue to spread. Why?
The major retail chains and big name apparel companies call the shots in the clothing industry. By constantly driving down the price they will pay for goods, they force sweatshop conditions on sewing factories. That means higher profits for the retail and apparel giants, not lower prices for consumers.
Five department store chains account for nearly two-thirds of all department store sales in the U.S. Those retail chains have tremendous power over the companies that make the clothing the stores sell. Most of the garment factories, here and around the world, couldn’t stay in business if they lost the business of the retail giants. That’s why the big retailers could stop sweatshops if they wanted to, or if they had to. When these retailers demand quality merchandise and on-time delivery, they get them. If they also demanded that every garment had to be made under decent conditions, there is no question that things would improve fast.
Here are examples of 21st century sweatshops:
These examples are not isolated instances. There are no international laws that require corporations to respect workers’ rights, to ensure decent working conditions, or even to pay a living wage. In fact the current trade laws encourage companies to make their products in places with the worst conditions and the lowest wages—and places where workers are not free to stand up for their rights and protect themselves.
Companies are driving us all into a race to the bottom. Factories with good conditions are getting shut down. That means decent factories in the U.S. and Canada—as well as decent factories overseas. And sweatshops are opening up—in New York.
When we defeated sweatshops in the early 1900s, workers organized unions and joined with allies to put public pressure on corporations and governments. Sweatshops were defeated then through a combination of workers building stronger unions, community and religious leaders demanding decent working conditions, and the government adopting new labor laws that set minimum working standards. We need to do the same things today.
We demand that retailers pay workers a living wage, respect their freedom to form a union, and ensure decent and safe working conditions. We ask all union members and their families to join with us in this campaign.
To learn more about UNITE’s campaign against sweatshops and for human rights, go to our website www.uniteunion.org. Most of all only buy union-made products and services and look for the Union Label. By marshaling the purchasing power of millions of union families, we can stop sweatshops. Our dollars will put retailers on notice that we will force responsibility on the worlds’s largest manufacturing industry and subject leading wrong-doers to unprecedented public pressure. Together we will insure a decent life for workers at home and around the world.