August 31, 2011

City Committee Advances Anti-Sweatshop Initiative

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The Ithaca City Administration Committee unanimously passed the Sweatshop Free Initiative, supported by local residents and student activists, at its meeting late Wednesday night. If the initiative passes the Common Council next week, Ithaca will join the Sweatshop Free Purchasing Consortium, which works to eradicate sweatshops by changing cities’ purchasing policies for apparel, including uniforms for police officers and firefighters. It will also require the city to pledge a small amount of money to the consortium for inspections abroad, which are intended to hold companies accountable to labor practices. The Cornell Organization for Labor Action spoke in support of the plan at Wednesday’s meeting.The initiative, a joint effort between students, groups, community groups and police unions across the country, has been in the works since 2008. The consortium was established in 2010. 209 municipalities have already signed on, including Portland, Ore., Albany, N.Y., and San Francisco, Calif.“It’s an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is,” said Alderperson Eddie Rooker ’09 (D – 4th Ward). “When we’re part of a consortium, there is strength in numbers. If a violation occurs, we can put pressure on companies to fix it.” Public procurement policies, such as this one, are effective for ensuring that companies protect workers’ rights, according to Molly Beckhardt ’14, president of COLA. “I’m really happy because the market for ethically-made clothing will grow,” she said.The policy applies to contracts worth more than $20,000 for apparel purchases, including uniforms for police officers and firefighters. Seventeen members of COLA expressed support for the bill at Wednesday night’s committee meeting. “It would be a real step forward for the anti-sweatshop movement,” Matthew Tomlinson ’15 said. Other students, including Ethan Erickson ’12, said that the city should use taxpayer money ethically and responsibly. Raquel Gonoretzky ’15 noted that 2011 marks the 100 year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, in which 146 garment workers died.“Passing the Sweatshop Free Initiative is a huge step toward transparency and accountability in the garment industry,” Anna-Lisa Castle ’13 said.Alex Bores ’13 said that he is glad that the work of many people involved in the project has paid off because, he said, this policy will protect workers in the U.S. and abroad. “I’m looking forward to it passing the full Common Council next week and becoming law soon after that,” Bores said.Laurie Flaherty, a co-chair of the Labor Religion Coalition of the Finger Lakes, said that it was “wonderful” that the vote passed unanimously, and that it is likely to be approved by the Common Council next week.

Original Author: Laura Shepard