- About the YEO Network
- Front Line Leaders Academy
- Strategic Partnerships
YEO Policy Corner- Sweatshop Products
Ban on Purchasing of Sweatshop Products
Drum Major Institute for Public Policy
New York, NY
Target Level of Government: Local City Government
Policy Category: Economic Justice
Possible Allies: Unite Here
Milwaukee’s ban on city purchases of sweatshop products applies to all city apparel purchases, rentals, laundering, and dry cleaning contracts worth more than $5,000 and all non-apparel purchases worth more than $30,000 (see chapter 310-17). All bidders for city contracts sign sworn affidavits stating that their goods meet the following conditions:
- For goods that are manufactured in the United States, workers must be paid a wage such that if they were working full-time their income would exceed the federal poverty line for a family of three plus an additional 20 percent paid as either hourly wages or health benefits;
- For goods manufactured outside the United States, workers must be paid a comparable non-poverty wage adjusted to reflect the country’s cost of living;
- Manufacturers located outside the United States must comply with International Labor Organization conventions banning forced labor, child labor, and mandating workers’ freedom to organize unions;
- Manufacturers may not terminate employees without just cause; and
- Non-union manufacturers must nevertheless establish some mechanism for workplace disputes to be resolved.
In addition, apparel contractors must declare the names and addresses of any facilities and subcontracting companies that manufacture goods purchased by the city, as well as contact information for their owners. Contractors for non-apparel goods are not required to make this declaration. Penalties for submitting false or misleading information to the city include fines of $2,000-$5,000 and the costs of prosecution, a cancellation of the current contract, and a ban on bidding on future contracts for one year.
When municipalities purchase goods produced under sweatshop conditions, taxpayers may unwittingly subsidize child labor and other exploitative labor practices. Vendors must certify that the goods they sell to the city are produced under specific fair labor standards.
Link to Legislation>> (See chapter 310-17)
City of Milwaukee >>
In the context of Milwaukee’s previous history of anti-sweatshop activism, the 2007 ordinance broadening the criteria applied to city apparel purchases to other municipal procurement seems like a natural evolution. But Alderman Tony Zielinksi encountered resistance when he first proposed the policy. City purchasing officials were the main opponents, arguing that the requirement that clothing purchases be produced under fair labor conditions had already led to delays in contracting and led to complaints from vendors. City officials were also concerned that the policy would drive up the cost of city goods and were concerned about the cost of monitoring contracts.
Zielinski negotiated a compromise measure: whereas the 2003 law required apparel contractors to identify all subcontractors and their factory locations, when the law was expanded in 2007 to include non-apparel contractors it did not require that these non-apparel contractors identify subcontractors and factory locations. In addition, the compromise measure did not require the city purchasing department to hire more staff. The city agreed to rely on non-profit organizations for free help in monitoring labor conditions at overseas manufacturers rather than joining a new “Sweat Free Consortium” of other cities and states aiming to monitor labor conditions on their own, which would have been more costly.
The Clean Clothes campaign organized for and won the clause improving the way non-poverty wages are calculated. With the compromise in place, the City Council unanimously approved the ordinance and Mayor Tom Barrett signed it. The policy applies to about 150 city contracts each year, worth millions of dollars.
While an individual city policy may not be enough to impact labor standards throughout the world, the cumulative impact of 184 sweat-free policies adopted by cities, states, school districts, counties, and colleges nationwide creates a market for sweatshop-free goods and levels the playing field for manufacturers who treat their employees fairly.
Local governments spend about $12 billion a year on apparel purchases alone, according to the advocacy group Sweatfree Communities. In Milwaukee, the anti-sweatshop manufacturing conditions for apparel were invoked 15 times between 2002 and 2007 in the course of selecting city bidders. The requirement that non-union manufacturers establish some mechanism for workplace disputes to be resolved is a particularly powerful clause, as it not only sets labor standards but has the potential to empower workers to improve their own working conditions