Public Comment

Commentary: Toward a Sweat-Free Ordinance

By Nicholas E. Smith
Friday June 30, 2006

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary appears only on our website. 


As citizens of the richest nation on the planet, it is easy to take for granted the many luxuries of American life. With access to jobs that provide us with fair compensation, affordable healthcare, the right to union organization, retirement / pension plans, we are generally able to live comfortable lives. But there are millions of people across the world who just aren’t as fortunate.  

In stark contrast to our standard of living, there are those are forced to work in deplorable sweatshop conditions, with unreasonable demands such fifteen hour workdays and as little as 13 cents an hour compensation, according to Global Exchange. Worse, among this group are innocent young people, exploited by money-driven corporations that engage in child-labor. This sounds deplorable and it is, and something must be done about it.  

It is our responsibility as Americans to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to end the ability of corporations to exploit their workers, and to end the continuing cycle of poverty in the United States and abroad. Our inaction may result in the continued plight of millions of people, primarily at the hands of corporations who engage in these practices.  

What empowers these specific companies is the fact that we readily spend our money on goods without direct knowledge they may have been produced by the abused. While it is our responsibility to ensure that the money we spend does not fund these groups, we must ensure that governments spend our taxpayer dollars in the same fashion.  

The City of Berkeley spends hundreds-of-thousands of our taxpayer dollars a year on goods. Currently we have no direct knowledge of whether they were produced in sweatshop conditions. As a result, Berkeley is poised to join other governments (including the City of San Francisco) in passing a Sweat-Free Ordinance. This important legislations is apart of a larger effort to ban governments from contracting companies who practice sweatshop labor.  

The time for Berkeley to join this movement has come. If we are to end poverty across the world, this must be done. Come to the next Berkeley City Council meeting and ask your mayor and councilmembers to pass this piece of this legislation with proper funding for enforcement.  

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Nicholas E. Smith is chairman of the Commission on Labor and a member of the Housing Advisory Commission. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the commissions on which he serves.