Page One

City Adopts Sweatshop Ordinance

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday June 25, 2009 - 07:03:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council took significantly more than a symbolic stand against international sweatshop labor Tuesday night, approving a Sweatshop Free Ordinance to limit the amount of city money going to companies that exploit their labor. 

Wikipedia defines a sweatshop as “a working environment with conditions that are considered by many people of industrialized nations to be difficult or dangerous, usually where the workers have few opportunities to address their situation. This can include exposure to harmful materials, hazardous situations, extreme temperatures, or abuse from employers. Sweatshop workers often work long hours for little pay, regardless of any laws mandating overtime pay or a minimum wage. Child labor laws may also be violated.” 

The new ordinance banning city purchase of most sweatshop-approved apparel is a product of the city’s Commission on Labor, which began working on the law in April of 2006 following a referral from the council. 

Under the law, businesses with contracts of $25,000 or more providing “apparel” to the city must verify that they are not selling goods to the city that were produced by companies violating certain specified workers rights. 

The council briefly haggled over lowering the contract threshold to $10,000, but then passed the ordinance on a unanimous vote after staff said they would work with businesses with the smaller contracts to try to achieve voluntary compliance with the standards. One of four city-contracting vendors coming under the $25,000 ordinance threshold was identified as a “Berkeley business,” but neither staff nor councilmembers identified the business by name. 

The new ordinance says that companies manufacturing apparel goods bought by Berkeley must meet standards in several areas, including compliance with American and international standards on forced and child labor, non-discrimination, and freedom of association and collective bargaining. In addition, the manufacturers must not force worker overtime, must not practice discrimination, must respect women’s rights, must allow freedom of association among their workers, and must not engage in retaliation against workers who complain of adverse working conditions. 

Under the new law, the Berkeley city manager is authorized to take a series of steps when violations occur, beginning with setting up a remediation plan and ending with sanctions and termination of the city contract if compliance is not achieved.