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How Inslee can make a difference on sweatshops

A new coalition of labor activists, politicians and state employees is working to make all state purchasing sweat-free. But the effort needs a push from incoming governor Jay Inslee.

Do your tax dollars go to support sweatshop labor in other countries?  Do you know where your clothes are made?  Are the workers who make your goods safe at work?  

These questions rattled around Seattle and Olympia recently when Kalpona Akter and Sumi Abedin stopped in Washington as part of a ten-city “End Death Traps” tour. Akter is Executive Director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and Abedin is a survivor of the Tazreen Garments factory fire in November 2012. More than 113 people died at Tazreen — manufacturing clothes for Western corporations including Walmart, The Gap and H&M. 

As part of the tour, I moderated a panel with Abedin and Akter at the University of Washington to a packed house. Abedin described how managers violated building safety procedures — a regular practice — and kept doors and windows locked because they were afraid workers might steal garments. 

When the workers smelled smoke, they were told it was a false alarm and sent back to work. Abedin jumped out of a ventilation duct and ended up surviving with a broken arm and leg. She jumped so that her parents would be able to find her body, not because she expected to survive.

Akter, who began working in a garment factory herself at the age of 12, said the goals of the tour were three-fold: to educate U.S. consumers about the 700 deaths at factories in Bangladesh over the past six years, to demand compensation for the killed and injured from U.S. corporations like Walmart and to push those corporations to sign a legally-binding agreement around fire and building safety.

That very night, another unreal scene was unfolding across the ocean. In Savar, Bangladesh, a seven-story garment manufacturing factory collapsed, killing more than 450 people, severely injuring hundreds more, with hundreds still missing in the concrete rubble.  

In a rapidly globalizing world, consumers are more and more disconnected from the supply chains that bring them stuff. It’s hard to know where things are made — and few of us ever consider the massive government purchasing machinery that uses our tax dollars to buy goods made under a variety of conditions.  

Kristen Beifus believes that needs to change: by passing a sweat free procurement policy for Washington state. Beifus, Executive Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, has been working for the past two years to design and pass such a policy. She’s been joined by the UW chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), State Senator Steve Conway, Representative Jeannie Darneille and officials at the Department of Enterprise Services (DES), which does all the buying for the state. 

So far, nine states, 40 cities and 15 counties have passed similar policies — including Seattle. In 2010, with leadership from city procurement officials as well as Councilmembers Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen, Seattle passed a sweat free policy and later joined the Sweat Free Procurement Consortium, a national entity that works to enforce and monitor policies. 

The state policy would be similar to Seattle’s, with three components: a code of conduct, a requirement that state vendors are able to explain where each piece of a certain product is made and an option for the state to join the Sweat Free Purchasing Consortium. Vendors who don’t know all the pieces of their supply chain would be required to research specific locations and find information. It would also allow for spot checks of certain factories, like the Tazreen Garments factory or the Savar factory, if products were being manufactured there. 

Beifus said that procurement officials at DES have been very supportive, but things have stalled somewhat recently, partly due to an open position as Director of DES that happened with the change in Governor. “We’re definitely looking to Governor Inslee to show leadership by appointing someone to lead the department who shares these values and will get the policy back on track,” Beifus said. 


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Comments:

Posted Tue, May 7, 5:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Pramila Jayapal again? Does Crosscut even try to balance it's discussions in the forum? No.

Let's see what she's trying to get the Government to do this time.
"Do your tax dollars go to support sweatshop labor in other countries?" Probably. Do my tax dollars go to support illegal labor and illegal aliens in THIS country? Yes. Do my tax dollars go to support illegal labor and illegal aliens in this STATE? Yes. Will Pramila Jayapal ask Governor Inslee to stop funding illegal aliens with State tax dollars and services? No. Will Pramila Jayapal ask Governor Inslee to stop supporting Sanctuary policy, issuing Licensing and other activities that draw illegal aliens to this State where they are suppressing wages for legal citizens and workers? No.

Walmart sells sweatshop goods? Get in line. Make sure the State doesn't use any Apple or Microsoft products while you are at it. State schools and Universities better not be serving any non-sustainable foods in the dining halls that were harvested or processed by exploited illegal labor either. We could go on and on, but the Pramila Jayapal/Crosscut song remains the same.

Cameron

Posted Tue, May 7, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Cameron

What do you do for a living I wonder??

CROSS CUT get rid of the captcha

leitmotif

Posted Tue, May 7, 11:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Wonder all you want, I simply do not support the State creating worker exploitation of illegal aliens with tax dollars. What do you do for a living that would allow you to condone the exploitation of illegal aliens in the workforce? What do you do for a living that allows you to believe that the tax dollars of legal citizens should be used to support and encourage more illegal aliens to come to the State and work here illegally?

Cameron

Posted Tue, May 7, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

One thing I doubt Cameron does: work as an adjunct professor at the UW. Those appointments are reserved for Party kin and activists, like Pramila. (I see she's a Voice For Children nowadays, too, btw. How non-profit can one person be???)) It is their job to feed the Party agenda to the masses (complete with the Academic Seal of Approval).

Hey Pram, say hi to David Dicks for us.

Maybe you two should discuss the conflict between immigration and environment. A high-brow discussion, befitting your positions, on the ability to have one's cake and eat it, too.

BlueLight

Posted Tue, May 7, 3:07 p.m. Inappropriate

As usual the lefties have the wrong target, mIddle class shoppers in this country overwhelming will go with the lowest price on most goods. It's that Ben Franklin penny saved thing.

I typically try to buy American made goods, selection however is very limited. Labor costs in this country moved the jobs overseas and when labor costs exceed 10% in the host country, the manufacturer will move again. Not all move but they pay a penalty read it here

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/american-made-clothing_n_3225899.html

Djinn

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