Editorial: Sweatshop Crackdown
Date of publication: June 30, 2005
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
BY LAUNCHING a campaign to eliminate worldwide sweatshop-labor abuse, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Tom Ammiano made a powerful statement denouncing a global travesty. From China to Mexico, garment workers -- many of whom are young children -- work up to 15 hours a day with no bathroom or eating breaks and make as little as 13 cents an hour.
But tucked away in San Francisco's South of Market and in pockets of the Mission District, those who are looking can find similar conditions right here at home. These workers are mostly middle-age and older immigrant women, who have little education and speak no English. They work up to 12 hours a day with little or no breaks and get paid by "piece rates," meaning, per garment. On average, this adds up to $1 or $2 an hour.
As part of their campaign, Newsom and Ammiano have proposed an ordinance barring the city government from buying products that were made under abusive labor conditions or violate local or international labor laws.
What the ordinance does not include, however, is a clause that would lend preferences to local garment factories and employees that abide by "sweat- free" conditions. Under the current ordinance, local businesses must still compete with companies abroad and face being outbid by developing countries.
"As it stands, it does not address the local community or give businesses the incentive to be sweat-free because they can't compete with other countries, " said Alex Tom with the Chinese Progressive Association.
With no protection against this outsourcing, more local garment factories will continue to lose contracts to overseas companies and close. As a result, existing sweatshops will be driven further underground.
"The problem is worse now because these workers are more scared to come forward because jobs are so hard to find," said Jonnie Chung of the Asian Law Caucus.
Chung, who was among dozens of activists who worked with the city on the proposal, says the ordinance will help locally, because the same labor standards would apply to local business owners.
But with fierce competition and no steady business, these garment-factory owners are not driven to improve their labor standards.
The ordinance sends a strong global message that sweatshops should not be tolerated.
A stronger message would be to start at home by adding a local-preference clause that would give business owners an incentive to run sweat-free workplaces.