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Emanuel, Pawar join forces on anti-sweatshop ordinance

Updated: June 29, 2014 6:42AM



Uniforms, head gear and footwear worn by Chicago Police officers, firefighters and other city employees could not come from “sweatshops” or be produced using child labor, under a groundbreaking ordinance to be introduced Wednesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is joining forces with Chicago Fair Trade, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and his 13 colleagues in the City Council’s Asian-American Caucus on an anti-sweatshop ordinance that could change the way the city purchases millions of dollars in uniforms.

The ordinance will be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting just weeks after the one-year anniversary of a garment industry disaster in Bangladesh, Thailand that killed 1,129 workers and injured 2,515 others.

It would require the city to purchase uniforms only from those garment vendors who sign affidavits ensuring there are no sweatshops anywhere in their supply chain, including sub-contractors.

Uniform contractors that fail to comply would be found in default. That would empower the city’s chief procurement officer to either terminate the contract and rebid or give the contractor a 30-day “opportunity to cure” the defect.

The ordinance defines “sweatshop labor” as any work performed by a person engaged by a contractor or sub-contractor that has “habitually violated laws of any applicable jurisdiction governing wages, employee benefits, occupational health and safety, non-discrimination or freedom of association.”

Abusive forms of child labor were defined as work performed by a person under 18 either, against their will, under threat, in violation of a jurisdiction’s minimum age requirement or the use of anyone under 18 for illegal activities including prostitution or the production or trafficking of illegal drugs.

“Given the factory collapse in Bangladesh last year and other horrific stories we see from time to time, we know that if we’re going to be a leader in human rights, we have to act like it and make sure we procure goods from humane supply chains,” Pawar said Tuesday.

“The Bangladesh incident was horrifying. You had an entire factory collapse on its workers. These types of incidents are not just happening in Asia or India. You have sweatshops in Mexico and Guatemala and all over the world. You can’t be a leader in human rights without putting your money where your mouth is.”

Adolfo Hernandez, the city’s deputy director of public engagement, called the anti-sweatshop ordinance an outgrowth of Emanuel’s commitment to be “welcoming and fair” to immigrants who make Chicago home while extending those same values abroad.

“We want to make sure that, when the city is purchasing garments from any vendors, that we’re not supporting sweatshop labor in any way. We want to make sure we’re promoting ethical business practices,” he said.

“We hope it’s not too widespread. We hope it’s not a large issue. But, we’re also not going to turn a blind eye to it.”

Five percent of Chicago’s population is Asian-American. Statewide, Asian-Americans total 500,000 and represent, what Pawar has called the “fastest-growing block” of voters in Illinois.

The anti-sweatshop ordinance is the first piece of legislation to emerge from the Asian-American Caucus that includes Pawar and thirteen colleagues whose wards include chunks of Asian-Americans.

But, it won’t be the last.

Pawar said the Caucus is also preparing for a renewed attempt by a handful of aldermen to do away with the Asian-American preference on minority set-asides.

“It’s something that’s been talked about for four or five years and might come up again this year when the [minority set-aside] ordinance has to be re-authorized,” Pawar said Tuesday.

“If we believe that other minorities are under-represented in certain contracting areas, the cure isn’t to exclude Asian-Americans because you believe they’re over-represented. The cure is to do more outreach to identify additional contractors. You don’t achieve diversity by excluding Asian-Americans. This is a big issue for the caucus and it’s going to come up.”

On April, 24, 2013, an eight-story commercial building known as Rana Plaza that included clothing factories collapsed in Bangladesh. The search for survivors ended three weeks later with a death toll of 1,129. Another 2,515 people were injured after being rescued from the building alive.

Shops and a bank on the building’s lower floors were closed immediately after cracks were discovered in the building. But, garment employees were reportedly ordered to return to work the following day, when the building collapsed.



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