Sweat Free Houston

Working to make the City of Houston sweatshop free.

Reportback from 2010 National SweatFree Summit

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We just returned from to the 7th Annual SweatFree Summit which took place in beautiful Olympia, Washington. Traditions Cafe did an awesome job of hosting it. The events included skill building workshops, testimonies from workers, reports from sweat free electronic campaigns in Europe (see Procure it Fair). and much, much more.

One of the best things was listening to Reynoldo Donastrong, a union organizer and former worker at the BJ & B factory in the Dominican Republic where he sewed collegiate apparel. Now Donastrong is the Secretary of Education at the FEDOTRAZONAS organization which provides technical support to workers and unions. Donastrong related the history of his involvement in sweatshops and mentioned how important United Students Against Sweatshops were in the successful struggle to get BJ & B workers back and severance pay. Now Donastrong is involved with the very exciting Alta Gracia factory which is the first manufacturing facility to be certified by the Worker Rights Consortium as paying a living wage.

Sweat Free Houston sponsored Carmen Duran’s appearance at the Summit. Ms. Duran was the subject of the documentary Maquilapolis (City of Factories) which provides a strong case against NAFTA. It is a must see film for anyone interested in women’s struggles, environmental justice, sweatshops and community organizing.

We filmed the panel Ms. Duran took part in. You can watch it in two segments right here:

http://player.vimeo.com/video/16679827

Carmen Duran SweatFree National Summit part 1 from Tim O’Brien on Vimeo.

Watch part 2 here:

http://player.vimeo.com/video/16649582

Camen Duran pt 2 2010 National SweatFree Summit from Tim O’Brien on Vimeo.

More Endorsements! Our Coalition is 95 organizations strong!

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We’re a little tardy in posting endorsements for our campaign but now we are catching up. Worklife Institute became the 95th organization to endorse our campaign and even sent a letter to the mayor. Check out their letter:

Also  Houston Council on Occupational Safety & Health (COSH) which is an affiliate of the National Cosh also supports and endorses our campaign. They sent a letter to the Mayor also:

The ethical traveler

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Sweat Free Houston founders are all about living an ethical life. While our campaign is to get the City of Houston to pass a “sweat free” purchasing ordinance that addresses apparel purchasing by the city, we also know that sweatshops exist in the fields all around the world. In fact the agricultural labors in the USA live horrific lives, see the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for just one example of how tomato pickers on Florida are subjected to slavery in the fields.

Another huge population of exploited workers are coffee farmers. While in the USA, we only drink Fair Trade certified organic coffee. Hey we need energy to change the world! Well the problem with having a third party independent certifier saying your coffee beans are ethical is that big corporations use the fair trade certification to green wash their entire corporation. (definition of green washing: The dissemination of misleading information by an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment in order to present a positive.).

Starbucks is likely the most skilled green washing multi-national corporation in the world. They do as little as possible when it comes to treating coffee farmers justly but they blow the tiny bit of their responsible behavior all over the place and pretend they care about their suppliers when in actuality they are nothing better than slave drivers. One of the founders of Sweat Free Houston just went to Korea on business and here’s an encounter we thought you’d enjoy. The photo shows a Starbucks in Daechi neighborhood in Seoul.

First it’s important to know that Starbucks has a long history of using Fair Trade to green wash their business. For example, see this press release from the Organic Consumers Association.

Only about 6% of the coffee Starbucks sells is fair trade certified but they very seldom have any brewing. Green LA girl, an awesome blogger, gives a nice history of this very issue. Starbucks likes to brag about being “The largest purchaser of Fair Trade Certified coffee in the world,” but the simple fact is that more than 90% of their coffee is sweatshop coffee where the worker gets screwed by Starbucks on the price they receive for their product.

After I had been in Seoul for about 12 hours I figured it was time to stir things up a little. Before traveling to Korea, I had read how Starbucks were spreading like the disease they are all across the country, knocking mom and pop coffee shops out of business left and right. Just 4 minutes after  I walked out of my brother-in-laws apartment in Daechi Dong, the most exclusive neighborhood in Seoul, I saw a young lady with a Starbucks cup in hand. Sure enough, 10 yards ahead was the evil empire.

So I rolled in and went to the literature display and found this:

It was a nice little brochure that was entitled Starbucks CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Starbucks being socially responsible is like saying that the KKK was kind to minorities. The example of their literature above brags about how “responsible” they are. Now knowing that they claim to sell fair trade coffee in their brochures prominently displayed in their cookie cutter store, I stepped up to the counter and asked for some. Nope, they weren’t brewing any. The barrista pointed to the rack of bagged coffee where you could not see any fair trade certified coffee bags. I took a few more photos and the manager approached me and in perfect English, told me to stop taking pictures.  I asked about Fair  Trade coffee and she pointed out one bag way on the bottom of the display. I told her that I’d like to drink some now. She said “It’s out of season.” I said, “Then why are you selling it?” After that exchange I figured that the Starbucks corporate line in Korea is the same as in the USA and made my exit.

National SweatFree Summit 2010

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It’s not too early to register for the  2010 National Sweat Free Summit. Activists from around the world will be traveling to Olympia, Washington for workshops. We will also celebrate the Seattle Sweat Free campaign’s recent win! Check out the ordinance making the City of Seattle sweat free!

One of the featured speakers, Carmen Duran:

Dominican Sisters join our coalition

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The Dominican Sisters of Houston have joined our coalition and endorsed our campaign to get the City of Houston to pass a sweat free purchasing ordinance. They are the 91st organization to join up with our Sweat Free Coalition.

Last year (2009) the City spent almost 3 million dollars on apparel purchases and unfortunately all of them were made in sweatshops. If your organization is interested in joining our coalition, give us a call at 832.771.7263 or email us @ sweatfreehouston (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!

Written by timjo62

August 5, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Houston Professional Fire Fighters endorses Sweat Free Houston

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Houston Fire Fighters Association Local 341 has endorsed our campaign. You can see their letter by clicking on this link. The HFFA is the 90th organization to endorse our campaign to get the City of Houston to adopt a sweat free purchasing ordinance. Check out the this page to see the list of all the endorsers.

Support SweatFree Communities

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Hey folks, SweatFree Communities are an awesome non-profit that has been kicking butt for seven years. SweatFree Communities facilitates the sharing of resources and information and is at the forefront of the national sweatfree movement.  They have held four national conferences and support and coordinate dozens of local sweatfree purchasing campaigns. They link those campaigns to workers who are organizing to improve their conditions.

Right now they’re in the midst of organizing a worker tour. Read more about that here. Sweat Free Houston’s campaign is staying a float so far because we’re volunteers working out of our houses and because of our successful benefit show that will keep us going awhile. But SweatFree Communities could use your support. They have full time employees and times are tough in this economy. Become a sustainer for as little $20 a month. Click here to donate. You’ll be glad you did!

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