Sweat Free Houston

Working to make the City of Houston sweatshop free.

Facts on Houston sweatshop use

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City of Houston linked to sweatshop use

An examination of the recent City of Houston uniform purchases has shown that the City has been doing business with companies that use sweatshop labor to produce their clothing. The City spends an enormous amount of money purchasing garments. In 2009, the City spent 2,831,905.15 dollars on uniform purchases.  Here is a list of every piece of clothing the City of Houston purchased last year. We obtained that data by using the Texas Public Information Act.

The brands of clothing the City purchased include Dickies, Port Authority, Hanes, Edwards, Hartwell, and Propper.

Unfortunately the reality in worldwide apparel manufacturing is that unless clothes are union made, or a made in one of the very few cooperatives or worker owned facilities, you can be 99.99% sure that they are made under sweatshop conditions. Let’s go over just some of the evidence, the City of Houston vendor Dickies, for example, has been caught using sweatshops to manufacture its clothes. Page 17 of  Sweat Free Communities report Subsidizing Sweatshops II shows that Dickies has been using sweatshops in Mexico.  Starting on page 43, the same report discusses the sweatshops Dickies uses in Honduras. Abuses ranged from union repression, and poverty wages to excessive work hours. Pull up that report right here:  sweatshop report

The city vendor Propper has been linked to sweatshop abuses in factories it uses in the Dominican Republic. Look at page 18 of this report. The report includes direct testimony from the workers in their factories.

Hanes is notorious for sweatshop use also. The Worker Rights Consortium reported in 2008 about violations in factories that Hanes uses in the Dominican Republic. Read that report here.

The bottom line is that the City of Houston needs to address its oversights in the way it makes its apparel purchases. The way to do that is to pass a sweatfree ordinance just like 40 other cities have.

The City of Houston does not have a policy regarding labor standards for garment purchasing. The only policy related to apparel purchases is here: UNIFORM POLICY EO 1-46

According to Sweatfree Communities, as of January 2010, 9 states, 41 cities, 4 dioceses, 15 counties, 118 school districts, and 4 high schools have adopted “sweat free” procurement policies and ordinances. Click here to see a detailed list.

Sweatshop definitions

There are many ways to define a sweatshop. The U.S. history encyclopedia says: “Sweatshop refers to both a workplace and a labor system. Sweated work is undesirable, unhealthy, and undemocratic. Sweated labor is characterized by harsh conditions, long hours, very low wages, job insecurtity and often takes place in illegal and temporary workplaces. Sweatshops are often small, temporary garment “shops.” Historically, however, sweated workers have often toiled in their own homes, in a system called homework and frequently involving child labor.”

Until the late twentieth century, it was assumed that the federal minimum wage and maximum hours legislation of 1938, part of larger New Deal social and economic reforms, had curtailed sweatshops in the United States. Unfortunately, America rediscovered its sweatshops. In August 1995, federal agencies raided a compound of several apartments in El Monte, California. These residences functioned as a large-scale sweatshop. There, seventy-two illegal Thai immigrants lived and worked in inhumane conditions, sewing sixteen hours a day on garments for several nationally prominent retailers. Discoveries of additional sweatshops led reformers, unionists, and student activists to revive the antisweatshop movement through organizations such as the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE, now UNITE HERE) and United Students Against Sweatshops.)

The U.S. Department of Labor’s definition is that a sweatshop is any factory that violates more than one of the fundamental US labor laws, which include paying a minimum wage and keeping a time card, paying overtime, and paying on time.

Gender and sweatshops: “Today, the overwhelming majority of garment workers in the U.S. are immigrant women. They typically toil 60 – 80 hours a week in front of their machines, often without minimum wage or overtime pay. In fact, the Department of Labor estimates that more than half of the country’s 22,000 sewing shops violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Many of these workers labor in dangerous conditions including blocked fire exits, unsanitary bathrooms, and poor ventilation. Government surveys reveal that 75% of U.S. garment shops violate safety and health laws. In other words 75% of the apparel factories in the U.S. are sweatshops. In addition, workers commonly face verbal and physical abuse and are intimidated from speaking out, fearing job loss or deportation.” Information from Sweatshop Watch.

Sweatshops and globalization: Sweatshops can be viewed as a product of the global economy. Fueled by an abundant supply of labor in the global market, capital mobility, and free trade, garment industry giants move from country to country seeking the lowest labor costs and the highest profit, exploiting workers the world over.


Written by timjo62

January 18, 2010 at 7:44 am

One Response

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  1. […] 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 […]

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