SweatFree Communities, a program of ILRF, supports sweatshop workers globally in their struggles to improve working conditions and form strong, independent unions.
In 2003, grassroots organizations in Maine, Minnesota, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin created SweatFree Communities (SFC). Each group had been successful—through mostly volunteer efforts—in promoting groundbreaking new procurement policies to ensure our state and local governments, using our tax dollars, were not buying uniforms and other clothing made in sweatshops. Just ten years later, seven states, 44 cities, 16 counties, 118 school districts, and one nationwide religious denomination have adopted such “sweatfree” policies. SFC coordinates these local campaigns; maintains resources for education and policy development; conducts research on supply chain transparency and the working conditions in government supplier factories; and coordinates educational forums for government officials.
At the same time, SFC has worked with leading government agencies to form the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium (est. May 2010), a membership organization for governments to help them act with combined strength and transparency in meeting their goals for sweatshop-free purchasing. The Consortium provides expertise and pools resources to monitor working conditions and enforce “sweatfree” standards. The Consortium’s goal is to change the rules of competition to favor not businesses that produce the cheapest possible goods at the expense of workers, but those that offer good value while operating transparently, providing humane working conditions, and valuing workers' human and labor rights.
In 2010, SweatFree Communities joined forces with the International Labor Rights Forum, becoming an ILRF campaign and beginning a new collaboration to strengthen our advocacy efforts to create a sweatfree world.
SweatFree Communities is an exciting and positive approach in the international worker rights movement. Campaigns for sweatfree procurement policies foster sustained local activism and strong coalitions of labor, student, solidarity, peace and justice, and faith-based groups. Local campaigns attract new people to social activism, channeling their outrage about sweatshops into engagement with local institutions. New movement leaders emerge from local campaigns as graduating high school activists take leadership roles in the university anti-sweatshop movement and other organizations. These innovative campaigns allow community activists to control the shape and timing of their own efforts, in coordination with other local campaigns. Because most localities include multiple entities that purchase goods and services -- for example, the city, the county, the school district, and the state -- one successful campaign can provide momentum for another. As a local issue in which elected officials have to take positions, these campaigns also offer significant possibilities for press coverage and public education. Using institutional purchasing as a lever for worker justice, the sweatfree movement ultimately empowers ordinary people to create a just global economy through local action.