For Chicago Fair Trade: Chicago Goes Sweatfree

In the aftermath of the deadliest accident in the garment industry in April of 2013, Chicago Fair Trade and supporters stepped up to advocate against government purchase of supplies made under sweatshop labor. The ordinance, introduced by 47th Alderman Ameya Pawar, was passed by the City of Chicago on July 30, 2014, just two months after its introduction to City Hall. It went into effect on January 1, 2015.

The ordinance mandates that city and county officials only buy employee garments from companies who sign an affadavit promising that neither they, nor their sub-contractors, use sweatshop labor. Companies are required to disclose their supply chains including the address of factories used in the production of clothing. Uniform contractors that fail to comply are found in default, empowering 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.

Drafted by Chicago Fair Trade as part of Sweatfree Communities, a national campaign against government purchase of supplies made by sweatshop labor, the campaign gained momentum in response to a string of tragedies in the apparel industry. These include the Ali Enterprises fire in Pakistan, the Tazreen Fashions fire, and the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. More than 1500 apparel workers were killed and thousands more injured within a seven-month period.

Leading up to the ordinance, Chicago Fair Trade estimated that more than $10 billion had been spent annually on what it calls “unethical apparel” by U.S. federal, state and local governments. “Our insatiable appetite for cheap apparel is costing the lives of people in other countries,” said Executive Director, Katherine Bissell Cordova, in an interview with WBEZ. 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 are 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.


Published in the 2015–2016 Issue of the Chicago Fair Trade Newsletter: